Made by Beauty

Producer ‘disappointed’ by IC’s abrupt cancellation of drag queen show

Sarah Sun, the producer of a Fringe show that has been cancelled at the last minute by the government, said she was “disappointed” about the decision. She has gone on to provide her side of the story.

On Wednesday, a cancellation announcement was made at 7 p.m. by the production team of the show Made by Beauty. Made by Beauty was scheduled for 9:45 p.m. that night. A second performance was also scheduled for last night.

On Tuesday, a first performance of the show went ahead as planned, with personnel – among them, higher-tier officers – from the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) liberally photographing and filming the show, seemingly unaware of the fact that they were obstructing the views of other audience members, according to Sun, the show’s producer.

The show featured drag queens, or cross dressers, performing and interacting with the audience in an intimate venue. The audience was challenged about its relationship with physical attractiveness, clothing and aesthetics.

The cancellation of Made by Beauty has spread fear throughout the cultural and performance industries where there are now concerns of a a possible escalation in government’s control of the arts, which may even amount to censorship.

After yesterday’s meeting of a government advisory committee, of which Director of Culture Deland Leong is vice-chair, the official was asked about the matter. During her presentation to the press of the topics covered at yesterday’s meeting, Leong said the IC would “push Macau forward to become cultural and innovative city of diversity, characteristics and energy.”

Initially, she was questioned about how the bureau would and could realize such aspirations for the city when it could not even tolerate Made by Beauty, a small production that included cross-dressing, or the non-mainstream expression of self-identity and sexual identity.

The host of the press briefing then said that the question was not related to the committee meeting, before suggesting the official take the question on notice. As the briefing progressed, several other journalists raised questions related to the cancelled show.

Before the briefing ended, the official responded to the series of questions, accusing Made by Beauty’s production team of not willing to adjust or improve elements of the show. For this reason, said Leong, the show was abruptly cancelled.

In addition, the official said that bureau staff had discovered discrepancies between the show plans submitted to the IC and the actual show itself, based on reports from staff who attended the final dress rehearsal before the Tuesday performance.

Expressing “regret”, the official went on to assure journalists that she does not intend to oversee the cancellation of additional productions. Emphasizing the IC’s right to final decisions and interpretations of the terms, the official said that the Fringe Festival’s programs were determined through “public invitation under set charters, evaluation criteria and conditions,” adding that “all performances must be in compliance with these conditions.” For the IC to take grant exceptions to these conditions, she said, would be unfair to other festival applicants.

The official said that, provided a show complied with those set conditions and principles, the IC was “very supportive of diverse performances.”

In response to the cultural official’s comment, besides expressing her feeling of disappointment, Sun also decided to allow audiences to decide whether the government’s decision would jeopardize the diversity of local artistic productions.

Fearlessly outspoken, the show producer even admitted that she was asked if she feared she might be blacklisted in the future. In response, she said that if such did happen then it would be “the most problematic” situation that could happen to anyone in Macau’s creative circle, as well as that circle as a whole.

Discussing the point of “discrepancies” cited by the cultural official, Sun disclosed that when her troupe applied for a space in the festival, only conceptual information was required on the application form.

“The IC did not ask for us to submit photos,” Sun said. Before coming to Macau, the show had been shown as part of the 2023 Shekou Theatre Festival in Shenzhen, China.

Sun maintains that Made by Beauty’s script, which is very much the center of this controversy, was not changed from the time the production applied to the IC to the performance on Tuesday night. This means that the show’s script has been the same since it was performed in Shenzhen.

Moreover, after the full dress rehearsal and according to Sun, some IC personnel suggested that adjustments be made to the show, including “removing the dragon on a qipao because dragons should not be associated with sexuality or erotism.”

Furthermore, Sun further claims that IC personnel suggested her troupe wear black-colored stockings rather than skin-colored ones, as well as fur coats to cover their general costumes. She added that the IC also requested other adjustments to the show, such as decreasing the frequency of audience interactions, as well as lowering the level of intimacy of those interactions. All this led to the Sun feeling that her show, her creativity, and her freedom of expression was in jeopardy.

She also did not understand why the IC left the cancellation of Made by Beauty’s second show until only three hours before its scheduled start time.

Suggestions were also made by IC personnel that the production’s venue be changed, Sun said, because, according to the IC, the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) building is “too solemn for such a performance.” Ironically, it was the IC that helped the troupe to obtain the right to use the IAM in the first place, which was requested under the troupe’s proposal.

Some social media users, as well as Sun, suspected that the drama started from a video that went viral online about an excerpt of Beautiful Bus, a performance connected to the cancelled show. Cross-dressers performed on a bus hired by the production team in which they explored the meaning of beauty.

The video was received negatively by the public, with social media users describing the performance as “disgusting”, “sickening” and “horrible.” Based on her rational speculations, Sun guessed the IC’s cancellation was connected to the public’s objections.

Sun added that the IC had only requested prototype photos for Beautiful Bus, not Made by Beauty. The troupe had understood it had permission for the latter’s production.

Sun revealed that a term in the contract made she signed with the IC bans any production team’s attempts to re-run a Fringe show in Macau within a period of three months of the show’s performance, as well as outside of Macau within one month of the show’s performance.

Therefore, the production team is not allowed to restage the subsequent shows of Made by Beauty that were set to be performed but were cancelled. Sun and her team, however, proceeded to hold two performances of the production at a closed-door venue on members-only requirement, highlighting elements that did not appear in the Tuesday night performance – or, in Sun’s own words, elements with “no connection” to the first performance.”

Another theatrical show concerning the reasons behind cases of suicide in Macau during past years was cancelled. Its production team cited “concerns that exceed experiential and affordable levels of the team” as the reason for its cancellation.

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