Crafty Bitch Lindsey McAlister Chats HKYAF Community and Original Theatre
June 27, 2023
“I have a superpower” she says with a playful glint in her eyes, “which is getting people to give me money.”
I struggle to stifle a smile and half-jokingly asked whether she could share some of her wisdom. Without missing a beat, she tells me with a conspiratorial smile “It’s all to do with the right bra”.
A short pause follows, before she erupts into a deep laughter.
Anyone who has met Lindsey McAlister before might compare her to a lit firecracker - constantly popping off with quick-witted jokes, eyebrows jumping about over her expressive eyes, and casting spells with her hands as she tells a story.
Known for her work with the young talents of Hong Kong, Lindsey McAlister founded the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF) in 1993, producing and writing original theatre for the diverse community of youths in the city.
Taking on a separate moniker of ‘Crafty Bitch’ in 2022, she revisits her love for mix-n-match collages after a 40-year hiatus, trying out new mediums and creative outlets to share on Instagram.
The Beat Asia chats to Lindsey about her memorable moments since founding the HKYAF, as well as her bitchin’ plans for crafting and collaging in the coming year.
With or without the right undergarments, Lindsey’s superpower has blessed the HKYAF with longstanding relationships with some of the city’s most powerful corporations.
“We’ve been together longer than most marriages”, she smiles, about her 28-ish year partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, calling them ‘just incredible’. The same is true for Swire, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club – both of which she would consistently describe with positive adjectives, to the point where one might think it was part of the corporations’ respective titles.
“Every year for Standard Chartered we do a big event”, she tells me, with her hands joining in on the narrative, “we have giant puppets, and we have stalls, big costumes and head dresses, dancers and storytelling – it’s just a huge celebration of the arts.”
From Mardi-Gras-esque parades to original productions – it’s hard to believe that the HKYAF has come so far since its’ beginnings in the 1990s.
In 2022, Lindsey moves another piece forward on the board as ‘Crafty Bitch’, exploring and rediscovering new mediums and crafts from her childhood.
With the good fortune that seems to follow Lindsey around, alter ego ‘Crafty Bitch’ has also been destined with countless opportunities. From selling her pieces on the Lion Rock Press platform, to designing swimwear fabrics and skincare packaging – 2023 is the year for Lindsey to say “yes”.
As a kid, Lindsey would rummage through her mother's old catalogues and piece together characters and symbols – moving them about and directing miniature plays of her own, planting a latent seed of talent that later shone through in her screenwriting and theatre production.
“That’s exactly how I collage now, I don’t think too much about any of this – It’s more like, what am I drawn to intuitively.”
When Lindsey first arrived in Hong Kong nearly 40 years ago, she had already spent a year travelling across East-Asia, with full intentions of resuming a position in the Arts Council back in the UK.
But as soon as her foot touched Hong Kong soil, she was met with a clairvoyant-like “angel choir moment”, and a small voice in her head had told her, “You’ve been brought here to do something magical.”
“So I rang up the Arts Council and said, ‘I’m not coming back’,” she recalls.
After a couple of odd gigs and a year-long stint as an artist in residence at an ESF school, Lindsey began searching once more.
“Nobody wanted me,” she says, “so one day I was like, ‘you know what? I’m going to start my own thing’.”
Moved by her whole-hearted trust in the arts’ ability to unite, Lindsey undertook the military-sized task of organising extensive projects that would require the enthusiasm of young artists and talents from across the city.
Her only condition was this: that it would allow people from all cultures, languages, backgrounds, and abilities to participate – free of charge.
“I didn’t want anybody to have to pay for anything”.
For many years, HKYAF’s annual flagship project had been a large-scale production of a popular licensable musical, like Fame – The Musical, or Oliver – The Musical, performed by young talents who referred to themselves as YAFies.
More recently in 2019, Lindsey has ventured into writing original theatre which strikes a certain relevancy chord with the performers themselves.
The first original production she wrote for the HKYAF was titled #hashtag, which would go on to spur two more productions and complete an all-original trilogy.
“We put [#hashtag] on and the response from the teenagers was incredible. They were like, ‘It’s really authentic. It’s very now.’”
Taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive feedback, Lindsey decided to read it as “sign from the universe”, putting her fingers to the keyboard once more.
“A lot of the kids were using different pronouns online and a lot of were coming out to me, so I thought, ‘Maybe an LGBT+ piece’.”
But as a 62-year-old straight woman writing in the voice of a 16-year-old lesbian, she wasn’t exactly the first choice when it came to representing the queer community.
“So I got together all my gay friends. We had the baby gays, the 20-gays, the 30-something gays, the my-age-gays – and we did a read through.”
Thus, the 2021 showing of ‘Only a Girl’ was the culmination of all the 5-hour coffee talks and long roundtables she had with members of the queer community in order for her to write authentic portrayals based on lived experiences.
Last of the trilogy is a show titled I’mperfect, aimed at tackling the increasingly prevalent issue of body dysmorphia, the unreality of social media, and female friendships among teenagers.
Once again, Lindsey called upon her tight-knit community of friends and YAFies to guide her in the process of writing.
“They take the mick out of me, but there’s a lot of love,” she tells me in earnest.
And that love stays long after the production is over.
“There’s 12 of us who work in the YAF office at the moment, and three of them started off as a YAF participant. One’s now running our head of performing arts, and I met her when she was 14 – now she’s in her forties.”
From choreographers, PR, to YAFie alumni pursuing the arts overseas – Mama Lins (as she is affectionately remembered as), stays connected with many of her previous cast members over text.
Some HKYAF participants now find themselves on Television series such as ‘1899’, and ‘Killing Eve’, or standing alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johanssen – or singing their hearts out on Broadway.
But to Lindsey, HKYAF isn’t exclusively catered to train-up creative professionals in the making.
“A very, very, small percentage are actually going to be artists. But the arts are still a very nourishing way to live your life.”
She believes that through the arts, YAFies can learn invaluable life skills that are applicable to each of their futures, such as the ability to communicate and collaborate with one another, develop empathy, resilience, and stay motivated, and express themselves to their fullest.
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