LEARNING FROM LOCAL ESSENCE


Chan Ping Chiu

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Dialog

18th June, 2010

Mr. Chan Ping-chiu   Artistic Director of On and On Theatre Workshop

Ms. Bernice Chan Kwok-wai   Manager of IATC(HK)

 

Life of theatre—the beginning

Mr. Chan Ping-chiu recalls watching Death of a Salesman with his brother as his very first theatrical experience in life. He describes the impression of a big stage with actors and actresses emerging from and retreating into utter darkness as something mysterious. His love for theatre may be a psychological substitutionMr. Chan used to consider himself as a mathematics genius, only when he was promoted to secondary school did he find his math grades average; in addition, through a school-organised trip to the Peak, he met his senior Lo Wai-luk who offered him a chance to do a read-through, he was praised for doing a good job and subsequently started participating in student theatrical activities. It was the ‘Fiery Years’ then, Mr. Chan said that his scripts written for competitions were tinted with messages of ‘understanding our mother country and caring for society’, almost to a brainwashing stage. Later, he and his school mates came in touch with Brecht’s works. They had little idea about the ‘alienation effect’, neither did they talk about aesthetics or what acting means etc. Mr. Chan and his school mates went to theatres for enlightenment; it did not matter if they understood the play or if the acting was good.

 

University—from television to stage

Fascination for television dramas and the New Wave in the 70s urged Mr. Chan to major in journalism at university. He joined the television industry after graduating but was disappointed as the actual job fell short of his expectations. He thought that the golden age of television was over when, at the same time, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) was established, he therefore gave up his work and turned to the stage. While in university, Mr. Chan continued participating in theatrical activities. In his final year he directed absurdist play Waiting for Godot, which has tremendous impacts on his later creations. He describes absurdist plays as ‘detachments in time and space’ as characters’ conditions are often ahistorical or even anti-historical, like time frozen, while the ‘wait’ in Waiting for Godot is a ‘suspended condition of life’. Directing Waiting for Godot enabled Mr. Chan to understand symbols better; for the first time in his life he shrugged off the social nature of tension, wrestling and ambiguity among people’s relationships, and turned his focus to the use of languages, daily human relationships and the experience of aesthetics.

 

Sand & Bricks—origin and development

The exploration of forms was what urged Mr. Chan to establish Sand & Bricks. He mentioned that one of the early founders of Zuni Icosahedron, Gus Wong’s workshops gave him huge shocks and inspired him to realise the importance of experiencing from within oneself. The many improvisation practices, the lack of clear roles, rigid rules nor clear right or wrong rendered the workshops a far cry from the training at APA. Such experience motivated him and his school mates to establish experimental theatre Sand & Bricks as soon as they graduated from APA.

But the path of Sand & Bricks was not smooth and easy at all. Arguments were common and members had not properly grasped the methods to use. It happened to be the June 4th student movement when Sand & Bricks was practicing for their second work Present Continuous Past. Mr. Chan and other members added new props and poems to echo with the incident, but found what was happening too overwhelming and unbearable. Together with their ego to search for art forms as opposed to organise national theatres, Sand & Bricks for a time lost its direction. In late 89, with the help of a Welsh theatre, Sand & Bricks put Disaster of War on stage, making use of rock music, comprising elements of environmental theatre and using Goya’s paintings as symbols, creating both drama and installations, bringing to Sand & Bricks a new method. They came to understand that experiments should not be confined to forms, but should also include contents and its links to society. Once the performance of Disasater of War was over though, they fell again into chaos.

In 1996, Mr. Chan left Sand & Bricks. He could not adapt to being in a group and had a desire to do ‘something that belongs to himself’. His post-97 work The Myth of Archaeology Birds explores the identity of Hong Kong people and is dubbed the most representative work of all plays about the handover of Hong Kong to China; but when The Vanished Wings was put on show on the 10th anniversary of the handover, Mr. Chan realised that the theme on identity was outdated, so he stopped creating and turned to educational theatre.

 

On and On Cattle Depot Theatre

From workshops to performances, installations and exhibitions, Mr. Chan’s identity shifts between a script writer, director and educator. He talks about He & She, The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and No Significant Abnormality Detected, ‘a complex blend of different ideas and images’ created specifically for Cattle Depot. Talking about Cattle Depot, Mr. Chan thinks that this venue has an amazing power of cohesion. He enjoys the interactive relationship among the production, creation and audiences at Cattle Depot. Whereas Ms. Bernice Chan Kwok-wai feels that Cattle Depot provides an option and a space for people to face questions such as the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), creative industry etc; while the Directors’ Creation Room and the like are origins of new thinking. Yet, because of limitations in resources and time in Hong Kong, creators are occupied with work of their own theatres and such amazing power started to fade after a few years.

Mr. Chan hopes to see the emergence of more theatres similar to that of Cattle Depot, discovering possibilities in art. He mentions that as WKCD re-invents theatres, they cannot be left behind and have to re-invent theatres as well. Such re-invention does not need to be new performances or groups, but can be a space. He points out that in Taiwan, small theatres originated from political struggle and were radical, but once the political situation stabilised, they faded away. During his year in New York, he also found that living theatre has its lifetime and that its golden age is over. Small theatres in Hong Kong, which only begin to grow, are different from those of New York and Taiwan, he advises Hong Kong creators to pay more attention to themes for discussion and imagine ways to utilise spaces, to go back to their own positions and re-discover forms and contents which belong to them.

 

Consumerism and young people in Hong Kong

As the end of the sharing approaches, Mr. Chan discusses HAMLETMAXHINE. He based his work on Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine, inserting five new paragraphs to form a dialogue, conveying the theme of consumerism particularly in the Greater China region. He thinks that ‘the content overshadowed the form’—that the theme was straightforward but the best way to discuss it has yet to be explored. In response to an audience question about his views to young people, Mr. Chan says that many theatres founded by young people could not last long, partly because of attraction by the creative possibilities of new media, but also because less people go to their performances and turn to more established, bigger theatres—which is a kind of consumerism. Yet, Mr. Chan is still hopeful to the development of Hong Kong theatres, he thinks that the confidence of the ‘Post-80s’ in changing society is important to the development of art and can bring new energy to theatres; they practice by protesting and have immediate effects on time and space.

18 June 2010 7:30pm - 9:30pm


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