The Nonsensemakers theatre company gives disabled Hongkongers a dose of drama as it promotes understanding
With its opportunities to get on stage or work behind the curtain, group seeks to diversify the medium and foster social inclusion
Rensen Chan Man-kong believes the performing arts can help everyone – including those with disabilities – unlock their potential and shine.
The artistic director of The Nonsensemakers theatre company and his colleagues have put on more than 100 productions, and seek to use the transformative power of working on a drama to promote social inclusion in Hong Kong.
“We want to empower the disabled to surpass themselves,” Chan said.
By giving disabled drama enthusiasts a leg-up to get on stage or behind the curtain, he hopes to bring diversity to the medium and narrow the gap between the disabled and those considered able-bodied.
In 2013, with two-year grants from the government’s Community Investment and Inclusion Fund, The Nonsensemakers set up a subsidiary named Hand in Hand Capable Theatre to foster understanding among people with different disabilities through the performing arts.
The project has continued since 2016 with the support of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
The Nonsensemakers executive director, Jo Ngai Yee-shan, said many disabled people had expanded their social circles after joining the Hand in Hand programme.
“The participants were grouped together so that the disabled had many opportunities to interact with one another as well as the able-bodied,” she noted. “This helped break the ice.”
Over the years, The Nonsensemakers Hand in Hand Capable Theatre has trained more than 200 Hongkongers, including those who are blind or deaf, former mental patients as well as able-bodied individuals.
Apart from getting training in acting and backstage operations, participants have an opportunity to take part in the annual performance.
“We would also take them to schools and community centres to perform so that they can hone their skills and get more experience,” Ngai said.
While making diversity and inclusion a priority, the programme organisers rejected the suggestion that the troupe preferred plays featuring disabled characters.
“We don’t need to highlight the actors’ disabilities,” Chan said. “What’s most important is that the disabled actors outdo themselves.”
Ngai cited the case of a participant with a speech impediment, who had overcome her own limits by working hard on her pronunciation before a performance.
The Nonsensemakers Hand in Hand Capable Theatre has been nominated by collaboration partner Silence for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards in the Lion Rock Entrepreneur category, which honours enterprises that have succeeded despite difficult circumstances.
Silence is a charity serving the deaf and those who with impaired hearing.
Chan said it took more than just the artists to create an inclusive theatre.
Access to the city’s performing arts venues also needed to be improved, the artistic director added.
He suggested the wheelchair spaces within seated areas be enlarged and more removable seats be installed.
“Wheelchair users may want to stay with their family and friends when watching a performance,” Ngai explained. “These venues need to be more accommodating.”
Apart from organising theatrical performances, the team planned to raise public awareness about the importance of inclusion by building a life journey centre. The centre would provide interactive and immersive experiences for participants to reflect on the lives of people with different disabilities.