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Hong Kong schools

Life imitates art for cast members of Hong Kong youth musical Sing Out

Pupils of local schools take part in production by award-winning composer, and much like the characters they play, discover their inner strength and values

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 3:30pm

A musical production on youth issues has turned out to be a journey of self-discovery for producers and young cast members from Hong Kong schools after six months of preparation.

Sing Out, an original Cantonese musical, will premier on Friday night at Kwai Tsing Theatre. The production tells a tale of modern-day city youths who revisit basic human values and explore their potential, gaining acceptance through the power of performing arts.

“I have never worked with secondary school pupils and had doubts when I was told to write a musical for them,” Leon Ko, a Broadway trained award-winning composer, said.

Ko, who won a Golden Horse Award in 2004, added: “But I didn’t lower the standard in any way and treated them as professionals both for solo voices and the four-part chorus. To my surprise, they delivered.”

Ko was born in Hong Kong, and to date, has seven Cantonese musicals under his belt, including one that premiered in Beijing last April to critical acclaim.

In Sing Out, Ko partnered with award-winning playwright Candace Chong and librettist Chris Shum, who together produced Sing High, a musical commissioned for the 15th anniversary of Macau’s return to Chinese rule.

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The trio adapted the play and tailor-made it for 35 participating students from four local schools, including one for the blind and another for ethnic minorities.

“We have to recast and revise the script based on the character and skills of the young participants, so it’s an interactive process and they inspired us as much as we inspired them,” Chong said.

“We probed issues concerning young people nowadays, such as the definition of success and excellence, and when it comes to ethnic minorities or new immigrants from China, what it means to be a Hongkonger. The script reflects their genuine state of mind,” she said.

Alcantara Armin, a Hong Kong-born Filipino Form Six pupil who is the lead actress in the production, said the past six months were a “mixed experience” since she did not know a word of Chinese.

“I cried a lot during rehearsals as never in a million years would I think that I would have to do two hours of acting in Cantonese. I never knew I could devote myself to something and actually achieve it. Now I know I have that in me,” the 17 year old said.

They learned empathy, resilience and gratitude
Cecilia Ho, Lee Hysan Foundation

“I also discovered that we ethnic minorities could actually work together and have fun with locals. Before that, we never spoke to each other,” she added.

For Ethan Yang Enhua, a visually-impaired immigrant from Heilongjiang province in mainland China, the task was even more daunting.

“I came to Hong Kong three years ago, and I remember that my first six months here were very painful as I stayed indoors for the entire period,” the 21 year old said.

“But I like to take on challenges, such as singing, dancing, and I got to show off my erhu skills too; plus playing the violin passages Mr Ko wrote for me,” he said.

Hui Ho-yin, 22, recalled a scene during rehearsals reminding him that despite being the oldest cast member, he was still a stage novice.

“I was quite weak in my ability to catch beats so I practised hard on my guitar and everyone came to my aid, including the backstage volunteers, to cheer for me,” he said.

Why can’t Hong Kong primary schools teach music properly for pupils who want to learn an instrument?

“This shows we young ones are not self-centred and we take care of each other.”

Sponsor Lee Hysan Foundation said it was pleased with the result of the project, which highlighted “the transformative power of the arts in shaping our youth”.

“Throughout the musical training, they did not just learn to sing, act and dance – they learned empathy, resilience and gratitude,” foundation president Cecilia Ho said.