The blood, sweat and tears backstage: how performing in a choir challenges both students and teachers in different ways

By Edmund Ho

Acting, singing, and dancing on a stage has helped many students shed their shyness and build their confidence

By Edmund Ho |

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Previously, Matthew Wong performed in a production of Carmen.

The school holidays are meant to be a time to kick back and relax after a tough term, to recover from all the homework, and tests, and exams that you have to deal with when you are in a classroom. However, for this year’s students at K. Wah Opera Hong Kong Summer School, the holidays are an opportunity to perfect their singing and acting skills, as they get ready for a performance of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.

Matthew Wong Qi-hui, 10, and Jovie Wa Man-hei, 12, are both quite shy, but love being involved. Jovie says she has always enjoyed singing, and when she heard about the upcoming performance, she immediately signed up for it.

“I think of singing on stage as a way of telling a story; but it is hard to sing and express emotions and act at the same time,” the Good Hope Primary School student says.

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Matthew, who joined the summer programme last year, first sang as part of a larger group. “I sing in a choir with my siblings and, through that, I have gained more confidence. Singing on stage by myself, on the other hand, I’m still a little bit afraid of.”

Carmen is an opera written by French composer Georges Bizet.
Photo: Opera Hong Kong

Singing in a choir, Matthew says, is very different from singing in a stage production. He notes that being part of a choir means having to listen to and work with other people to make sure a performance sounds good. Performing a solo on stage as part of a production doesn’t rely on that – but, the Victoria Shanghai Academy student adds, doing precisely that in a production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen helped make him more confident. This year, Matthew will be playing the role of Monostatos, the villain, in The Magic Flute.

This year’s production will be directed by theatre educator Kwok Tsz-wan. Kwok has been teaching theatre and acting since 2008, and teaches both adults and young people performing arts.

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“I think the most challenging part of teaching acting is teaching children; not because they are noisy or make trouble, but because you cannot [force] your views on them. Teaching adults is a lot easier in that respect, as you cannot force kids to see things the way you see things.”

Kwok does not think her job should make acting or opera easier for young people to do. Instead, she sees her job as one that shows young people what they can one day achieve in the industry – as long as they work hard for it. They might not reach it, but they have to know “the true picture”, she says.

Parents not wanting their children to go into the arts is nothing new, but Kwok says that young people who are passionate about theatre and the performing arts should not wait to be allowed to do them.

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“If you want to pursue the fine arts, you need to show me, prove to me, you really want it. It’s a harsh, tough road, but if you really are passionate, you won’t mind [working hard].”

Jovie, who plays the main heroine Pamina, agrees. While she knows that some students may take longer to learn, or might not listen to the teachers, she believes that acting in a stage production teaches cooperation and group discipline.

Most of all, though, a stage production gives these shy students a chance to let loose. As Kwok says, “Embrace opportunity, and show us what you’re made of.”

The Magic Flute will be performed at the Shouson Theatre at Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wan Chai on August 29 and August 30 at 8pm. Tickets are available from Urbtix

Edited by Nicole Moraleda