All the world’s a stage for the cast of The Snow King – The Mini Panto, which stars seven young people with Down syndrome. This year marks the third year running that Hong Kong Players is joining forces with the Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association to create a magical show.
The Snow King is a smaller-scale, genderbent version of the Hong Kong Players’ 2016 Christmas pantomime The Snow Queen. It follows the story of the Snow King, who wants everyone to feel the same way he does. Young Post went to visit the cast as they completed a dress rehearsal to find out more about the play and the people taking part.
“It’s amazing to see how there isn’t a single one of them that doesn’t respond positively to music,” said director Amanda Chapman. “As soon as it comes on, they start dancing. It’s a total transformation.”
But getting to this point has not been easy. At the start of rehearsals, back in November, it was hard to even get the cast to sit down together. Now, big grins can be seen on their faces as they prepare for another day of lines, costumes and walking from cue to cue.
The cast have gotten as far as they have thanks to the help of their understudies – eight student volunteers from Renaissance College (RCHK) – who help the actors and actresses out when they forget their lines.
It was a steep learning curve for both parties. None of the volunteers had any experience working with people with Down syndrome, and some time was needed before they knew how to support their partners and how to communicate with them.
Tiara-Reece Asa was paired with Toby To, who plays the Prince in the show. “I was more gentle and cautious with Toby at the start than I am now,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have the authority to tell him what to do.” The 14-year-old student added that wasn’t the case any more – she’s more firm with what she says to him now, as they’ve established a certain amount of trust.
“He’s more patient with me now, and he’s more willing to follow my directions.”
For Ida Argen, paired with Samuel Harries (who plays the Snow King), two of the biggest problems they encountered was how limited the actors and actresses were physically, and their short attention spans.
This holds especially true for 16 year-old Tracy Law, who supports Fairy Godmother Yau Hiu-lam. Her partner has a little trouble hearing and seeing, Tracy adds, which makes it hard for them to interact with each other like the other pairs can.
“I haven’t been able to treat her the same as I would with the others ... who are normally very energetic and loud,” she said. “The trickiest part for me was figuring out her behaviours and finding out her comfort zones.”
However, Tracy’s persistent efforts have paid off – Hiu-lam spoke to her for the first time during a recent rehearsal.
“After I congratulated her on her dance rehearsal, she smiled at me and said ‘thank you’. It seems like such a small thing, but it meant a lot to me,” she smiled. “It meant that I was finally becoming something more than a partner to her – more like a friend.”
RCHK student Sammi Choi doesn’t work with a particular cast member, but helps generally. “When I first worked with them, they were all very shy and quiet,” the Year 10 student said. “But the more we interacted with them, the more they participated.”
It’s not just the cast who have stood to benefit from this partnership though. Bethan Cotton, who has been helping Krisha Choudhary (in the role of the Princess) said that one of the most important takeaways of this experience for her as been discovering the value of help.
“We all need help regardless of our capabilities,” the Year 12 student said. “It’s just that some people need help more than others. Although it would appear that we’re the ones on the stage helping students with Down syndrome, the reality is that they’re helping us to understand them better.”
The Snow King will be performed at Grappa’s Cellar in Central on May 20. Head to ticketflap.com for tickets