How the HK School Drama Festival cultivates talent and teaches students new skills

By Joanne Ma

A drama festival is helping students become more confident, better at English, and form friendships they will never forget

By Joanne Ma |

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YLPMSAA Tang Siu Tong Secondary School was one of the schools performing at the festival.

As the red curtains opened and the lights dimmed, the murmuring of the audience quietened. It was the Hong Kong School Drama Festival 2017/18 coming alive, and a show had begun.

More than 500 primary and secondary schools took part in the festival, and only 42 were chosen to put on performances for the public. Of that number, five secondary schools performed in English.

This year’s festival, which ran May 1-25, was the first time CCC Kei Long College had ever been on the list, and the students said they were super excited to perform The Case of the Case and the Case. Eight months of “blood, sweat, and tears” had gone into practising the play, joked Gurung Biraj, 13.

Jevin Thapa, who joined because he wanted to do “something new”, said the comedic aspects of the play helped him become a more confident person. “I felt a bit shy, doing silly things on stage,” the 13-year-old said of the drama, which was written by a scriptwriter especially hired by the school’s English drama club. “But I was happy to continue because I heard the audience laugh.”

Confidence, and the ability to perform well on stage, weren’t the only skills learned by the students. Most importantly, Tiffany Chin Cui-ying said, she learned how to work within a team, as well as how to pronounce words properly. “I slur a lot, and sometimes I talk too fast,” the 13-year-old laughed.

Another student, Annissa Pang, said she is better able to multi-task now, thanks to her participation in the festival.

“My job was to manage everything backstage, such as the sound effects and whether the props are in the right places,” the 16-year-old said. “I had lots of things to do all at the same time.”

YLPMSAA Tang Siu Tong Secondary School was another CMI (Chinese as the Medium of Instruction) school who performed in English. Their play, Daddy the Doraemon, was written by their drama club alumni. “Drama allows me to experience things from different perspectives,” said Harry Wong Chun-hei, 17. “I’m able, through playing different characters, to empathise [with them] because I’m putting myself into their shoes.”

Harry added that he has taken away something from every play he has acted in. Thanks to Daddy the Doraemon, Harry said he has learned about the importance of letting go and cherishing every moment in life.

Some students said the festival helped improve their English. Seventeen-year-old Andy Chan Kwong-wah said: “We pay more attention to the pronunciation when we do drama in English because it is not our [native] language.”

Amy Chan Lok-wing, also 17, agreed, adding that the way certain words are said is important, because they reflect a character’s feelings. Tracy Poon Chui-ying, 17, said she used one of the lines from the play in her English writing exam this year.

Heep Yunn School’s cast at the annual festival, which is co-organised by the Steering Committee of the Hong Kong School Drama Festival and Hong Kong Art School, included students from Forms One to Five, a deliberate decision by the school’s drama club.

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Having a mix of younger and older students added variety to their play, the students said, along with a kind of interaction that might not have been there had all the students been around the same age.

Fiona Li, the teacher in charge of the drama club at St Mark’s School, said she enjoyed watching her students mature over time. Li said she would love to see students being given more responsibility and more freedom to do the things they love, such as drama, in the future.

Janice Chak, 16, from Diocesan Girls’ School’s drama club, said she realised that acting is not something you do just for the recognition – you do it because you love it. “Acting is a time when you don’t have to be yourself,” she said. “I suppose that’s what makes drama so fun.”

When asked what the best thing about drama was, the students all agreed that it was the friendships they formed. “Everyone in our drama club is like family,” Harry said. “We spend time together, talk together, and work together.”

Edited by Ginny Wong