Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pictures from the HK Fringe

We had the first of our two readings at the Hong Kong Fringe Club last night. John Ng's play I. and my play Peking Duck pleased our audience of ex-pats, theatre artists, and Fringe-goers.

Here are some photos from the event:

Jovanni introducing the evening.

At right, actors Fiona Liu and Alan Fong enjoying (appropriately enough) Peking Duck rolls.

Kendra and actor Danielle Biddle at the Fringe.

John, Leanna, and Kendra back at the hotel.

Monday, May 22, 2006

John Ng's Top 10 Signs You're Jet-Lagged in HK

10. You keep flipping through the TV channels at 3 a.m. hoping to find a shot of Ben Mulroney and Tanya Kim.

9. While haggling at the street market, you insist the vendor knock off the GST.

8. You look for the Texas Hold'em Mah-Jongg table at the Macau casino.

7. Two words: McRice Burger.

6. During the dolphin boat tour, you swear you hear the captain yell, "I think I found Nemo!"

5. You get into a cab and the first thing you say to the driver is "Whatever you do, just avoid the DVP."

4. Over dim sum, you ask the waiter, "You think Pat Quinn should've been fired, lah?"

3. You actually just want a massage at the massage parlour.

2. You buy a bag of peanuts to feed the cockroaches in the park.

1. You see a big Jackie Chan billboard and say to yourself, "I can kick his sorry ass!"

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The language of theatre

Today we have a guest blogger ... actress/playwright/spouse extraordinaire Leanna Brodie. Leanna was a panelist on Cahoots' roundtable discussion, Theatre Beyond Borders. We actually sat at two rectangular tables. But that's not really the point. It's a good thing Leanna's telling you about the panel and not me ...

• An internationally-touring physical theatre company comprised of a ballet-trained Hong Kong Chinese artist and a Lecoq-educated Scot.
• An HK artistic director of a well-established text-based theatre who wants, among many other things, to do a Cantonese stage adaptation of Crimson Tide.
• A Canadian playwright/radio writer/librettist/actor/director/associate artistic director working on a play in English about Tiananmen Square.
• A playwright and actor whose current piece deals with a schoolteacher in a one-room school in rural Canada circa 1938.

How on earth were we going to find anything to talk about for ninety minutes?

As it turns out, the challenge was to shut us up. Or maybe that was just me. (Note to self: Self, if you EVER get asked to do a panel again, remember to breathe; breathing results in oxygen to the brain, and automatically causes a pause to the talking, which in your case is a good thing.) Actually, we were all eager to share what we love about our own cultures and ways of working, as well as to discuss the problems we face. For example, Canadian artists understand the battle for workspace, and we in Toronto have lost three affordable theatres in almost as many months – but how do you compare that with the scramble for a tiny corner of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, where not only rehearsal but even performance space sometimes rents by the hour?

The discussion really had two segments: first Ko, Marjorie, Bonni, and Sean talked in turn about their processes of creation and production: then, when he got to me, Jovanni (as moderator) asked some questions about translation that launched a spirited discussion of how (and indeed, whether) the work that we do in our specific communities can travel to the outside world.

Marjorie brought up the tricky convention of people speaking onstage in one language when you know they would actually be speaking another (for example, in China Doll, English stands in for Mandarin). Bonni and Sean of Theatre du Pif talked about how their grounding in physical communication was a way of bridging the gaps of language not only between them and their various audiences, but also between themselves.

Ko spoke of his desire to bring together the various linguistic and cultural communities in Hong Kong itself: as the first Chinese-speaking artistic director of Chung Ying Theatre, he contends on a daily basis with the deep divisions between English-speaking “ex-pats”, Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong citizens, and growing numbers of Mandarin-speaking immigrants from mainland China, among others. (I find it fascinating, by the way, that Caucasians -- who may have lived and worked here for five months or fifty years -- are called “ex-pats”, while others are “immigrants”. One local journalist recently told me he was trying to get Westerners in Hong Kong to refer to themselves as “migrant workers”, but without much success.)

I found myself trying to communicate something about the relationship between English- and French-language drama in Canada, and of how, in Quebec, not only the language but the level of that language has political implications (like Michel Tremblay in 1968 causing a firestorm by writing in joual). I also related a conversation that Jovanni and I had with Vanessa Porteous of Alberta Theatre Projects, who commented that one problem ATP finds with bringing plays from other parts of the country is that Calgary these days is a “city of winners”, while Canadian theatre is in love with losers. Our audience brought many fascinating perspectives, too: like the impossibility of doing The Vagina Monologues or Love Letters for a local Cantonese audience without “acting stuff out” (I have real problems with the conventional Vagina Monologues, so I can sympathise with HK audiences: but that’s for another blog...)

Thanks to Cahoots and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, for an intimate and enlightening cultural encounter: and to Jovanni for presiding with style!

Aw gosh, you're making me blush. Thank you Leanna for being a wonderful guest panelist and blogger!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Damn sneaky dolphins

Okay, pink dolphins may be beautiful but they are unbelievably hard to photograph. After about a hundred shots (thank god for digital cameras), these two are the best I could do. Which tells you how sucky the other 98 were. I think I'll stick to photographing people.

Anyway, it was an amazing dolphin tour (other than those slippery bastards). Thanks for arranging it, Marjorie!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The ride back from Macau

It was a white-knuckles ride on the hydrofoil back from Macau. Hard rain throughout and some enormous waves. You can see the view from the ship's window at the right. We were lucky: Typhoon Chanchu headed east of HK.

Others in Southern China and the Philippines weren't as lucky.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Waiting for Chanchu

Well, here's a first for Cahoots. We're in the middle of our second day of theatre workshops with the amazing students from The International School of Macao and we're not sure where we'll be sleeping tonight. The reason? A typhoon warning. We're still waiting to hear whether it'll be safe to take the hydrofoil back to Hong Kong.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Common ground

It seems that some theatre practices are universal ...

First rehearsal

After months of preparation and anticipation, we had our first rehearsal today. We met at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on a cool Sunday afternoon. We exchanged some brief introductions and then dove right in.

Hearing China Doll and I. read by Hong Kong actors was an incredible experience. John Ng commented that when he heard the Cantonese dialogue in his play read by Hong Kong actors, it was like hearing it for the first time. It finally sounded the way he had originally conceived it in his mind.

In China Doll, Marjorie and I loved how intuitively Margaret Cheung, a talented HK actor, understood the character of Poa-Poa. It was affirming to see the ease with which Marjorie’s script crossed the ocean. I think a translated version of China Doll could definitely do well here.

During our breaks, we learned a great deal about theatre in Hong Kong—the absence of a perfomers’ union or guild, the rarity of workshops and staged readings, how HK theatres (like us in Canada) have a hard time competing with film and television, and much more. We answered some questions about Canada. I’m hoping that some of our HK actors will post guest blogs about their experiences working with Canadians.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Don't pet the birds!

We were walking through Kowloon Park yesterday and came across this beautiful aviary. We decided to call it The House on Flu Corner.

Some of you may be wondering why there's been no theatre talk in the blog so far. No, we're not skiving off and vacationing on your hard-earned tax dollars. We allowed one day to adjust to the considerable jet lag. Can't say that I'm feeling fully right but we're starting our first readthrough with the HK actors in about ninety minutes. Will keep you posted.

John's return to Hong Kong

For Kendra, Leanna, and myself, it’s our first visit to HK. Marjorie has been here many times. For John, however, it’s an interesting homecoming—he hasn’t visited HK in nearly 24 years. And the last time he came here, he didn’t think he’d ever come back. He was born in Kowloon and emigrated to Canada at the age of 6. He returned in 1982 as a very Canadianized teenager and was less than enthralled with HK. I’m definitely curious about his impressions of Hong Kong and perhaps I can pester him into a guest blog.

He did offer one interesting insight into how HK has changed in since the 80s. In the photo on the right, the skyscraper on the left is called Jardine House. The last time John was here, it was one of the largest buildings on the island. Now, it’s dwarfed by many buildings like the one on the right. Expansion on Hong Kong Island only goes upward.

First impressions of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the most vertical city I’ve ever seen. I had thought Manhattan was a city of skyscrapers but it’s nothing compared to Hong Kong. And, unlike New York, HK is a very hilly place. It’s really a marvel of civil engineering that they managed to cram so many towering building on a tiny, uneven land mass.

The other you really notice when you’re here is that this is a city on the move. Only we tourists stand about idly and even then, it’s at our own peril. For everyone else, it’s all about selling, buying, and generally getting to the next place as fast as humanly possible. The Boxing Day madness we experience in Toronto would be just a normal working day in Tsim Sha Tsui.

We’ve had two improbable encounters here so far. Last night, John, Leanna, and I were heading out for dinner and we ran into Marjorie on the street. That was the minor miracle. After all, it was dinner time and we were all in a restaurant district reasonable close to our respective apartments. But this morning, a major miracle occurred. Leanna and I were strolling on the elevated walkway in the Central District and who should we run into? There was John quietly reading by a fountain in front of the IFC Mall. You really have to experience HK to appreciate the miniscule odds of that random meeting.