Hong Kong - Part 1
February 26, 2013
And so into 2012 and next I am visiting the four countries involved in our Shakespeare: A Worldwide Classroom partnership project. With the British Council, we have set up partnerships between four schools in the UK, who are part of our Learning and Performance Network (LPN) and schools in four other countries.
Teachers, artists and students from Hong Kong, Kolkata, Los Angles and South Africa joined our LPN teachers and students for a four-day seminar in Stratford in September 2011 and the overseas visitors then went on to visit their UK partner schools. Over this academic year, the schools are engaged in various activities to learn more about each others' cultures and a core group at each school are also completing the WSF: Shakespeare Challenge Arts Award. I'm visiting each of the four countries to share our work with teachers and students and to find out what Shakespeare means to them.
My first stop was Hong Kong and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Many friends who have been there have told me what a great city it is but somehow my brain clung on to its preconception of a frantic high-rise city. So after the chaos of England in the snow (remember that heavy snow fall that closed airports in February?), I was delighted to emerge into what seemed a calm, ordered and beautiful city.
My Hong Kong world was divided between the main parts of the city on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon and I enjoyed each crossing I made on the lovely Star Ferry.
'Shakespeare is not a hard sell here,' I was told at the British Council office - the combination of a strong interest in arts and culture and the British heritage of the city make Shakespeare a clear aspirational choice for students and parents. Meeting that choice has become a way of life for William Yip, the artist who joined us for the seminar last September.
William founded Theatre Noir in 2007, and now employs 24 theatre educators who work in 120 schools across the city. As well as running workshops and drama programmes, Theatre Noir is also a performance company and have created a show that celebrates Shakespeare both for the beauty of his language and his relevance to the lives of young people in China today, called With Love from William Shakespeare. Through songs and humour, the plot follows the lives of four young Shakespeare aficionados as they discover that Shakespeare doesn't give them answers but does offer a way to reflect on the ups and downs of modern life. The show has proved popular in both Hong Kong and mainland China, playing to schools and general audiences.
The audience on the afternoon I saw the play was made up of students from our partner school, Heep Yun plus three others. Mandy and Vanessa from Heep Yun are the teacher and student who joined William for the September seminar and they'd brought along their Arts Award group to see the show as part of their Shakespeare Challenge.
The students told me afterwards how much they enjoyed the show with genuine enthusiasm, yet I have never witnessed such a quiet audience, especially of that age. They were so well-behaved and careful not to do the wrong thing that they had to be encouraged to clap at the end by the actors, which they then did with great appreciation. But they were delighted to hear lines from the plays they had studied and recognised the characters portrayed - a particular hit was the interpretation of Bianca from The Taming of the Shrew as a 'Gong-Loi', the type of girl who behaves 'like a princess'. When I asked the girls if any of them behaved in such a way they all chorused a definite 'no' but were a little less sure when the possibility was applied to their friends.
The next day I went to Heep Yun School. Only the week before I had been in Honley High School, Heep Yun's UK partner, and I was struck by the similarity between the buildings: both classic British school buildings from the 1940s, just like the one I had attended myself.
I met Mandy's English Literature group who were studying Othello for their exams. They had been working in groups on bringing to life key scenes and when I entered the class there was a hive of activity as the girls put the final touches to their performances which involved musical instruments, costumes and some plastic fruit!
Photo © RSC
by Tracy Irish
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