Shakespeare: A worldwide classroom

Hong Kong - Part 2

February 26, 2013

During my visit to Heep Yun school, I was taken to the drama studio. In a city where space is at a premium, Heep Yun is unusual in HK for having such a facility. The school is government-funded, but dedication to the value of drama led to private fundraising to build this well-equipped and spacious studio. Drama sessions are on the curriculum for each year group as well as being a popular extracurricular activity.

Sitting in the studio, I spoke with the Arts Award group about Theatre Noir's With Love... and about their own forthcoming version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. There are 21 students in the group aged 15 to 17. Vanessa is the director and others form the production team, assigning all necessary jobs between them, including writing, marketing, design and technical. They auditioned younger students to be their actors and have a cast of 11.

With no full time drama staff, the girls take on all the production responsibilities, handing on their skills to younger girls as they move up. They had some insightful comments on the Theatre Noir show but most interestingly were very excited about the inspiration both the acting and design had given them for their own show; we had a long discussion about how music creates mood and the value of taped versus live music and soundscapes.

Their concept is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream which will be performed as part of a local Shakespeare Festival called Love Matters on 28 April 2012, organised by the British Council in Hong Kong. Heep Yun's four cluster Primary schools will also be taking part in the festival. Theatre Noir have worked with each school to explore the play and to support the students in creating their own adaptations based on their interpretations of how the text relates to their own lives. Pictures from the rehearsals show they've been having a lot of fun.

Drama in Hong Kong schools is growing in popularity but is mainly taught through peripatetic teachers from companies like Theatre Noir and Shakespeare4All. Unfortunately due to the snow delays, I missed my opportunity to see a workshop in a school led by Theatre Noir practitioners, but on my second day, I was fortunate to be taken to a Primary School on Hong Kong island by Dr Vicki Ooi, founder of Shakespeare4All.

Following a career as an academic and director, Vicki founded Shakespeare4All nine years ago in response to the introduction of an elective module in the Hong Kong curriculum to learn English through drama. Vicki's idea was simple: 'If you're doing drama, start with the best' and she has worked with Shakespeare, in some Secondary, but mainly Primary schools, since then.

I accompanied Vicki to watch Esther work with a group of 9 and 10 year olds on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Esther had edited the play and was exploring it with the group as a co-curricular activity leading towards a performance as part of The Globe's Learning and Performance programme. Vicki's team are all native or fully fluent English speakers as the main purpose of the programme is to improve proficiency in English but as she told me, 'they want English through drama, but I hope to also to give them drama through English'.

Tracy's WSF blog - Hong Kong - Teachers in Tracy's workshopOn my last day in Hong Kong, I led a three-hour workshop for local teachers hosted by Theatre Noir. The teachers were from a range of schools, covering ages from 6 to 16 and with a range of fluency in English.

We had some fascinating and very positive discussions about how the active approaches can motivate and inspire a wide range of communication skills for second language speakers, including cultural, social and emotional learning as well as more standard literacy skills.

There are around 700 Primary and 400 Secondary schools in Hong Kong with around 100 of the total being English Medium Instruction and with probably only 20 of those offering English Literature as an examination subject. With not all of those 20 choosing to study Shakespeare, it seems few young people in Hong Kong study Shakespeare in the traditional way, yet he is well known and, through the work of companies like Theatre Noir and Shakespeare4All, well loved.

Perhaps the most interesting message to take away from my dialogue with educators here is their admiration and aspiration for UK arts education provision for young people and the balanced and broader education it brings.

The arts are becoming more and more popular in Hong Kong schools, especially with the proposed expansion of the already impressive Kowloon Cultural Centre and there is a vibrancy and optimism about the value of arts education that we can certainly learn from.

Photo by Tracy Irish © RSC

by Tracy Irish  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare