Just over one year ago, I was approached by a very nice gentleman at the HKREP to meet for a cup of coffee. They were planning a new stage play which involved Caucasian actors, one of which would need to speak significant amounts of Cantonese dialog. With 20 years of Cantonese television and five Cantonese stage productions behind me, I was perhaps their best hope. It was in the coffee shop at the Sheraton Hotel that I met with this gentleman and the script writer/director Sister Joanna.
Very little happened in that short meeting. It was a quick conversation and I was treated to a great plate of Fish & Chips. There were implied promises but nothing more. A short while later, I helped the HKREP to take publicity photos for "The Empress of China" and then heard nothing from them until October of 2010 when my part in the play was finally confirmed.
Rehearsals began in December, and it was a very tough eight weeks. Days into rehearsals, our beloved Beethoven was taken ill with Acute Pancreatitis, and we lost him several days later. Later in rehearsals, issues developed at home that complicated life for a while. Then in mid January, I became ill myself with the flu and fever. Unfortunately, my role was extremely challenging and I couldn't afford to take time off from rehearsals, so I attended even with my fever. After just a few shows at City Hall, our helper's father died and we had to send her home so that she could get the care she needed from her family, so the kids became my morning responsibility. Fortunately, our shows were all afternoon or evening shows, so I had time to look after them and take them for their walks.
The shows themselves were challenging. As an actor speaking in a language learnt as an adult, my dialog was challenging. I was speaking words and grammar that I had never used in my entire life. When you're filming tv or film, you can make mistakes and re-record, but when you're on stage, that's not an option, so the pressure was real. However, I was fortunate to be able to complete all of our shows without any significant mistakes, and I enjoyed almost every single show we performed.
As I've stated in previous posts, we had a special group of people involved in this play, a group of more than 25 actors including seven Caucasians. We had different attitudes, different techniques, different lifestyles and different roles, and yet we all respected each other and worked together extremely well. And we all had one important trait; we all respected the work and worked very hard to be the best we could be right up to the very last show, irrespective of our role in the play.
"The Empress of China" is now over, but it will always be one of the most significant highlights of my life.