I've been invited to be a part of the opening ceremony of the 香港當代電影展 in Taipei at the end of this month. Last year, I filmed 浮城大亨 (previously known as 百年浮城) with 嚴浩 and 郭富城. We had fun filming it and it turned out to be a great film although not seen by a lot of people here in Hong Kong. Happily, the movie has been selected by the 香港電影發展局 (HKFDC) to be the opening film of the festival, and they've asked me to attend. Cool!
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.
The HKREP was kind enough to give me permission to post this photo from our final dress rehearsal. I hope you like it. The handsome man on the right is one of our guest actors from New York, Andrei Drooz.
We spent our last day rehearsing for The Empress of China in Sheung Wan today. After a break, we'll begin technical rehearsals in City Hall on Wednesday.
After two full run-throughs today while still recovering from the flu, I'm feeling extremely tired, but nothing can prevent me from checking the flood status in my home town of Gympie in Queensland where my parents still live.
Gympie is rather unique. The Mary River is the source of flooding there, and the river bank separating the larger Eastern side of Gympie is quite high, so the Mary River needs to rise significantly to flood to the East. Unfortunately, once it gets that high, it's like watching water run out of a full bathtub with the taps turned on, and the flooding can be severe. Main Street is definitely in trouble, again!
With rain predicted to continue for several days yet, and the ground already completely soaked, deeper flooding is almost guaranteed.
Fortunately, my parents live in a very high area of Gympie, and they're still reachable by phone and internet.
The weather is cooler now. I don't know if it's the sudden weather change or if it's the air conditioning on the MTR (which for anyone over 6' tall can be a big problem) but I picked up a serious flu bug several days ago. By Tuesday afternoon, I could feel the flu hallmarks of nasal swelling, exhaustion and muscle pain all over. With so little time left until we perform for the public, I didn't want to risk not recovering quickly and dashed off to see my favourite doctor.
I was a little surprised to discover that I was feverish! I shouldn't have been surprised because I had been experiencing hot and cold all day long; i.e., my body's thermostat was out of wack. My doctor prescribed the best medicine he could (not all medicines are created equal) and suggested that I take one or two days off rehearsals to recover. I shook my head in response to indicate that taking time off would not be an option. There was still so much to work on in the play and so little time left to do it in.
So I spent two days; perhaps three; rehearsing with a fever, all the while keeping everyone else on the cast at least an arm's length away from me, and not talking unless I absolutely had to. Sneezing and coughing were simply not permitted! Not that that helped much. As my doctor indicated to me, the recent sudden cold snap combined with the high pollution levels in Hong Kong has led to a great many people coming down with the flu, including several on our cast.
I'm getting better, but to be extra safe, I revisited my doctor yesterday and he agreed that I would need a second course of medicine to be sure of full recovery, with a few small changes to the medicine just in case I'm dealing with more than one type of bug.
Fortunately, we have this weekend off so I can relax; physically at least; and recover more before returning to rehearsals next week.
Next week! Ah... fun! Double full run-throughs every day except Tuesday. It will be tiring without a doubt. On Wednesday, we move rehearsals to the City Hall theatre where we'll remain until the last show on Jan 31. With double run-throughs daily, next week will probably be the most taxing week in our 8-week period together. Once the show goes live, work will be relatively light weight, with double run-throughs only occurring four times during the two weeks that we'll be performing.
I have just checked with URBIX, and have found that tickets have sold very quickly for most of the shows. There are still reasonable selections available for the last three shows but they might not last long.
Well I'm off to get a little warm sun on our porch while going over the various scenes of the play in my head ;-)
We, the family at the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, have been working hard on the new bilingual play 中國皇后號 for almost five weeks. During this time, my wife and I personally suffered a loss in the family with the passing of Beethoven; another actress in the group spent several days visiting her grandfather in the hospital; and yet another actress sadly lost her father just this morning.
Despite the losses and emotional hits, we have all continued to work hard on the play, which has presented us with multiple challenges due to its unique structure, something I think audiences will find very interesting.
It's great to be working with so many talented people including members of the HKREP, caucasian actors living locally in Hong Kong, and of course those wonderful actors from New York. Everyone is talented and dedicated to being the best they can irrespective of their role in the play. I was especially delighted by the local Caucasian actors. One, of Irish decent, speaks fluent Spanish (one of the languages I'm learning) is excellent with accents and quite a character to be around. Another is a professional voice actor and can readily produce multiple voices all of great quality. Yet another is simply a fun guy to be around and to watch on stage. And every one of the Caucasian actors; both local and from New York; have incredible voices, voices that will ring free through the City Hall theatre when we perform there from January 15.
But the most interesting person in the group is definitely the director. Sister Joanna 陳尹瑩 is intelligent, demanding, experienced and gracious. She is knowledgeable in many things including so many things not related to the stage. It has been an honour to work with her, and I mean this from my heart. She's a very special lady.
More later. I need to shower and sleep now so that I can continue to work hard refining my bilingual role in "The Empress of China" tomorrow ;-)
Friendly reminder. Tickets are available now from all Urbtix outlets.
I'm the spokesman for a wedding theme holiday resort in Dong Guan 東莞婚紗城. They had a special 100-couple wedding event on the weekend and I of course as spokesman performed. My wife videoed the performance. Here is part of it. I hope you like it.
Just before we left for Macau for the International Series of Mahjong competition, I received a telephone call from ATV. They wanted me to perform in the National Day Cultural Night production 「香港同胞慶祝中華人民共和國成立五十九週年文藝晚會」, which was cool, but what was even cooler was that they wanted me to perform Cantonese Opera!
My part in the performance was only 30 seconds long but it was special. Ten days before the show, I had the music and lyrics. Then on Friday, five days before the show, I had my first 2-hour lesson in Cantonese Opera followed by another lesson on Sunday morning. That was it. The rest was up to me.
I knew it was going to be hard because we would be performing live, and because the show would be broadcast through much of China, so I worked hard to memorise the song and spent one to two hours every day rehearsing the routine on our balcony.
On Wednesday afternoon before the performance, we had rehearsals, my first time to work with renown masters of Cantonese Opera 梁漢威先生 and 尹飛燕小姐. Rehearsals went fine, and then there was more fun to be had. I was to be dressed in full Cantonese Opera robe with full makeup. Yippee!
My nerves were steady for most of the day, but by the time I reached the stage, my heart was racing a lot faster than I would have liked. Near the end of the first sentence of the song, with adrenaline racing through my body and all of my senses hightened much more than necessary, in my mind, I momentarily forgot a character in the lyrics. I'm not exactly sure what happened next but I heard the last character of the sentence come out of my mouth and held on to it. Then I smiled, because I knew I was going to be ok.
It was not as good a performance as I had hoped for but for someone who had just had 4 hours training in something as complex as Cantonese Opera, it wasn't too bad.
More importantly though, it was a personal victory. Many years ago, I developed a physiological form of depression resulting from severe and prolonged physical exhaustion, possibly a form of Burnout Syndrome. During that time, whenever I performed publicly, my nervousness would morph into terror, terror that was clearly visible on my face. Those episodes of terror left a mark on me. Since that time whenever preparing for a new performance, I have had to face the memory of those terrors and overcome them. It has only been during the last one or two years that those terrors have gradually faded away, and I have been able to enjoy performing again.
Without knowing it, several of my friends have been instrumental in helping me to overcome the fear of reliving that terror while performing by helping me to enjoy performing, good friends including Fred, Walter and Peisha.
And now, for your entertainment, here is the clip from that night's performance. I make my appearance just after 5:23 minutes into the clip. Try not to laugh too much ;-)