Director Chan Wing Chuen’s Cantonese is a little cute. Even though I don’t understand, I was attracted by the “pop, pop, pop” that was frequently caught in it…like throwing a rock into the water. With the help of a translator, I understood in a while that it was actually “POP”, the “Pop” of POP Theatre.
Why are you the big brother?
People in field of Hong Kong theatre are used to respecting him as “big brother.” Regarding this powerful name, his explanation was: “Because I am the first graduates of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.” No matter where he goes, he will meet junior apprentices of the same discipline. The information I found is not only that. A Hong Kong theatre person publicly said on the Internet: “I am not a graduate of performing arts, but I will also call Chan Wing Chuen a “big brother” because he is not only the first graduates of The Academy for Performing Arts. He has also contributed a lot to the field of theatre in Hong Kong.”
Following this trail, Chan Wing Chuen was first a brilliant actor. He once won two awards for “Best Actor” and” Best Supporting Actor” at the Hong Kong Drama Awards Ceremony; served as a theatre instructor at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and Diocesan Girls’ School; also a diligent director, especially in musicals.
In 2002, the “big brother” has been in the field of theatre for many years before the establishment of “POP Theatre”. Explained his intention in one word, focusing on the popularization of drama and the promotion of local creation. When the younger generation asked why he had “delayed” for so many years before he set up his own business, he replied: “Even if I have enough qualifications before, I have never started a theatre troupe because I have not found the direction and goal. Hard work is the second, but the company represents my own philosophy, outlook on life, philosophical thoughts, and views on the world. It is difficult to start a theatre company because I do not understand myself clearly. Until I discovered the type and style, I have a theatre company of my own.”
Ten years later, he has a clearer idea of using Zen to enter the theatre. At the age when many people were about to retire, he established a new troupe “Art Peak”, hoping to convey the possibility of a free life through the theatre. Also, to explore the peak of artistic creation. Meanwhile, the “POP Theatre” continued their “POP” mission. Since 2015, they have moved to the Tuen Mun district on the fringe of the city, bringing drama to “POP” into the daily lives of residents. Theatre id non longer a noble entertainment that can only be enjoyed by going to Sheung Wan or Tsim Sha Tsui.
What is “A Bright Dark Night”?
Almost when they settled in Tuen Mun, they staged a Broadway musical “Title of Show”. With only four actors, a piano and four stools on the stage, they nominated for “Top 10 Most Popular Productions” and “Best Director” at the Hong Kong Drama Awards.
The name of this Cantonese play means: “show title is the hardest to think of.” For POP Theatre, it is exactly the opposite, and naming seems to be their strength. For example, at the “2016 Chinese Original Musical Festival”, the upcoming performance of “A Bright Dark Night” makes people wonders what it is about.
“The name of this play came from my own mind,” said the big brother with a three-tenths satisfied and seven-tenths shy expression: “Many communication technologies in modern life rely on artificial satellites. They operate on their fixed trajectories. Our devices and devices can communicate because there is no collision between the artificial satellites. If the collision occurs, it is like our life is interrupted. Like some unexpected events that do not conform to the daily logic, it will cause fear and anxiety, and this is impermanence.” His hands were raised in the air and gestured, as if there were several transparent tracks.
This work originated from a “collision” accident he personally experienced.
At the beginning of 2013, his cousin died suddenly of an illness, so he had to use creation to alleviate this discomfort. He said: “I’m thinking, how should I deal with myself when I face this impermanence? The purpose of creating this play is to clarify my fear of life and mourn my cousin.”
So, he created three characters: each of them bumped into the “wrong” in their lives and escaped after going off track. Then, in such an exile, slowly understand life. Finally, they retrieved the night sky without the collision of artificial satellites.
In the story, Tibet is an important background, an ideal place. It is also an undiscovered land that the big brother has always wanted to go. “It is pure, natural, and spiritual. Tibet is such a symbol for me. When you go to a place, it is a kind of experience to find yourself, although it may not be successful at the first time. Just like in Tibet, there is a behaviour of walking around a mountain. It is a kind of practice, which there must be some gain in each circle. This is the same for human beings. When we arrange one play and then arrange another play, we will grasp something every time. This is an artistic practice.”
Enter the drama with Zen, walk through the present
I thought that I finally understood Cantonese, and it didn’t take a few seconds before I realized that I have heard it wrong. This was actually “Thangka”, but it seemed to make sense.
During the performance, an actor stayed in one place all the time and concentrated on filling the thangka with paint. “Fill in as much as you can. Our experience has never been completed, but this is no problem.” For a real thangka, it may take six weeks to draw a leaf. That is a very focused work. I hope the audience can feel this moment. Especially for people living in cities, many times we are not in the present. “Hope that when the audience enters the theatre, they will not be “past-minded”, they will not think about work, nor will they be “future-minded” and do not imagine what the future will be. Live painting is used to let them connect with the present.”
Another secret aid is sage. In the many ancient traditions, this mysterious plant plays a role of purification. Eastern and Western medicine also generally believe that it has a soothing effect. POP Theatre brings such a taste into the performance to calm the audience. It is said that this grass is mysterious. Sometimes it burns black smoke, sometimes it is white smoke, depending on the aura of the environment. “Really, it’s not a joke, it’s really amazing.”
Big brother smiled when he spoke, just like his play, his playfulness in Zen. I can start to imagine an anecdote that I heard recently. A while ago, he was invited by Andy Lau’s production company to direct the large-scale rock musical “Unforgettable Era”. When the final curtain call came, Andy Lau suddenly appeared. He went on stage and hugged him, “Wow, Andy Lau is here!” It is a rare opportunity, so he quickly kissed Andy Lau.
It can also be rock and roll, or it can be quiet, the big brother continues to work on his present.
“Zen means that at that moment, calm down and face something. My theatre wants to communicate with the audience. A kind of spiritual communication. So, our set is very simple, as an actor actions or props moving in the space are already at another space and another moment. These moments are formed by the fusion of causes and conditions. I hope that the audience can enjoy the show with a very simple heart and follow this in their hearts. Breathe together.”
In Hong Kong, a city faster than Taipei, can the audience calm down and experience Zen in the theatre? “When we create a play, we do not require the audience to accept or receive these things immediately, but at least there is a seed planted in their minds. It may affect them after two or five years. For example, affecting their family, place of work, society, and then the whole world. We don’t know when that will happen, but we work hard.”
It’s like throwing a stone into a puddle of water, pop, pop, pop, pop…like, waiting for the ripples to spread.
(The above is a translated version, original text is only available in Chinese.)