A Hong Kong Primary Production
18th July 2018
By Jasmin Jamal: Associate Consultant
In our primary school, children are encouraged to follow their passion in diverse
extra-curricular activities on Fridays. These include sports, music, drama, domestic sciences and technology. The annual upper school production was launched five years ago, under my directorship.
The theatre is made up of many parts and it is important for the students to know, understand and be part of them all. From the first letter sent home every year in October, which asks students (with parents’ input) to choose the role they desire, to the actual performances in June, the students develop and devise their roles into making a whole production. Numbers speak louder than words, so here are some statistics in the 2018 show:
84 actors, 11 dancers, 7 in mini-orchestra, 4 light and sound technicians, 20 set and design team, 6 video of the journey team, 6 photographers, 4 ticket designers, 4 programme designers; all led by 16 staff members .
What is involved?
Every year, I write the play during the summer holidays, which is then extended according to the amount of actors who sign up, as well as by the students’ version of their roles. The script is purely for fun, with the emphasis being on collaborative professional behaviour and theatre etiquette. Scripts are then photocopied and distributed, rehearsal timings published, staff members solicited, and the venue (school hall) booked.
Securing the weekly rehearsal space in our school is of prime importance and is always also the prime difficulty. In a busy school, with so many opportunities on offer to the children, the school hall, (also known as the Theatre) is in constant use, for daily activities like sports and assemblies, but also for activities like debating, the Chinese Drumming Club, dance and music events.
Nothing would be possible, and certainly not done so with ease, without the support of the staff and especially the Principal. A budget is given annually to cover costs of buying costumes; all other costs are absorbed within the school, such as materials for set, scenery and props, photocopying of scripts and letters to parents, advertising the performance, printing programmes, tickets and posters, use of school cameras, i-pads and laptops.
Once roles are signed up for and roles allotted, the first rehearsal begins with a get-together of all members of the show – and what a get-together it is for the 145 eager students, excitedly unaware of what is yet to come! The ‘Read Through’ for everyone involved is followed by ‘Blocking’ for the actors, and then it is rehearse, rehearse, rehearse for the next few months… weeks of fun and laughter with serious acting skills learned and applied. The production team carry out their work in different parts of the school, until the final four weeks when all the parts come together to fit like a glove. And finally, the audience seating is erected.
The Dress Rehearsal
There are two performances, one each for the lower and upper school, comprising of 450 students in each half, as well as staff members. This is the first time the actors are in full costume, with the staging and seating set up; the lighting and sound technicians working in silence, off their scripts; the orchestra and dancers take their cues from the stage instead of me. Other components are also in place: the set, backdrop, all props. The video and photographers take their final shots to complete their presentations for the opening night.
Once entrance tickets are collected and the audience is assembled and seated, comprising of parents, siblings (no children under the age of 11 allowed) staff and community members, the show begins with the dimming of lights and the commencement of videos composed by the video team, showing the journey of the whole enterprise from its inception to the dress rehearsal. At the appointed time, I give my brief opening speech to the audience, (reminding them of the diligence of their children and to treat them as professional actors, rather than their own children) the orchestra take their seats in the pit and the actors wait in the wings for their entrance music. Then it is an hour and a half of joyous entertainment, with added adlibs, team support and fun. The last hope is that the prompt gets to remain silent throughout!
The Benefits and Rewards
The school’s profile of drama and music is highlighted as well as the talent of its students. Students’ growing confidence over the rehearsal weeks and actual performance, as well as working collaboratively with other students older and younger than themselves, is of invaluable significance – a chance to express them-selves artistically. Family members’ pride at watching their children in the spot-light, be it on or off-stage, confirms the achievements of the students and validates the time and the support they gave their child at home. The show is a great community event, boosting the public profile and reputation of the school. Most importantly, it underlines the desperate need for such an event in the annual school calendar, as can be seen not only by the success of the show, but by the sheer numbers of students who voluntarily sign up to participate in one of the many varying roles (one third of the Upper School this year!). And last but not least, is the fun element of such an undertaking, for both staff and students!
And then we do it all over again….!
NOTE: The school comprises of 92% students who are ethnically Chinese, with Cantonese or Mandarin as their mother tongue. English is the language of teaching.