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Dr Sam Lam Directs “1894 Hong Kong Plague – a Musical”: A Tale of Hope Kept Alive by Faith 

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Dr Sam Lam Directs 1894 Hong Kong Plague – a Musical
A Tale of Hope Kept Alive by Faith
Re-Creating on Stage a Historical Chapter from Hong Kong’s 1890s

【Hong Kong Repertory Theatre】At a tumultuous time when the future is both terrifying and uncertain, can one still have a say on his/her own destiny? The year is 1894, and Hong Kong is hit by the great plague of unknown origin, with a mortality rate of 95%. Tai Ping Shan Street, a neighbourhood inhabited mostly by Chinese residents, is an epicentre of the pandemic. The government has the area razed to the ground, forcing close to 7,000 residents out of their homes. 1894 Hong Kong Plague – a Musical is based on these true historical events, co-written by Gerard Tsang and Hong Kong Repertory Theatre Director Anthony Chan, with Dr Sam Lam at the helm as director. The musical transports the audience between the abstract and the representational to create a poignant contrast between such historical moments and our lives today. Seeking new hope at the horizon amidst a time of chaos and despair, portraying the will and endurance to survive against all odds, as well as a determination not to be ravaged by society and circumstances, it is a stirring re-creation of Hong Kong people’s united effort against the great plague a hundred years ago. The production team includes Alfred Wong as composer, Alfred Wong and Tse Tai Shun in music arrangement, Chris Shum as lyricist, Alfred Wong and Owen Wong as music directors, and Ivanhoe Lam as choreographer. The cast includes 40 performers, led by Wong Wai Chi, Lau Shau Ching, Wang Wei and Ko Hon Man. It will be presented at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre between 10th and 17th January 2016. Tickets are available now from URBTIX outlets.

The story was set in 1894, at a time when Chinese and Western cultures met and clashed. Tai Ping Shan Street in Central is an epicentre of the great plague, without any effective measure, neither in Chinese nor Western medicine, to contain the desperate situation. Huang Yan (by Wong Wai Chi) finds herself constantly negotiating between the two sets of medical traditions. Would she be able to take control of her own destiny and find hope in the desperate situation? Born into this extraordinary time, Huang decides to entrust her own destiny to the people she believes in the most – perhaps her only hope for survival.

Highlighting the cultural conflicts between East and West at the time, 1894 Hong Kong Plague – a Musical by playwright Gerard Tsang is the last of his “Hong Kong Trilogy” subsequent to historical epics Ebb and Evacuation Order. “I have always had a keen interest in Hong Kong’s history and custom. In particular, Hong Kong people’s ability to fight against huge challenges historically and their selfless sacrifices have always moved me the most, and these acts in the past have crucially contributed to Hong Kong’s spirit of self-affirmation,” he said. The number of deaths caused by 1894 great plague was far greater than the 2003 SARS epidemic, and trigged a fierce debate between those in Chinese and Western medicine. “Chinese medicine is a part of China’s traditional culture, yet it was largely neglected during that time, while Western doctors were also not able to come up with a reliable cure. Yet progress was possible when those from the two traditions clashed and collaborated. The musical was created based on historical facts, and we hope to bring a glimmer of hope in this dark episode of history through the presentation of the story as a musical,” said Anthony Chan, Artistic Director of Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.
Dr Sam Lam collaborates with HKRep in 1894 Hong Kong Plague, following the critically-acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Richard III six years ago. The musical employs techniques that are abstract as well as representational to retell the story from an important chapter of the city’s history a hundred years ago. While the story is realistic, the stage aesthetics has an abstract element to it. “This is different from traditional musicals. While we remain truthful to the historical context, we have applied a modern approach, working with the momentum of the script, to create an abstract space, allowing a strong sense of authenticity to be displayed by the performers, so that the audience can really relate to the emotions of the characters, to imagine how we would react if something like this happens in modern times. Meanwhile, an abstract approach adds a number of different dimensions of historical meanings and strives to establish a connection with the audience,” he said.

Starring in the leading role of Huang Yan, Wong Wai Chi, twice received the Hong Kong Drama Awards’ Best Actress Award, is as outstanding an actress as she is a singer. She believes Huang Yan is fortunate, despite the character’s eventual death as a victim of the great plague eventually. “Huang Yan was purchased as a child bride, by a family of doctors in Chinese medicine for many generations. The father has showed her a lot of affection and love, and hence gave her the opportunity to study Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, in the great plague she also became infected. She however chose to receive Western medical care, with the hope to find a cure.” Her self-sacrifice, which gave hopes for finding cure through herself as a case study, represented a first step of integration between Chinese and Western medicine.

As a special event organised in conjunction with the current production, on 5th, 12th, 19thDecember 2015 as well as 3rd January 2016, HKRep will present a special museum experiential theatre tour entitled “Hygeia” at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The tour uses interactive theatre as the format to guide visitors along streets constructed in early Hong Kong fashion, to offer insights into the life of Chinese people when Hong Kong first began development as well as the history of the plagues.

About the Playwright Gerard Tsang
Gerard Tsang received his BA degree in Chinese Art & Archaeology and Diploma in Management Studies from the University of Hong Kong, and Diploma in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Manchester. After serving for 4 years as an Executive Officer in the Hong Kong Government, he began his 30-year career in the museum profession. He had served as an Assistant Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Curator of New Territories Museums , the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Assistant Director (Heritage and Museums) of the Hong Kong Government. He had established a number of new museums including the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum, the Hong Kong Railway Museum, the Sam Tung Uk Folk Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Tea Ware, the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre and new venues for the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Hong Kong Museum of Art. After his retirement from the civil service, in 2007 he participated in the planning and fabrication of the Museum of Chinese Medicine of the Hong Kong Baptist University. He became the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Dance Company from 2009 to 2013. He is also a playwright.

His plays include Ebb and Evacuation Order, and dance dramas : Evacuation OrderQingming RiversideRomance of the Three KingdomsThe Legend of Mulan and The Happy Princeperformed by the Hong Kong Dance Company. His recent works include the Dance Poem Dunhuang Reflections commissioned by the Hong Kong Dance Federation and the musical 1894 Hong Kong Plague performed by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. He is an Adviser to the Hong Kong Dance Federation.

About the Playwright Anthony Chan
Anthony Chan is among the few distinguished theatre professionals with expertise in not only playwriting and directing but also set design, theatre education and stage management. His scripts (including translations and adaptations) number more than 100; he has directed 68 productions and designed sets for 13 shows. A former Head of Directing and Playwriting at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts who served for 19 years at the institution, he has dedicated himself to nurturing a new generation of playwrights and directors. He also devised the curriculum for the M.F.A. degree in Drama (Directing) before his departure from the HKAPA.

A frequent award-winner, Chan was the 1991 Artists of the Year from the Hong Kong Artists’ Guild. Other accolades include “Outstanding Achievements of the Decade” in 1994 and “Outstanding Translator—Silver Jubilee Commemorative Award” in 2009 from the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies.

His scripts cover a wide range of topics, each a microcosm of dramatic mastery. Metamorphosis under the Stars has been frequently revived in the past two decades; Formula of the Thunderstorm won Best Performance at the 2000 Hong Kong Drama Awards. Most recently, he adapted Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and created Reverie on an Empire, highlighting an often-overlooked event in modern Chinese history. All of these works reveal Chan’s unique perspective and his ability to shape words for the stage, and his enthusiasm and talent in the dramatic arts.

His works have been performed frequently overseas, in cities such as Edinburgh, London, France, Tarascon, Bordeaux, Toronto, Melbourne, Beijing and Shanghai.

Since assuming the position of Artistic Director at the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre in 2008, Anthony has led the following productions: Field of Dreams (playwright, director), Caligula (translator, director), A Flea in Her Ear (adaptation, director), Boundless Movement (director), Cao Yu’s Last Soliloquy (playwright), Dr. Faustus (adaptation, director), Reverie of an Empire (playwright), A Bowlful of Kindness (playwright, director), 18/F Flat C(director) , Wait Until Dark (adaptation, director), Footprints in the Snow (playwright), Hello, Dolly! (adaptation, director) and Wolf in the House (director). He is dedicated to the artistic mission of the HKRep. Apart from contributing his talents in playwriting, directing and management, he has been an avid supporter of the development of local original dramas, theatre education and international exchange. Always keen to discover a new generation of theatre artists, he brings the HKRep onto new milestones.

Anthony obtained his M.A. from the University of Colorado at Denver, having received prior training in theatre, art and design. He was made Honorary Fellowship of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in June 2013. He is currently a member of the China Theatre Association, a juror of the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies and an assessor of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

About the Director  Dr Sam Lam
Dr Lam receives his doctoral degree (Summa Cum Laude, first-class honors) at the Maryland Rochville Theatre. His Bachelor and Master degrees were completed at the University of Winnipeg Theatre School. The first professional mime artist in Hong Kong, he is a recognized member of the American Drama Guild Association, and one of the four most influential people in Hong Kong Theatre as chosen by the Editorial Board of Oxford Press. His name has been included in Who’s Who in Contemporary World Theatre.

Prior to his return to Hong Kong, Dr Lam taught at the University of Winnipeg. He also performed and directed productions by professional theatre companies in Canada, and he was a full time actor for a company in mime theatre. In Hong Kong, he taught at the School of Drama at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts for 23 years, and he was Head of Acting of the School till his departure. During this period, he also taught as a guest lecturer for the Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) talent training programme, Asia Television Limited (ATV) talent training programme as well as other universities. While working as an educator, Dr Lam has also been actively involved in film, television and theatre in Hong Kong, including many television dramas for the two local TV stations and performances in close to 20 movies, working with directors such as Alfred Cheung Kin-ting and Jeffrey Lau Chun-Wai. He possesses in-depth knowledge and insights into the local film and television industry.

Ever a staunch proponent of local theatre development, Dr Lam has taken part in drama productions including: The DresserFormula of the Thunderstorm and Judgement at Nuremberg. His performances in Death of a Salesman and Don’t Dress for Dinner have earned him the Best Supporting Actor Award. Dr Lam has directed several plays of Shakespeare including The Tempest and Twelfth Night, Molière’s romantic drama Don Juan, Greek tragedies Medea and The Trojan Women, Jean Genet’s farcical The Maids, realist classic The Seagull by Chekhov, as well as A Streetcar Named Desire, original play Tin Hau-Goddess of Heaven, Broadway musical The Wizard of OzGuys and DollsDamn YankeesI Love You Because and original musical The Legend of Teresa Tang. He received the Hong Kong Drama Awards of Best Director and Best Performance of the Year with his directing work The End of Long River.

In 2009, Dr Lam was invited by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre to direct the Shakespeare play Richard III, making him the first Chinese director to direct a Shakespeare historical play on a professional stage in Hong Kong.

In May 2011, Dr Lam collaborated with Windmill Grass Theatre to direct Broadway musical I Love You Because. The fourteen performances were sold out within one day. In March 2012, it returned by enthusiastic acclaims to the Hong Kong Academy for Performance Arts Lyric Theatre​.

A versatile director, Dr Lam is renowned for his interpretation of theatre classics as well as large-scale musicals. He was also the first theatre artist and scholar who studied physical performance in the West. Having been an educator in theatre for over two decades, Dr Lam also possesses a wealth of academic and educational experiences. He is committed to furthering the research of the cross-over and integration of Chinese and Western theatre, and to advancing the level of recognition of Chinese theatre internationally.

Dr Lam is currently a part-time lecturer of Hong Kong Baptist University and the Course Coordinator and the lecturer of the HKUSPACE Diploma in Theatre Studies. He is Artistic Advisor to the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, Artistic Advisor and Board Committee of Employees Retraining Board and The Skills Upgrading Scheme of Labour Bureau.

About the Music Composer Alfred Wong
With more than a hundred output, Alfred Wong’s music has been performed worldwide, including the USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherland, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, mainland China, Taiwan and Macao. He has awarded CASH Scholarships twice, his music Voice of Heritage received “2014 CASH Golden Sail Music Awards” – Best Serious Composition, Nocturne to the Victoria Harbour was awarded Bronze in the ‘Xinyi Cup’, granted by the Art Department of the Ministry of Culture of China and the China Nationalities Orchestra Society for distinctive works for Chinese orchestra by young composers, An Illusive Dream was awarded Bronze in the Chinese orchestral compositions on the youth subject. Flame was selected in International Society for Contemporary Music 2009, Songs from Chinawas published by the Hong Kong Children’s Choir. In recent years, he is active in writing Chinese instrumental music, including theatre music The Eight Immortals’ Adventures and The Eight Immortals’ Adventures Prequel, jointly presented by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Hong Kong Repertory theatre in 2010 and 2012 respectively, and two of the pieces within was recorded by Hugo Productions (HK) Ltd. and included in the album “Chinese Orchestral Works by Hong Kong Composers”. Besides, his Mountain and Flowing River was recorded by Modern Audio Limited.

Wong is also an active conductor in Hong Kong, collaborating with groups of varied nature, such as Hong Kong Band Directors Wind Orchestra, Windpipe Ensemble, Hong Kong YWCA Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Children’s Choir and Tertiary Students’ Ensemble. Wong was invited to conduct in Sabah Chinese Music Festival in 2009 and 2013, Guangzhou Youth Palace Wind Orchestra and Taipei Chin Yuan Chinese Orchestra in 2011.
Born in Hong Kong, Alfred Wong received his bachelor and master degree in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, studied composition with Prof. Chan Wing-wah, piano with Dr. Cheng Wai, percussion with Dr. Lung Heung-wing and conducting with Mr. Ho Man-chuen. He is currently teaching at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, the School of Professional and Continuing Education of The University of Hong Kong and The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wong’s music is now managed by Apple Tree Music Publishing Limited.

About the Lyricist Chris Shum
Chris Shum graduated from the Hong Kong Baptist University’s Chinese Department, and later received his Master of Philosophy from the Faculty of Education, the University of Hong Kong. He mainly writes lyrics for musicals, but he also writes occasionally for other genres such as film and television, in addition to translating dramas and lyrics.

Shum enjoys a prolific artistic career spanning many years, and has been twice awarded the Best Original Score at the Hong Kong Drama Awards, twice the CASH Golden Sail Music Awards, as well as the Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan and the Hong Kong Film Awards.

In 2013, Shun adapted Mary Chin’s The Woman wearing Kenzo into a musical, for which he wrote the script as well as lyrics, with first public reading in November 2013 by Actors’ Family. In 2014, he wrote the script and lyrics for Yat Po Singers’ A Cappella work Our Immortal Cantata. In late 2014, he wrote the lyrics for Sing High!, a programme celebrating Macao Cultural Centre’s 15th Anniversary. His 2015 works include: all Cantonese and Mandarin lyrics of Chinese movie Monster Hunt, the Cantonese lyrics for songs in Pixar’s short animation Lava, as well as the Mandarin version of Happily Ever After, which celebrates the 10th Anniversary of Hong Kong Disneyland.

Since early 2010, Shum began to translate theatre works. The first work he translated was Communicating Doors for the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre (HKRep), adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s play of the same title. In 2014, he translated Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Lifefor HKRep’s production and also wrote the lyrics for the songs in the play.

He has written a book entitled Musical Theatre – All About Lyrics, published by Schoolmates CC Limited. His second book focuses on musical theatre and cross-media lyrics writing, soon be published by the Commercial Press. Personal website: www.chrisshum.com

About 1894 Hong Kong Plague – a Musical


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