All his world is a stage

All his world is a stage

Only a lack of funds stands between an aspiring young Hong Kong actor and his dream

November 04, 2012
October 21, 2012
October 21, 2012
October 21, 2012
October 14, 2012
October 14, 2012
October 14, 2012
October 14, 2012
October 07, 2012
October 07, 2012
For James Chan Tai-yin, the first week of June will be a testing time. It's not that he fears the wretched heat or debilitating humidity. It's that his future may hang in the balance.

Chan has been accepted to one of the most prestigious drama schools in the world - Central School of Speech & Drama (BA Hons Acting: Collaborative and Devised Theatre) at the University of London. He's quite possibly the first Hongkonger to be granted admission to a faculty that boasts such alumni as multi-Academy Award winner actor Sir Laurence Olivier, Nobel Prize winner playwright Harold Pinter and newly anointed Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield.

But getting accepted has been one thing. Paying the school's steep tuition fees is quite another.

"The school sent me a letter saying I need to prove by June 7 that I will be able to pay for all expenses in the three-year programme," the 23-year-old says. "Tuition is GBP17,000 [HK220,000] per year. That's GBP51,000 over three years - crazy expensive."

International students, he adds, need to pay five times more than local students.

"I've got one-third of it saved," he says. "My family can support me for another one-third. I need to find a way to pay the final third. But this is just for tuition. It doesn't include living expenses."

Acting wasn't a natural career choice for Chan, who graduated with a degree in computer engineering at the University of Science and Technology.

"I told my parents I wanted to give this a try," Chan says. "They agreed, but said I'd have to be responsible for my actions."

Chan fell in love with the stage while he was a member of his university's drama society, where he got his acting chops.

He was cast in the lead role of a dark political drama and went on to direct, write and stage-design various other productions. After graduation, he also worked with local theatre companies.

In 2009, Chan made a brief trip to the UK to audition for spots at various acting schools, including Central. All five rejected him. Undaunted, he tried again the following year, this time auditioning at 12 schools.

"The toughest [audition] was at Central. More than 1,000 people sat in the theatre," he recalls. "There were no Chinese. Not even one Asian person at any of the auditions."

Yet being the only Chinese proved to be a blessing in disguise. In round four of the five-round audition process, Chan had to improvise a two-minute performance based on an abstract painting.

"Most of the colours in the painting were red, black and white," he explains. "For me, red means the Chinese flag. So for part of the performance I sang the Chinese national anthem and made a Chairman Mao speech ... The black represents anger and from my understanding, the speech had some anger to it. I also sang the song We Will Rock You, just mixing bits of what I felt."

Chan felt he did well - but not well enough to make the cut. The poker faces of the judges weren't much help. "They just said, 'OK. We'll let you know'," Chan says.

But when he returned to Hong Kong an email awaited him: he'd been accepted.

Now he's working feverishly to make money to meet the dreaded deadline. He's planning to stage fund-raising performances and looking for a patron of the arts. He is also drafting a proposal to the Lee Hysan Foundation, at their request.

Yet Chan remains a realist. He concedes that he may fail to raise enough money. "Worst case scenario? I have to turn down the offer [to attend the course]," he says. "But I will stick with my dream. Even if I can't attend the school, I will find other ways of developing my acting skills."

Whatever happens on June 7, Chan's is a name to watch out for.

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