Balancing acts

Balancing acts

All the world's a circus, and all the boys and girls awesome players with a hand in their own fate, in HKYAF's musical

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Julian Sewell (second from left) and Alistair So (in red hat) take portraying hugely famous men in their stride.
Julian Sewell (second from left) and Alistair So (in red hat) take portraying hugely famous men in their stride.
Photo: HKYAF
Playing a famous historical figure is a challenge for any actor. It should be even harder for performers who are still at school; but the students in Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation's upcoming production of Godspell are taking all the pressure in their stride.

Godspell is a 1970s rock musical based on parables in the Bible.

Director, and HKYAF founder, Lindsey McAlister, has actually put on the show twice before: once with 200 young performers, and once with professional adult performers. Although she claims to get bored easily, she says that the musical has so much scope, it doesn't get old.

"Every time you work on Godspell, the outcome is distinctive to the group of people that you are working with, the creativity, unique gifts and fearlessness of the cast ... shape the show."

In the original production, the lead character, Jesus was the "sad clown", which inspired McAlister to choose a circus theme for this production. "I liked the idea of the circus being a metaphor for life," she says. "The thrills, the spills, the ups and downs, sometimes alluring ... sometimes contradictory, the good the bad - and the ugly!"

Jesus is portrayed by 16-year-old Julian Sewell, from Island School.

"Jesus is very much a leader. He [has] such passion and drive, that he can attract a whole community into [exploring] love, prosperity, guidance, and friendship."

Fortunately, the rigorous demands of playing someone so well known are tempered by the fact that the cast in a YAF show is heavily involved in shaping their characters.

As Nicole Ng, 16, of HKUGA College, says: "We're generally more involved in YAF shows [than other productions]. Instead of being told what to do and say, we have a say in our final product - the performance."

Alistair So, 16, faces a peculiar challenge: playing two characters, who are almost total opposites.

"In Godspell, John the Baptist [Jesus' right-hand man] and Judas are one character ... [I had to] develop this loyal, brotherly relationship with Jesus, and then begin to let it slowly fade away, as Judas begins to realise that his friend and inspiration is not who he thinks he is."

A role in a HKYAF show is highly sought-after: more than 600 people aged 10 to 25 auditioned for around the 40 parts in Godspell. They had to sing, dance, act and "devise", or improvise - something that happens during the rehearsal process, too.

"I prefer to workshop ideas, and develop scenes through improvisation" McAlister explains. "I give [the cast] different stimulus ... and they start exploring their ideas ... I chose the ones that I feel are the strongest and start putting the pieces together."

This process is popular with the cast, as it gives them a chance to learn other skills from their peers, and keeps them invested in the production.

As Jayne Ng, 17, from Hong Kong International School, puts it: "It gives every cast member, whether you're a principal or ensemble, a chance to be involved, leaving everyone very committed to the show!"

Godspell runs December 13-15 at the Arts Centre. Tickets from Urbtix on 2111 5999 or urbtix.hk

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