Eight aspiring actors with Down syndrome brings a community together

Eight aspiring actors with Down syndrome brings a community together

With the help of a local community theatre group, eight aspiring performers with Down syndrome put on a great show

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Back row (from left): Willaim, producer Jenny Lun, Nathan, Pol, Hiu-lam; front row (from left): Marie Jane, Evelyn, Alistair, Samuel.
Back row (from left): Willaim, producer Jenny Lun, Nathan, Pol, Hiu-lam; front row (from left): Marie Jane, Evelyn, Alistair, Samuel.
Photo: Albert Cheung

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(From left): Pol. William, Alistair get dramatic backstage.
(From left): Pol. William, Alistair get dramatic backstage.
Photo: Albert Cheung

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Walker and Evelyn know that learning lines is tough for any actor.
Walker and Evelyn know that learning lines is tough for any actor.
Photo: Albert Cheung

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Samuel and Alistair's hard work will pay off.
Samuel and Alistair's hard work will pay off.
Photo: Albert Cheung

It takes a specific personality type to get up on stage in front of family, friends and strangers, and portray a character unlike yourself. When you also have to remember a plot, dance moves and song lyrics, the task is tough. If you're a young person with Down syndrome, it becomes even trickier.

People with Down syndrome can have mild to moderate intellectual and developmental problems. This can have an impact on aspiring performers; as Karen Tse of Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association put it, "It can be really hard for people with Down syndrome to memorise and read a script." But eight theatre lovers have done just that, with some help from local community theatre group Hong Kong Players.

Yesterday, Nathan Leung, Yau Hiu-lam, Samuel Harries, William Russell, Evelyn Shih, Pol Sommerau, Alistair Faliso, and Marie Jane Manomaiudom performed a "mini panto", Little Red Riding Hood, at Grappas Cellar in Jardine House, Central. 

The Hong Kong Players representatives working with the cast, Adam Walker, Candice Caalsen and Claire Johnson, are all performers themselves, and all teach performing arts, but admit working with the group was a steep learning curve.

"Neither Candice, Claire nor myself are specialist teachers for people with special needs, so it has largely been trial and error. We started with an awards ceremony format and then changed to a story as it would be more engaging," says Walker, who is one of the producers of the Players upcoming Christmas panto, Puss in Boots

"The members have some quite profound needs, and struggle to remember specific movements and lyrics and apply themselves, but with repetition, and support from parents, they have developed their skills effectively," adds Walker.

Tse says that the things expected of a cast in other shows can be difficult for people with Down syndrome, adding that the age range of the cast - from six to 32 - makes it hard to hold everyone's attention at the same time. "All of them can be quite stubborn at times. The teachers needed to be especially patient with them," she says.

Tse says the fund-raising event should show the public how young people with Down syndrome can take part in all sorts of events. "We believe all people with Down syndrome have all sorts of potential, especially in the arts. The panto training has helped develop their musical and dramatic sense, which in turn enhances their [coordination], self expression and self confidence."

But it's not all about the actors - the Players believe the project will help the public better understand the roughly 3,000 Hongkongers with Down syndrome. "Hong Kong Players have a strong commitment to theatre in the community and have often collaborated with organisations to help promote local causes ... This is our first foray into working with people with special needs, and we feel that it is important to offer the skills of our members into the wider community in order to help raise awareness of other less represented members of society," says Walker.

Tse says events like this can help people understand Down syndrome, and help people with the condition integrate into the wider community.

"Down syndrome is not disease," she adds. "What we need is to understand the needs of people with Down syndrome. They want opportunities - not help. It may be that they are looking for a job - or it may just be that they want to make friends."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Well-earned curtain call

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