Tom Chan, the 16-year-old director of upcoming musical Singin' in the Rain, calls out: “Friends, full rehearsal in one minute, one minute!”
It might be strange to see celebrities such as Karene Mak Pui-yee, Peco Chui Wai-yin and Gregory Wong Chung-yiu taking directions from a teenager, but Tom earned their respect.
He had bought the copyright of the play from MGM, translated the script, filled in Cantonese lyrics, and adapted the story to fit in old Shanghai. The actors saw his script before seeing him in person, and were shocked to see that he was only 16. “They believe in me, so it’s actually pretty easy to direct them,” says Tom.
While everyone else is at least seven years his senior, Tom doesn’t have a problem being in charge.
Singin’ in the Rain is Tom’s second musical as director. He’s acted in over 25 musicals since age four, but when his voice began breaking as he hit puberty, he decided to go backstage.
Two years ago, he asked his school, G. T. College, if he could do the musical Grease as a post-exam activity, but got rejected because it said the subject-matter wasn’t appropriate. “I’d already filled in lyrics to several songs,” Tom recalls, “so I thought it’d be a waste not to go ahead with it.” So he got together with drama troupe Skywalkers and Grease ended up as a public performance with professional actors.
Last year, Tom set up his own theatre troupe, Boom Theatre. Singin’ in the Rain will be its first performance. “Some people ask me why someone so young would want to do such an old musical, but why should age define what you can do?” asks Tom. “Singin’ in the Rain is a comedy, nothing super deep. I can handle that.”
He already has three more dramas planned. “After translating two classic musicals, I felt a bit guilty. I feel like I’m wronging Hong Kong and should do something more local.”
So Tom has taken it upon himself to create a local production: The Guys With Pride, about post-90s boys. The drama will be a one-man show written, directed and performed by Tom himself.
Tom wants to explore stereotypes such as “chak nam” (residential boys), “duk nam” (toxic boys) and “MK jai” (Mong Kok boys) that are used derogatorily against post-90s boys through the play.
“They say (post-90s) kids don’t have dreams, but is this really the case?” questions Tom. “Or is it the adults who don’t let them have dreams?”
Through The Guys With Pride, he wants to speak on behalf of his peers, and express his views on how to be a good post-90s kid. He will also address how parents should deal with post-90s children.
Tom says he likes drama because it’s a way of expressing himself. “And as a live performance, you are in a give and take relationship with the audience. You give them your performance, and you take their reaction. It’s different every time. It’s amazing.”
Later this year, Tom will go to London to study theatre and philosophy. Tom says he is dissatisfied with the DSE curriculum, which is just a test of exam skills. He applied to a college in London and has met the required GCE A-level results, so he can skip the DSE and head into university a year earlier than most students.
It wasn’t easy being a F.5 student and a director of a musical while taking the A-levels at the same time. There were times when Tom questioned himself. He says he refreshes his mind by watching horror films. “It stimulates my nerves,” he says. “Otherwise, I get numb from all the routine.”
Tom made a deal with his parents that he would not use their money for his productions. So in addition to directing, he had to write proposals to garner sponsors. Tom says Singin’ in the Rain cost close to a million Hong Kong dollars. “I want to be able to pull the whole thing off by myself, but [my parents] will always be there to back me up.”
He may be young, but that doesn’t stop him from achieving big things. “I don’t think of myself as a 16-year old,” Tom says confidently. “I’m a director.”
The actors and actresses of Singin' in the Rain tell us what it's like to work with Tom