The spirit of New York is alive and well in Hong Kong. After the success of the classic musical West Side Story, another production set in the Big Apple is about to take the stage.
This time it’s Don’t Stop Believin’!, a musical starring Australian actress Shiona Carson and a cast of 21 talented young people from all over the world. Set in the 1980s, it is an original story about rebellious inner-city kids who must work together to save their beloved community centre.
Young Post met the cast at their rehearsal, and talked to director and producer Emma Tielus-Ward and some of the stars of the show to learn more about the production.
Tielus-Ward, who chose the young performers from her regular Friday night acting, dancing, and singing classes, uses a variety of exercises and games to train the actors. One of them is an activity called “the hot seat”, where the cast take turns answering rapid-fire questions about their character.
Another activity had the cast focus on the famous New York accent, because the city plays a big part of the mood of Don’t Stop Believin’!
“We play a game called Accent War, where we sit in a circle and you challenge someone to speak in a certain accent,” Tielus-Ward says.
And the acting lessons continued outside of the classroom. The director, who earned a Masters at London’s Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, brought the cast to Discovery Bay Plaza to get a feel for how their characters would act in daily life. “Two of the girls,” she says, “had to go shopping and stay in character for the whole day.”
The young actors and actresses also had to read the script and figure out what the other characters say about their characters, and what they say about themselves.
The preparation and training was intense, but nine-year-old Sienna Park enjoyed it.
“I get to become different people, and I love trying new things,” she says, adding that it can sometimes be challenging to imagine someone else’s life.
To help the cast find their characters, they worked closely with the star of the show, Carson, who trained at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, in Australia. She said her role is to be “a model for the students” and help them visualise Tielus-Ward’s ideas or instructions.
If one of the young performers is having trouble remembering a line, or they don’t understand what’s happening in the scene, Carson makes eye contact with them.
“I’ll mimic things to them using a lot of body language,” she says. “When they can see what’s going on, it helps with their learning process.”
For 10-year-old Anaïs Lambert, performing with a professional like Carson is empowering.
“I feel really independent and strong; like I can do anything,” she says with a determined look.
And that appreciation goes both ways. “The beauty of performing with these children is that their imagination has no inhibitions, and it is far greater than any adult’s,” says Carson. “It’s a small group, but Emma [Tielus-Ward] has given every child in this production something special for their character.”
The performance is carried by the strength of the young actors, but as Tielus-Ward points out, the show is for people of all ages.
“We want people to know that we are excited,” she says. “And no matter what age you are, if you sit in the audience, you will leave smiling. My kids make people smile.”
Don’t Stop Believin’! opens on Friday at the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s Shouson Theatre.