They’re Playing Our Song (2007)

Posts filed under They’re Playing Our Song (2007)

Unforeseen responsibilities

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), Work

I'm tired, very tired.

I've suddenly found myself with much more responsibility than I'd foreseen.

A few weeks ago, we realised that tickets were not selling as well as we'd like. Our marketing was not working. In some areas, it was simply non-existent. At least one good friend of mine didn't know about the play until I called them.

We had done a few interviews with newspapers and magazines but the affect on ticket sales was not ideal. We had to do more, and I decided to fund the design and publishing of our ads, the ones I showed you in my previous article. Those ads worked but we're still not doing well enough to sit back and relax.

Part of the challenge we face is that the play is in English. There have been many inquiries about tickets but as soon as many of those inquirers realise that the play is in English, they hang up. We have Chinese subtitles but people are still scared of English. Even three of my wife's relatives declined our complementary invitation to see the show because it's in English.

Another part of the challenge is the Arts Festival. It's taken and flooded all of the marketing opportunities. I personally called SCMP this morning to ask about doing an interview and the person there was very frank with me. Somewhat apologetically, he explained that even if they were able to arrange an interview, it wouldn't get published because all of the available space had already been allocated to the Arts Festival.

So getting the word out about our play has been and continues to be difficult.

One important truth about this play is that it would definitely be desirable to have more than a few English-comfortable people in the audience, people who will understand without delay the funny punch lines in the play, people who will laugh intermittently and consequently add to the atmosphere of the play. So it is that I have spent most of my brain power over the last 24 hours trying to arrange more exposure in the English world of Hong Kong.

We did a live interview on RTHK 3's "Morning Brew" program this morning. I think the interview was great. Natalie, the radio host, had done her homework and she was excellent with the questions and the comments. Henry and Sompor were also very good in front of the mike and it was a comfortable interview overall. Hopefully, it will help to spread the word out to the English population of Hong Kong.

A short telephone interview that I did with SCMP will be published in Sunday's issue. Again, I hope it will get noticed and help build the noise about our play.

One of our ads will appear in this Friday's issue of HK Magazine, a magazine read by many of Hong Kong's English-comfortable people.

But I still can't rest, so I went back to TVB today. 20 years of working with TVB has given me a little respect at TVB and I needed it today. The producer of 娛樂直播 had one empty interview slot in next Tuesday's program and immediately decided to put me in there. That was nice ;-)   東張西望 is also considering filming our final rehearsal and interviewing us on Friday.

On the English side, I'm still hoping for more exposure. I'm now working closely with our marketing person. We'll try to contact a few more English radio and television people to arrange interviews. Until the show ends, I must not give up hope.

Many weeks ago, a good friend upon learning of my part in the play commented that it was a very serious situation for me. If the play fails, it will reflect directly on me; not on the director, not on Sompor, just on me!

I have taken on a lot of various responsibilities for the sake of the play and I've taken them on with every ounce of energy I have. I've done much more than would normally be required of an actor. I have never put so much effort, time and heart into anything in my entire life. I can only hope and trust that it will not be in vain.

4 days to go…

Poster files for download (March 14)

If you know of somewhere to place one of our posters to advertise our play, please download and print one of these files. These (8MB hi-q RGB jpeg) files can be used to print any size up to at least A3 (and they look great coming off my Epson Stylus Pro 3850 ;-)

They're Playing Our Song 2007 Poster — English
They're Playing Our Song 2007 Poster — Chinese

Just the other actor

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), Work

Today was another emotional roller coaster for me.

I've known for a long time that Sompor's character in the play is very special. Her character is spontaneous, energetic, mildly reckless and adorable. Sompor portrays the character extremely well, possibly because she herself has many of these qualities, and she has a very good chance of being nominated for an award for her part in this play. My character on the other hand is more down to earth, more… normal.

The juxtaposition of the characters is necessary for the play to work. If my character shares any of Sompor's character's traits, then her character won't stand out as much and the play will be mundane.

Sompor will be the flower in this play, and I'll be the sepals that hold her up for the world to see. When people leave the theatre, they'll be excited about, they'll remember and they'll talk about Sompor. They won't be excited about me. That hurts, because I have put more into this play than I've put into anything else in my entire life.

This morning as I lifted weights to keep in shape for the play, I finally accepted this truth. As I lifted the weights, emotion swelled within me. As I lifted the weights, I listened to my favourite songs. As I lifted the weights, tears gathered in my eyes.

As I neared the end of my weight training, I made the decision to be the best sepals possible, because I want the play to be a success even if I'm not recognised or remembered for it.

An hour later, I went to the neighbourhood fast food store and picked up the photograph that Chow Yun Fat kindly left there for me yesterday (you'll get to see it later). This was a very special occasion for me, one of the joyous loops in today's roller coaster ride.

My wife and I then took a walk down toward the beach. Even though she was with me, my wife felt pretty alone, because "They're Playing Our Song" had once again become my whole world. I listened to and mimed the songs (to save my voice) complete with performance actions as we walked down the road (people in passing cars must have thought I was very weird indeed). The music gave me a much needed feeling of freedom, of joy. The music gave me a new release.

So it is that I gave my all in tonight's full dress rehearsal. Perhaps in an attempt to make my character a little more special, I inadvertently gave it too much and Henry gave me several notes after the rehearsal, most of them regarding unwanted and distracting actions that had crept in with the added energy. I have to tame it down. There is no getting around it. My character has to be relatively normal and Sompor's character will always be the head turner.

I've accepted it now. I really have. It's become a fact in my life. Sompor will be the talk of the crowd, and I'll be just the other actor.

Almost there.

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), Work

Seven days to go!

After rehearsing almost every day for nine weeks, we are finally approaching the finish line. We're still rehearsing. We're still making adjustments to our blocking and our behaviour. We're still making adjustments to our dance routines. We're still working hard, actually harder than we've worked for most of the nine weeks. We're now averaging nine hours a day. If you thought this was just a hobby for us, think again. It's been the equivalent of going to a nine-to-five job except without wages.

We've had a few interviews. Apple Daily published a short story in today's issue. U Magazine published a good interview in this week's issue (#1067 March 9) and we've done interviews with bc Magazine and a couple of other magazines although I haven't seen the published result yet. We also talked about the play on RTHK 4's "Cultural Vibes 創意空間" program and we have another radio interview lined up with RTHK 3's "Morning Brew" (in English!) next Tuesday morning just after 11am (it will be live). In addition, 大公報 published a great personal interview (part 1, part 2, part 3) with me last Monday. The reporter Mr Kwok 郭仲淦 did a really nice job and it's one of the most accurate interviews I've seen in a long time.

But we need to make sure that as many people know about the play as possible. It's a fun play and I want to share this with as many people as possible. I want a full house for every performance, so we've purchased a couple of ads as well. A quarter-page ad was purchased in today's Apple Daily in the entertainment section. Another ad was purchased in the Hong Kong Magazine which won't be published until March 16, the first day of our show.

I like the ads. A respected friend of mine (I think all of my friends are respected ;-) 蔡經仁 (Sai Studio) took the photos for us. Two other friends Coco and Aian (Hair Corner) helped out with our hair. Yet another friend Thomas (Energy Communications) designed the ads using elements from postcards and posters that Henry's contact had originally designed. As Henry likes to put it, we've signed a lot of 'friend credit cards' for this play. I've never asked for so many favours from friends but it's times like this that you discover who your friends really are.

Here are the ads for those of you who won't see them in the published content. The Apple Daily version is Chinese. The Hong Kong Magazine version is English.

They re Playing Our Song ad (English)

Our "They're Playing Our Song" ad; the English version.

For a larger version, click here.

 
They're Playing Our Song ad (Chinese)

Our "They're Playing Our Song" ad; the Chinese version.

For a larger version, click here.

Believe me when I say that we've done a great job with this play. People will definitely enjoy it, and so will I!

They’re Playing Our Song: Tickets now on sale!

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), Work

Tickets go on sale today!

You can buy tickets at any Urbtix outlet. (direct link to show listing)

Remember. The McAulay Studio is a small theatre. It only seats 90 people and we're only doing 10 shows, so if you want to see the show, don't wait too long to buy your tickets.

Note. The play is in English with Chinese subtitles.

Show times:
March 16-23 nightly at 8.00pm
March 17,18 extra matinée shows at 3.00pm

A Prisoner in My Own Home

Filed in Dogs of our Lives, Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags:

The benefits of this play are many.

After completing part two of an interview with 大公報 at lunch time, and filming 奸人堅 today at TVB in the afternoon, and having 'dinner' at Starbucks this evening, I returned home with a goal in mind, one which I wasn't really sure I would actually complete. I often have goals in mind, and more often than not, they evaporate. This one actually happened: weight-lifting!

It has been years since I weight-lifted, but my dance routines in the play will look better if my tummy is flatter and stronger, and certain steps involving lifting Sompor 蘇芯寶 will be better performed if my muscles are tuned. I don't need nor desire big muscles. I simply need muscles adapted to and ready for rapid and strong movement.

If you've ever seen movies or television series involving prisons, then you've probably seen scenes involving the prisoners working out with weights in a gym. I felt a little like them tonight. While I was only lifting the lightest weights I have as opposed to the big heavy superhuman weights the prisoners are usually lifting, I was in fact in a virtual prison.

Here at home, we have three sets of foldable fences used to keep one or more of our kids separated from the others during meal times. Without the separation, the kids tend to noisily guard their food or try to steal food from others. The other guy's dog food always tastes better, or as they say in Chinese, 隔離飯香, so the fences are invaluable during breakfast and dinner time, and serve to keep the troops at peace.

Our kids love me, big time, and they'll lie, sit or stand by me and paw me or snuggle up against me or rub their heads against me or perform some other affectionate motion any chance they get. Some of my favourite memories involve lying on the tiled floor just outside our flat in the warm afternoon sun with seven or more of the kids lying down next to and around me. It's a wonderful feeling. When I'm weight-lifting though, I can't afford to let the kids near me. They'll either obstruct the weights and disrupt my motions, or they'll get hurt by the weights, so… I erected a fence around the weight-training equipment and worked out 'in prison'. A couple of the kids still attempted to get in or reach over the fence to me but they eventually gave up and resignedly lied down outside the fence, waiting for me to finish and release myself from the prison gym.

High-repetition, light weights. Two to three sets of 30 to 40 repetitions per set. That's a lot of repetitions but it will tune my muscles relatively quickly and help me to burn off more of the fat that I hope to lose in time for the public performance. I'll be sore tomorrow but that's an insignificant price to pay for the eventual improvement.

Those of you coming to see the play will probably get to see me in the fittest condition I've been in for years. From physiological depression in 2001 to this: what a comeback!!!   ;-)

Sacrifices

Filed in Events, Life, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags:

Dreams don't come cheap. They require sacrifices. It's up to you whether your dream justifies the sacrifices.

"They're Playing Our Song" is definitely a big part of my evolving dream. Stage musicals, although a very small part of my early school life where I was invariably a chorus member, were never part of my goal in life. Singing was first, and acting came second, although more accidentally than intentionally; TVB was an accident, a happy lucky one.

Through the years, my preferences for acting and music have changed, and now I find myself yearning for the satisfaction that can come from a well crafted stage musical, such as "They're Playing Our Song". In recent years, I've participated in three stage productions. I danced in 「上海之夜」 (Magic is the Moonlight) and sang in 「鄧麗君,但願人長久」 (Teresa Tang Forever), but except for Perfume 香水 (2005), I was always a rather large extra in the story. Perfume was my first role as a co-star, working with three other respected professionals, none of whom thought of themselves as better than any other. In fact, in this respect, I have again been fortunate. In none of the stage productions that I have worked with have there been any actors or actresses who thought they were above everyone else, including Cass 彭羚, a world class singer who because of the Teresa Tang musical became a personal friend of mine.

And now I get a starring role. It only took 20 years to get here.

The automatic presumption of most people who hear that I'm starring in a stage production is that I'll be making a good deal of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. None of the three primary participants in this production are going to make very much money, if any at all. It's a production of love.

"They're Playing Our Song" will be performed in the McAulay Studio theatre which seats less than 100 people (the front rows are just a few feet from the stage). There will be ten shows. Do the math and you'll quickly realise that the potential income from this show is very limited. Then remember that we also have to pay the creators of the play for the right to perform it. And there are props to buy, composers to pay, sound studios to rent, and other employees and technicians to pay.

I drive to rehearsals. If I were to take public transport to the rehearsal location, it would be one hour there and around an hour-and-a-half back. That's a lot of time to spend standing in a crowded compartment, and no fun at all after rehearsals have drained all of your energy. With petrol, parking and food costs, I'll be surprised if I come out of this adventure with any financial profit at all.

Then there's the time involved. For more than two months, we will have rehearsed practically every day, anything from three to seven hours a day with acting, dancing and singing. And predictably, we also work on the play in our own time, when we're not running companies, or writing master-degree mid-term papers and theses, or filming at TVB.

One outsider who has benefitted from my involvement in this production is a Cantonese-speaking Caucasian actor by the name of Brian who after following my advice, was accepted into TVB as a contract artist. A few weeks ago while I was at TVB filming, I bumped into an Administrative Assistant (commonly referred to as an A.A. in TVB lingo) who cheerfully and sincerely informed me that I had been assigned a very significant role in their new TVB series, perhaps one of the biggest roles of my TVB career. Unfortunately, the demanding inflexible schedule of the new series collided directly with the equally demanding schedule of "They're Playing Our Song" and I suddenly had to choose between a major TVB role with a nice income attached to it and a stage musical with possibly no income benefits at all. For me, it wasn't a choice (yes June, you were right. I'm an idealist, albeit a complicated one). "They're Playing Our Song" was my first priority. Since I now have the contractual right to say 'no' to any TVB series I choose, the role was reassigned to Brian who is now happily thinking about how he's going to get enough sleep while filming the busy series side by side with a very attractive actress.

So why do the play? (this is true also for Henry and Sompor) Because it's a golden opportunity to work together with other enthusiastic hard working people and produce something great. Because I get the opportunity with the director and costar's participation to develop the character line by line, step by step, day by day. Because I get to act in a manner and at a level not possible at TVB because of TVB's script and time constraints. Because I get to sing and dance on stage with expression and exuberance. Because I get to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. Because I get to prove to myself and others what I am capable of and have oodles of fun while doing so.

If we were making a lot of money from this production, we'd obviously work hard to produce a wonderful show. Is it therefore logical that because we're not making a lot of money, that we work less? No. On the contrary, we work even harder because what we stand to gain from this production become all the more important, and they are learning, experience, satisfaction, and the proof of what we are capable of.

If you miss this show, you will indeed have missed a very special production.

A couple of 'post' notes.

1. At the time I bumped into the A.A.,
"They're Playing Our Song" had already been planned for close to eight months,
we had already taken several lessons with our vocal coach for the play,
the venue had already been booked,
we had already had two solid weeks of rehearsals.

As such, if I had chosen to take the TVB role, it would have caused harm to everyone involved in the play, not something I would easily agree to.

2. Working on a play improves your acting skills. Some Hollywood actors go back to the stage at least once every two years to keep their acting skills honed. It's very difficult to improve your skills while working at TVB. The whole as-quick-as-you-can atmosphere doesn't foster it.

3. I'm getting interviews with various magazines (and perhaps even a Canada-based Cantonese radio station) about my involvement in this play. I never get interviewed about my TVB work.

There will be other TVB series. There will never be another "They're Playing Our Song". The benefits of doing the play are many and significant. They're just not obvious.

Hard work, but fun!

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), Work

We've been working on "They're Playing Our Song" for more than two weeks now. It's a lot of hard work because there are only two actors; Sompor (蘇芯寶) and myself; which means the two of us have to know the whole play from start to finish with no breaks, and we have to sing and dance as well. Yes, I said dance! If you come to the play, you'll actually get to see me dance. That by itself will justify the cost of the ticket ;-)

I'm very fortunate. I perhaps always have been. Every stage production I've worked with has turned out to be very good, and this one is no exception. I'm working with great people. Henry the director knows what he wants, and he knows when to ask us to try certain things; i.e., he doesn't ask for everything at once and expect to get it. Sompor is one of the hardest workers I've ever met. Whenever I feel like slowing down or getting lazy, I just look at her and keep going.

Between Sompor and myself, we have nine songs to sing. We have to dance to half of them. One of the songs is particularly difficult. I'm pretty much out of breath by the end of the song and that last sustained note is hard to maintain without breaking. It's a challenge but we'll both succeed. I have confidence that the show will be great fun, for us and the audience.

Six weeks to go…

“They’re Playing Our Song” — My first starring role.

Filed in Events, They’re Playing Our Song (2007), WorkTags: , , ,

Back in July of last year, I was pondering whether to go to L.A. and study singing with Miss Peisha McPhee. During this time, I received a phone call from a local director who explained that he wanted to produce a pet project that he had dreamed of for many years. It was an English language stage musical and he wanted me to star in it! I was surprised, slightly stunned and ecstatic. At the time though, that phone call was confirmation to me that I should go to L.A. and work with Peisha which is exactly what I did.

The name of the play is They're Playing Our Song, written by Neil Simon in 1979. The music was written by Marvin Hamlisch and the lyrics were written by Carole Bayer Sager.

They're Playing Our Song is a simple light-hearted love story, about two very different people falling in love.

While the original script involves two main cast members and six music accompaniment members, our version will only involve the two main cast members; one man and one woman. It's a fun story and I think you'll enjoy it. Personally, I like the story and love the music ;-)

They're Playing Our Song will be performed at the Hong Kong Arts Centre in Wanchai in mid-March 2007. I'll provide accurate dates later on. The play will be performed nightly from Mar 16 to 23 at 8pm with extra matinée shows on Mar 17 and 18 at 3pm. Seats will be limited. The theatre seats approximately 100 audience members and we'll only be performing ten shows.

Work begins.

In mid-December, work on the play began. I began taking lessons with a local singing coach picked out by our director. The singing coach is well respected in Hong Kong for both her singing knowledge and her musical acting skills. Her name is Miss Fung. Many of her students know her as Miss Beer. Working with her has been fun. Although I learnt a lot with Peisha in L.A., I am still a long way from being the singer I want to be and there's always plenty to learn. Miss Fung is helping to fill in more of the gaps in my technique while of course also helping me to sing the play's songs as well as I can.

For the time being, we are learning the basics of the songs. Unfortunately, getting the music for the songs has not been easy. Because the play was written back in 1979, the music score is not available in its entirety. We are missing the music scores for two of the songs and also small music pieces that occur during the play. Fortunately, those two songs are available on various CD productions of the play so we can learn from them. As for the other small pieces of music, we have a very capable (and celebrated) music director/arranger who should have no trouble working out something for them from the script.

We are now two months away from performing the musical. Two months may seem like a long time but it's not. There is a lot to do and a lot to learn. I won't be doing much of anything other than work on this play until the performance. Doing otherwise would be unfair to everyone including myself, the director, the actress and the audience.

Two months to go…