MU Connect issue 4 (page 16 to 19)

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'We Are All HKMU' 

Teachers and students enjoy culturally transcending Stories of Love in first university-wide performing arts show

'It's me, it's her, it's him, it's you! And we are all HKMU!' The catchy chorus of the student anthem 'We Are All HKMU' premiered at Stories of Love, the first culture and performing arts show organised by the School of Arts and Social Sciences (A&SS) for the HKMU community back in September 2022, is now all over the TV screens around the campus. 'I can't believe that Stories of Love is over,' says Joanalene Asuncion Mallari, who composed the melody to the lyrics penned by Prof. Octavian Saiu, the initiator of the show and the Chairperson of its Organising Committee. Her fellow performers echo her sentiment, recalling the exciting time of rushing to rehearsals after school.

An inclusive bottom-up evolution

Stories of Love is a celebration of cultural diversity. It is an all-inclusive combination of theatre, dance and music, featuring a creative adaptation of the well-known 'balcony scene' from the Shakespearean masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, a modern interpretation of the classic Hong Kong historical comedy Flirting Scholar, as well as dance and music segments of styles ranging from traditional to modern, and from Cantopop to English favourites. As an adamant advocate for theatre as a cultural necessity and an active facilitator of cultural exchange in the field, Prof. Saiu has a strong conviction to create 'the right context' for students of diverse backgrounds to express themselves. He therefore decided that the creative process would start with just a loose framework, allowing an organic evolution based on individual inputs. 

Cross-cultural synergy

The theatre-in-English group, coordinated by Prof. Saiu himself, had the most culturally diverse mix of performers. Joanalene, for example, was born to Filipino parents in Hong Kong, while Nicole Katelyn Remeticado Mejorada is Filipino-Portuguese. With a cast of seven, the adventurous team came up with two Romeos — one of them a female version — and five Juliets, though they had not conceived the new plot without qualms. Even though the average Hong Kong audience might not be very familiar with the original play, such a twist could still be considered too radical for a traditional love story. 'We were a bit worried about people's reaction,' Katelyn admits. 'It was really rewarding when we heard their laughter. That was what we wanted to achieve — to create a performance for people to enjoy.'

The Stories of Love version of Flirting Scholar is a delightful merger of the classical and the contemporary, fully harnessing participants' cultural and linguistic strengths. Written by Cindy Ma Wing-sze, a student in Chinese Language and Literature, the script is bilingual in Cantonese and Mandarin, blending classical and modern speech. This was no challenge to the student actors, who delivered the hybrid lines in perfect classical gestures. Marco Chow Kin-long, playing the narrator and a servant to Tong Pak-fu, ascribes their mastery of the historical style to the contribution of mainland students. 'If I were to do it myself, I would probably follow Stephen Chow's style,' he says. 'But they're just awesome. They're fantastic in combining the classical and modern elements.'

Prof. Saiu appreciates the efforts of his colleagues coordinating the group, that they were 'hands-on involved in every single detail from the beginning to the end'. For him, the entire show was a 'paradoxical mixture of individual contribution and concerted efforts'. 'We had a team of teachers coordinating the four groups of students. I feel grateful to all my colleagues who were part of this great venture, particularly Mr Chase Ma, Dr Kaby Kung, Dr Yu Xuying, Ms Carol Tsang and Dr Christine Lo. The division of labour was the decisive factor of the final success,' he states.

Magical cohesion

For practical reasons, rehearsals at the early stage were held separately, and the four groups did not come together until the final stage. While birds of a feather do flock together, students playing dual parts acted as effective bridges between groups. 'For example, there was a member from the dance group who couldn't communicate well in English, but I could interact with her thanks to Kelly,' says Katelyn, referring to Kelly Kong Tsz-wing, who played the role of Juliet as well as being the emcee for the theatre-in-English segment and a dancer.

In fact, student participants are more inclined to identify themselves as members of the big Stories of Love family than of specific groups. They greet each other heartily whenever they meet on campus. Perhaps it was the magic of the student anthem 'We Are All HKMU'. In the words of Prof. Saiu, it brought everyone together 'both physically and metaphorically' as they affirmed their pride in belonging to the University. The European professor has derived the idea of the student anthem from the Latin-based, classical tradition of university anthems, which he describes as 'usually prim and proper'. 'But what we wanted to create,' he enunciates, 'was something instantly accessible for all students, something which they could identify with because it speaks their language.' For Joanalene, being commissioned to write this conclusive piece was an affirmative experience. 'No one had ever entrusted me to write a song, let alone for a school,' she speaks emotionally. 'Honestly, it was exhausting and I had no sleep working on that anthem. The first time I heard it played in a rehearsal, I cried.' It jerked a few tears from her fellow performers too.

A conglomerate of diversity

Prof. Saiu's ideal of 'we' as emphasised in 'We Are All HKMU' is a 'conglomerate of diversity' rather than a 'superficial perception of collective identity'. Abiding by this belief, Stories of Love successfully created an affinity among students who may be very dissimilar, and who may not otherwise have bonded at all. This inclusive spirit definitely goes beyond the ethno-cultural sense. The show extended welcoming hands to students from all Schools and academic disciplines. It recognised people of fluid gender identities by portraying a female Romeo. Eyrie Tam On-yiu, one of the emcees, draws attention to Serena Lun Ka-kei , a member of the music group with visual impairment. 'I was really touched when Serena sang her solo,' she expresses. 'Everyone, especially members of the music group, showed her a lot of care.’

 'You can never fully appreciate a young person for what they are, but only for what they might become' — this is Prof. Saiu's guiding principle in teaching, inspired by Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Renaissance philosopher. In the next year, a larger-scale Me&U Festival will give full play to students' potential, uncovering talents that students themselves might not be aware of.