“shared their experience on virtual teaching and arts promotion through the Scheme. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Every little bit of effort is valuable.”
Chinese text: Harry Tsang
While the COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world and made staying home one of the most effective preventive measures, we cannot leave home to explore the physical world and are forced to immerse ourselves in the virtual world. Work from home has become the new practice and online learning is getting more popular. In this interview series, Hong Kong Drama/ Theatre and Education Forum (TEFO) and ceramics artist Sze Mei-ting shared their experience on virtual teaching and arts promotion through the “Arts Go Digital Platform Scheme”.
An Online Platform Combining Documentaries and Learning Guides
“The Workshop Guide to Ceramics by Hong Kong Ceramics Artists”, a website set up by ceramics artist Sze Mei-ting, provided mainly teaching on ceramic arts creation, and also invited local ceramics artists to share in the form of oral history that recorded their craftsmanship, works and the development of ceramic arts. Three online artists sharing and forums were held to provide artists and ceramics lovers opportunities to know more about the current situation of ceramic arts in Hong Kong, and share, exchange, interact with and learn from each other.
Sze Mei-ting interviewed and produced documentaries of eight local active ceramics artists of different cohorts on their creation career. Feature articles written by arts critic Eddie Cheung and Sze Mei-ting herself also served as records and footnotes to the history of Hong Kong ceramic arts.
She said that there had been little research on Hong Kong ceramics in the past and local ceramics creation had gone from factory production setting to workshop craftsmanship only recently. Hence, there was not much information on its history. Therefore, this project has provided a timely platform to reflect on local ceramic arts development.
As a ceramics teacher, Sze Mei-ting has developed a website that includes interviews of contemporary ceramic artists in Hong Kong. (Photo by Cafe Tong)
Unlike cultures such as Japan which have a long history in ceramics, there are no constraints on styles, techniques and materials in Hong Kong. Artists can create contemporary artworks according to their preferences, either following traditional methods or breaking through all established rules.
Sze Mei-ting said each of the eight ceramicists created artworks in contemporary methods with their own distinctive techniques. Their creations were part of the local ceramics history and worthy of documentation in the form of oral history.
The platform not only allowed ceramics lovers to learn about the history but also aroused beginners’ interest in Hong Kong ceramics.
Ceramics is extensive and profound. Many techniques are worth learning and studying. Each ceramicist uses clay in his or her own unique presentation and style. However, Sze Mei-ting observed that even at local arts institutes, most students might only be able to take one single course in ceramics and would not acquire wide and in-depth knowledge. Therefore, she decided to establish an online platform dedicated to ceramic arts, so as to systematically collect and preserve techniques and information for artists and arts lovers to get together and learn, thus promoting ceramics at the same time.
Sze Mei-ting hopes to document the history of ceramics development in Hong Kong on the website. (Photo by Cafe Tong)
Demonstration Videos Supplement Physical Lessons
Being a ceramics teacher, Sze Mei-ting said a platform for demonstration videos in ceramics techniques was needed so that ceramics lovers could stay home and “sharpen” their techniques through watching the videos.
As the skill levels of different learners vary, the videos were more suitable for beginners as review exercises. The section “Ceramics Practice Demonstration” showed demonstrations by local artists in shaping, surface decoration, throwing and moulding. Chinese and English subtitles of procedures and key points were listed out for easy grasping and learning.
Sze Mei-ting found these videos effective. She would ask her students to watch the videos as review exercises. She also planned to produce more teaching videos on the platform, such as pinching skills.
Although physical teaching is more interactive than online teaching and teachers are able to provide students with immediate guidance, Sze Mei-ting pointed out an advantage of online videos was that they were supplemented by text and could go into more details than in physical teaching. “For example, when we use a certain kind of materials, we may not explain the reasons behind, but videos can provide supplementary information,” she said.
Apart from interviews of ceramicists, the website also includes demonstration videos of ceramics for ceramics lovers. (Photo provided by the interviewee)
As handcrafting is getting more popular, it has helped promote ceramics but more support is needed to enhance the promotion. The purpose of the project was to provide support to ceramics lovers, giving them the opportunity to know more about the artists through interviews and to sharpen their skills.
On the other hand, ceramicists could get inspiration and ideas from the online forums. Sze Mei-ting said that the platform would be updated continuously and in addition, she would collaborate with different researchers to visit more artists, aiming at publishing these articles soon.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sze Mei-ting believed every promotion approach and channel would bring more people to know about ceramics. Every little bit of effort is valuable.
Unique Applied Theatre Education Platform in Chinese
Compared with “The Workshop Guide to Ceramics by Hong Kong Ceramics Artists”, the “Applied Theatre Interactive Digital Database: Digital Museum of Theatre Games” established by the Hong Kong Drama/Theatre and Education Forum (TEFO) is livelier, providing audience a unique experience in theatre games when they visit the digital “museum”.
Ginny Tam, Manager of TEFO, was also the curator of this project. Ginny said that the platform catered for two types of audiences, firstly general visitors and secondly professionals such as social workers and teachers. Hence two different tour routes are designed respectively.
The website has recorded that over 70 per cent of visitors chose the professional route and 80 per cent of the total participants completed the entire route. She believed that this has indicated a positive reception by the industry.
“Digital Museum of Theatre Games” recommends appropriate theatre games to different users in the pandemic. (Screenshot of the project website)
Theatre games are different from group games. Ginny explained that theatre games were originally used by directors to help actors warm up. A lot of rhythmic, sound and body exercises were applied in this kind of games, yet, non-actors could also benefit from it. For example, through interaction and body awareness exercises, participants could enhance the perception of their bodies and spatial sensitivity.
However, Ginny found that most of the online resources for theatre games were in English, and materials in Chinese were scarce. Therefore, she came up with the idea of building up a “database of theatre games”.
Usually, theatre games websites only tell you how to play the games. Ginny decided to go a step further and added tips for facilitating the games, providing audience a better understanding in theatre games and more importantly, enabling teachers, social workers, trainers or parents to master the skills in leading the games.
Ginny Tam (left) thinks that setting up an interactive digital database in Chinese can fill up the service gap that only English materials are available online. Walter Tse (right) says that he would anticipate the different situations theatre game players would face in the games and give players some useful “tips”. (Photo by Cafe Tong)
Extra Effort Needed for Video Production
Walter Tse was a member of the creative team who led games in the demonstration videos. He said leading games in a physical setting allowed more time for him to mingle with the participants and gradually assist them to open up their bodies. On the other hand, online videos required more effort in planning the content before the shooting. It was necessary for them to maintain the audience’s attention so their use of words had to be concise and easily comprehensible. He also had to anticipate different situations players would face in the games and gave them some useful “tips” in the videos.
During the pandemic, many physical workshops were cancelled. TEFO moved workshops online and unexpectedly discovered some new applications in organising online workshops. For example, the distance between the webcam and the player could be utilised in designing spatial games. Yet, due to network delay, games emphasising strong rhythm were not recommended.
Another challenge the creative team encountered in this project was that they were good at creating, but not at programming, image design, and video budgeting, remarked Ginny Tam. Provided that they were equipped with knowledge in these areas, she believed that the shift to online operation would be smoother.
As an educator, Sandy Wong thought that the digital database could inspire her to create new theatre games, and encourage her to evaluate her game facilitation skills. (Photo by Cafe Tong)
Inspiring Educators to Create
Educational worker Sandy Wong has been learning theatre games for a decade. She applies theatre games in teaching about poverty and global citizenship and also uses interactive education in designing teaching activities. She said she benefited a lot from this project.
Usually burdened with heavy workload and had to lead a theatre game on her own, she had no time to evaluate whether the activity achieved its purpose. Before the pandemic, sharing sessions among theatre games teachers were arranged for discussions. However, the pandemic had greatly reduced such communication and exchange opportunities. She said that the demonstration videos and tips in the digital museum had made up for it. She could review and learn from the demonstrations by the instructors and the reactions of the audience. She also thought that the resources of the museum could inspire other teachers to think broadly and create new works.
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