“The worst hour is the hour to think. How can we turn this global misery into a backdrop that highlights our creativity? Stay motivated. There’s no way to create when we turn a blind eye to misery.” Artists should face themselves as well as facing the world. Make art to respond.
Text & Photo: Ho Siu Bun
Translation: Vivien Leung
An unexpected plague brought the world almost to a halt. Stage performers took a direct hit as they had to step down for a prolonged entr’acte. As a grantee of Arts Go Digital Platform Scheme with the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, Stage Director Tang Shu-wing questions how he should orient himself under the crisis. “I don’t like recorded shows. If the audience can’t be there, it’s like telling people I have a show through a video, and that doesn’t make sense.” Instead, he decided to fiddle around with digital media that were novel to him, combining elements of drama and digital games. The Fourth Night is not an interactive theatre, but a “Role-Playing Adventure Game” (AVG) with various plot directions and multiple endings.”
Real humans who interact
“Many shows came to a stop due to the pandemic. As a performance artist, I was stuck at home, wondering about my possibilities,” recalled Tang. One day, an idea came to him: Actually, why not a game? “In theatre, audience interaction is a common element. We created a play called No Man’s Land in 1996. Two prisoners were to learn to clown and mime.” The stage was set like a prison, around which the audience had to cast a vote towards the end. “They could be released with high ratings. Otherwise, they would stay in jail.” Tang said that interactive theatre has a long history. Genres like immersive theatre are a way to reflect the rapport between the audience and the stage. What could be more fun than digitalising theatre into an interactive game? Gabriel Pang was the man to go to. “He (Gabriel) was thrilled when he heard about my plan, since they had always made their games with visuals, yet never with real humans.”
Gabriel, a Hong Kong game designer, founded his company Firedog Studio in 1999. He is also the chairman of Hong Kong Digital Entertainment Association (HKDEA) since 2008. He remembers the genre of interactive theatre first appeared as a CD-ROM in the 1990s.
There has been some online interactive drama on streaming platforms like Netflix. “Here in Hong Kong, it is still quite rare. This is something new,” said Gabriel. Distinctly different from a traditional game design, most of the pre-production will be managed by Tang and film director Rocky. Gabriel added, “There’s a lot more to consider when real humans are filmed for the game, such as whether they can perform some moves. Any mistake in pre-production means more work in the post-production.”
Tang Shu-Wing, Artistic Director of Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio
First collaboration of Tang Shu-wing (Left) and Gabriel Pang, Firedog Studio (Right)
Based on true events
Tang’s repertoire is well-known for his original adaptations of world classics, especially those by Shakespeare. To participate in Arts Go Digital Platform Scheme, he is now totally immersed in a local story The Fourth Night, in which a 28-year-old actress has been tested positive for Covid-19. However, due to the shortage of hospital beds, she had to be home quarantined. All her jobs were put on hold, so this story was about her ups and downs on the fourth day since tested positive. In fact, Tang heard about this experience on the radio last July during the third wave of Covid. As she was desperately soliciting help from a district council member, he could tell she was devastated.
Tang has plenty to learn from this digitalised theatre production. “A script for a game isn’t a linear narrative. One would start wondering whether the characters have been stereotyped or flattened. After all, humans are so complicated and multifaceted,” commented Tang. “A game is a platform that gives you more than one direction. This shows the complexities of human’s personalities. Also, as it’s a game after all, gamers want to play. So there should be a balance between being realistic and being fun.”
Gabriel also goes after a balance between the playability and the story flow. He positions The Fourth Night as an AVG (Adventure Game), as it offers text-based choices that lead to different scenarios throughout the story. Some scenes were filmed with a 360-degree camera. Therefore, the audience can, for instance, control the character to interact in a domestic environment. The game will only last for 20 minutes, as Tang admitted they have a limited budget for this first-time project. It will take an hour if all options were to be “lived” and “experienced”.
During shooting – Bon Tong as boyfriend of main actress
During shooting – Chak Tsz Kwan, main actress in The Fourth Night
During shooting – Film director Rocky Wong and Cinematographer Fung Wai San (First on the right)
The Worst Hour, The Best Hour
Tang, like many of us, got on an emotional rollercoaster last year due to the pandemic. He was about to participate in the Hong Kong International Shakespeare Festival last November but the event had been postponed to the end of this year. Despite not being able to work on this project, Tang decided to take back control. Reading and painting became his daily routine and he is growing attuned to this new normal.
“One step at a time. I keep asking what I can do these days and why I’m doing it. Let’s make ourselves useful rather than following the crowd. The worst times can be the best times.”
He agrees that the world, may that be the pandemic or global affairs, seems to be in chaos. He believes that, “the worst hour is the hour to think. How can we turn this global misery into a backdrop that highlights our creativity? Stay motivated. There’s no way to create when we turn a blind eye to misery.” Artists should face themselves as well as facing the world. Make art to respond.
Learn more: Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio – The Fourth Night