Besides universities, many secondary schools are also providing shadow play classes as an extra-curricular activity. Catholic Ming Yuen Secondary School is one of them and has invited Wong to be their tutor.
Ng Yuen-ching, a 17-year-old student in the class, admits there were many times when she considered giving up due to the hard work required. She feels especially distressed when she has to practise during holidays or after school while her friends are having fun.
Recalling her experience of performing, Ng says the area behind the screen is very small and crowded. The puppeteers have to hold their arms straight for a long time to keep the puppet in position. “It is extremely tiring and frustrating!” she exclaims.
Despite these hardships, the satisfaction she gets from a completed performance is what keeps her going. “When you hear the applause, you feel all your efforts are worth it,” says Ng, beaming.
Through shadow play, Ng has learned about how to deal with adversity. She thinks her patience, determination and stamina have improved since taking up shadow play practice and performances. “No matter how tired we are, we cannot quit in the middle of the show,” says Ng. “Therefore we learn to persist.”
Another thing that Ng has learnt is tolerance. She used to feel sad and angry when people criticised her performances. As time went by, she gradually learned to turn these negative emotions into the motivation which drives her to improve.
To broaden students’ horizons, Wong invited some of the students to join him on shadow play exchange tours. The exchange tour to Korea was an unforgettable experience for Ng.
On the tour, Ng found the performance style of Chinese shadow play lagged behind that of other countries. Ng thought the other performances were livelier and they had more interaction with the audience. The Chinese shadow plays seemed dull in comparison. On the other hand, she was proud of the intricate skills required in Chinese shadow play.
“We have to practise for much longer which trains our endurance,” says Ng. “The spirit learnt is precious.”
Yau Wing-yan, another student in the class who has been studying shadow play for six years, joined the exchange tour to Russia.
Like Ng, 17-year-old Yau felt proud of Chinese shadow play after the tour. She excitedly describes how people from other countries were amazed by the complexity of the moves she used to control a shadow puppet, especially when she performed challenging moves.
While most of the others consider shadow play to be an interest, Yau is considering becoming a professional shadow play puppeteer. “My academic results are not that good. It would be great if I could work in this field as I have confidence in outperforming others in shadow play,” says Yau. “Most importantly, I do not want to disappoint Master Wong.”
Unfortunately, in today’s society where monetary rewards are considered the ultimate aim, performing arts are rarely treated as a life-long career. This disappoints Wong. “Of course, I still hope more people might treat the traditional arts as their career so that shadow play can be passed on through the generations,” Wong says.
Edited by Kris Lee