Learn to listen with heart through Women In Red — a Mo Lai Yan Chi production
“Nu’er Hong” is a traditional Chinese spirit served at wedding time when a daughter was to be married. Mo Lai Yan-chi’s drama Women In Red (its title in Chinese pronounces as “Nu’er Hong” as well) tells a series of true stories and brings social issues to life, in hope of evoking echoes and reflections from the audience. In what way did Mo become associated with Lingnan University? How has she presented interpersonal conflicts to different people and touched their hearts from a female perspective?
Mo, now the Chief Actress and President of the independent theatre company FM Theatre Power, was inspired by the liberal ideology of the drama Beyond the Horizon after she graduated from the stream of television and cinematography at Hong Kong Baptist University. She therefore resolved to work for artistic creation, but was aware of her own inadequacies at that time, “I did not only want to be a performer; I want to be a creator. Being a creator requires thinking and analytical skills on top of technical know-how. This sparked my idea of pursuing cultural studies.” She then enrolled in the Master of Cultural Studies Programme of Lingnan University. In Mo’s view, cultural studies allow the analysis of social phenomena, consciousness and normative forms through a set of different theoretical frames and perspectives. This is closely linked to drama, which places a focus on “human”. “Drama engages the ‘emotional’ side of me while creative work requires me to perform analysis in a ‘rational’ manner; I got to embrace both dimensions when I took cultural studies,” she said.
“In the era of debate between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, listening with heart is the only way out!”
(Quotation from Women In Red)
As the opening event of the Lingnan Arts Festival 2018, Women In Red is a monodrama combining the true stories of eight women — all portrayed by Mo herself. The stage show was launched in 2012 in a small theatre before publicly performed in the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in 2014. Last year, Women In Red even participated in the International Community Arts Festival by invitation in The Netherlands, where an English version of the drama was performed.
Mo believes the aim of this drama is to let the audience appreciate the value of listening, “The true stories that we picked for this drama feature people from different backgrounds. If you are willing to listen, with heart, to stories of people including those you are unfamiliar with, dislike or even hate, it can help reduce prejudice and negative labels against certain groups of people.” Even though the characters of Women In Red are all female, Mo would not liken this to an act of feminism, “When I play the role of a 10-year-old girl from a single-parent family, the tale touches on the girl’s father who takes up maternal responsibilities feels perplexed by his daughter’s adolescent needs; and when I act out the story of an old lady living alone, I also bring up the character’s deceased spouse.” Mo thinks the audience would be able to hear and understand the difficulties faced by different people and to learn about mutual respect through this drama. “Though I wouldn’t say that studying cultural studies at Lingnan directly derived the creation of Women In Red, it certainly has made a significant impact on the conceptualisation of the drama,” she said.
A tranquil learning atmosphere with close and amiable teacher-student relationship
Speaking of Lingnan, Mo first associated it with the term “studying in tranquillity”. “I have been to many local universities to learn, to give lectures and talks. The tranquillity that Lingnan offers me is something that I can never find in other institutions. It has the kind of atmosphere that I believe a university is most in need of,” she said, but what has delighted her the most is the friendship between teachers and students of Lingnan. “I chose to enroll in Lingnan at the first place because I admired a lot of well-known faculty members in its Department of Cultural Studies, such as Prof Stephen Chan Ching-kiu, Prof Lisa Leung Yuk-ming, Prof Li Siu-leung, Prof Hui Po-keung, Prof Law Wing-sang and Prof Chan Shun-hing, not to mention my respected mentor Prof Augustine Mok Chiu-yu, who, till these days, still accept my invitation to watch my plays and even be guests of honour at my performing arts seminars. They are willing to spend time appreciating students’ works and understanding our creative concepts.”
Looking back at the days when she was a student at Lingnan, Mo recalled, “There was not a formal subject in Hong Kong during those days that looked into ‘People’s Theatre’, so we had no choice but to learn while practising our acting. Whenever I returned to classroom in Lingnan, the ‘mentors’ who rehearsed with me in the theatre, on the street or in the neighbourhood became academic teachers, and reinterpreted our everyday performances from a theoretical point of view in order to help us master the art comprehensively.” She would describe herself as one who practises between theory and application, and acknowledge Lingnan for blending the two and breaking through classroom boundaries in delivering its education.
Being a former master’s degree student of Lingnan, Mo has been invited to return to her alma mater to teach courses of “Creativity and Cultural Production” and “Creativity in Media Production” in view of her passion for arts and rich performing experience. Holding Lingnan dear to her heart, Mo sees similarities between her creative works and the liberal arts education at Lingnan, “‘Humanity’ is the key. The close relationship between teachers and students, as I highlighted, is not confined by the limits of their respective roles. Both parties work together, observe each other, and give each other encouragement. Such spirit of abandoning the traditional hierarchical roles simply actualises the idea of ‘humanity’.”
Both “special” and “solitary”
The solo element of a monodrama is both a special feature and also a major challenge. “What I need to overcome the most during a monodrama is the sense of solitude. When I go back to the theatre alone for rehearsals, I feel the so-called solitude when I need to confront myself,” she explained. She admitted that she must keep on talking to her own self and diving into the depth of her heart, “The more bravely you uncover your inner self, the more moving your performance would be. Women In Red is knitted with the stories of other people, yet I must try hard to dig up my corresponding selves that echo the story characters. Furthermore, I am the only one who can get into my own mind and nobody would be able to assist me — this deepens the sense of solitude.” As the Co-Director of Women In Red, Mr Banky Yeung Ping-kei acts as the best “bystander” for Mo, guiding her to enter her inner world and discovering the counterparts of Mo inside the story characters.
Rehearsing for a monodrama is the loneliest time, but on the other hand, when is the least lonely moment of all? Mo believes that would be the moment of the actual performance. “Since there are no other actors, the audience would be my acting partners. I love to break the ‘fourth wall’ and interact with the audience, turning them into my co-actors.” She regards the theatre as the most suitable artistic setting where the audience and the performers can both feel being connected at the same time and space. “The sense of presence, reality and instant reaction during a monodrama show allow me to leave my loneliness behind.”
Giving back to the Lingnan family
Lingnan is the first tertiary institution in Hong Kong to premiere Women In Red, which makes Mo feel particularly honoured, “Lingnan has witnessed the different identities in my life — from student, alumna, teacher, to director and performer. This kinship reinforces my anticipation of the day of the performance.” Benefited in the past from the close-knit teacher-student connection at Lingnan, she wishes to pass on this special characteristic of Lingnan education whereby teachers and students get along like friends.
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Lingnan University’s re-establishment in Hong Kong, the Department of Visual Studies has specially introduced the Lingnan 5.0 Film Project. As an experienced director, Mo will produce a short film for the University and release it in early June this year to showcase Hong Kong’s unique stories and historical values.
Women In Red will soon be staged on 8 March on Lingnan campus as a curtain-raiser for the Lingnan Arts Festival 2018. Please click here for details.