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Candace Chong and Octavian Chan on University Education and Drama

Candace Chong
Psychology, 1999; Four-time Winner of Best Script Award, Hong Kong Drama Awards
Octavian Chan
Physics, 2004; 2009 Young Artist Award, Hong Kong Arts Development Awards

When did you start thinking about making drama your profession?

Chong: I was choosing between drama and psychology, and hence the Academy for Performing Arts (APA) and the Chinese University. I knew that CUHK and APA would entail very different learning habits. I decided to go to CUHK first. Psychology is about the environment, personality and behaviour, which helps in creating characters and scripts. I am particularly interested in abnormal psychology: how a person enters the abnormal mental stage, be it innate or influenced, is drama in itself. I took 'A Perspectival Study of Hong Kong Theatre' as a college general education course and started watching plays, visiting theatres and interviewing directors. As I got familiar with the local drama circle, I confirmed my interest and decided to apply for the academy after getting my first degree.

Chan: I wrote my crappy first script in Secondary 2. I got an acting role in the inter-college drama competition at CUHK. Many seniors came back to teach us during rehearsals. That's when I started to realize how serious drama production could be. In physics, I was taught to seek the truth behind everything. But then I found I had ignored people and things around me in real life. Drama can fill the void because it's about inter-personal communication. So I became more involved. After graduation, I decided to serve society through drama. Studying physics sharpens my critical and analytical thinking skills, which is good for being a director.

Tell us what you love and hate about CUHK.

Chong: Oh it must be the school bus! Missing a school bus was most miserable. The special campus landscape made dependence on school bus a must, but it also offered opportunities for us to appreciate the scenery along the routes, and helped define the unique rhythm and pace of CUHK. The journeys from Chung Chi Tang to the central campus and from there to Shaw were just beautiful.

Chan: I most treasure the three years in hostel. Living on the hill-top was beyond compare. We felt like we were part of nature. There were serious moments when we boys faced challenges with concerted effort, and of course we messed around too. I found true friends there. We still meet from time to time for ball games, dinner and chats.

Which professor impressed you most?

Chong: Freedom (Prof. Leung Yiu-kin) who taught abnormal psychology—he's crazy. In the lecture on phobia, he asked if any of us were afraid of cockroaches while placing a dead one in a zip-lock bag on the overhead projector, scaring a few girls to scream out loud. As hinted by his name, this professor broke all rules and taught freestyle.

Chan: Prof. Kenneth Young, then Pro-Vice-Chancellor, taught us Year 1 mechanics. The topics were broad but he was able to lead us to dig into great depth. He took us to United College to have lunch. I never imagined that a professor like him could be so friendly and so caring. The way he backed his car while parking was cool. No back and forth, just a few brisk turns of the steering wheel and it's done. It was the first 'car drifting' I experienced in my life.

What are the joy and despair of making drama?

Chong: When I first joined the profession, I experienced having less than a hundred bucks in my bank account, not even enough to buy a film ticket. But I was young then and knew no limits. That gave me more freedom to create. As I became more involved and devoted, I experienced erratic emotional ups and downs which were harder to detach from. It was also more difficult to make breakthroughs in developing plots and characters. But when I succeeded, I would enter a state of euphoria. It's hard to find anybody to share these extremities. It's bitter, yet sweet. Despite all that, I will strive on, because I really love drama.

Chan: Being relatively junior in the profession, I can still enjoy the freedom of boundless adventures and get to know myself better. I am fortunate to be able to work with people about my age towards the same goal. We don't know what's ahead but we feel empowered and dare to give it a try. Of course, I panic when I have no money to pay the bills. If you ask me what my despair is, well, the world of drama is huge but here in Hong Kong I can see so little of it. The audience population is too small; we are too slow and timid in experimenting with alternative repertory. Surpassing my predecessors is unlikely, and the time is not ripe yet to break away.