William Yip was a dentistry student before he decided to follow his real dream
Recently, William Yip, the artistic director of Theatre Noir Foundation, has been working with a group of deaf and hearing (non-deaf) performers to put on a musical called Love in Silence, dealing with some of the difficulties the deaf community faces.
“It’s so empowering in two ways,” Yip says. “Firstly, the performers with hearing impairments get the chance to express to the public what they really feel. Then it is also empowering for the hearing members of the cast and crew, as well as the audience, who have the chance to reflect on and rethink the true meaning of communication.”
This project with deaf people is just one of many ways Yip is working to give people in the Hong Kong community the chance to watch and participate in drama.
Theatre Noir Foundation, which Yip founded in 2007, provides various drama classes for children of different ages. This September, it launched a TN Youth Musical Theatre programme offering classes for free to 144 children. Next January, it is starting a weekly TN Kids Musical Playhouse class for children aged three to six.
The foundation also runs many projects with different community groups. These include working with women in Tin Shui Wai to put on performances about their lives and doing drama with sick people in hospitals, as well as the work with deaf people.
Yip believes that drama can offer these people a lot, as participating in theatre production can both entertain and inspire them. As with the Tin Shui Wai project, it shows how members of the community can express themselves and give themselves a voice.
It can also show individuals what they are capable of doing and give them new confidence. “After you’ve worked so hard, you get applause from the audience,” Yip says. “That is a very empowering moment. The empowerment comes when the audience appreciate that you’ve worked so hard, and aimed so high, and when you get them to say ‘wow!’”
The audience watching a performance can similarly derive not just entertainment, but also information and inspiration. “After watching a play, they can be empowered,” Yip says, who argues passionately for the power which both watching and doing drama has to inspire people and give them confidence and skills.
Actually, Yip almost ended up pulling out teeth instead of promoting drama. Despite his passion for theatre, after finishing school, he went to study dentistry at the Hong Kong University for what he was told would be a stable and lucrative career.
“I got into dentistry because that was the dream of my family and I tried to please them,” he says. Fortunately, his love of drama dragged him back. “In the second year, I studied hard, but I spent a lot of time doing performances outside the university. Then in the first semester of the second year, I skipped most of the tutorials to teach drama at a secondary school.”
One of his professors asked Yip why he had missed classes. After he explained, Yip was asked why he wasn’t doing drama instead. This persuaded him to pursue his real dream, enrolling at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA).
Whilst studying and working in the following years, Yip met several people who showed him the potential for using drama to benefit the community.
One was Justine Woo, founder of Hong Kong Children’s Musical Theatre, who offered Yip a job teaching drama to kindergarten children. The job showed him how drama might be used to build confidence and give new skills to young people.
“From then, I was inspired to start working on drama education,” Yip says. “I didn’t know the potential of drama education, and I was like: ‘wow!’”
Another major influence was Lena Lee, vice-chair of the Arts for the Disabled Association of Hong Kong. Lee contacted Yip in 2010, asking him to help put on a production of Journey to the West performed by and for deaf people. This showed Yip the potential for doing drama with and for all different kinds of groups.
“That experience opened up another career, which is arts in the community,” he says. “So now I work very closely with deaf people, with women, with the disabled. That’s a really amazing experience.”
Theatre Noir Foundation has gradually evolved to encompass these new directions. When it began, it focused on providing drama teaching in schools. After a few years, it began putting on touring productions and offering drama programmes for young people outside school. In 2011, it started doing community work.
Yip says that running such a unique and entrepreneurial organisation has sometimes been quite challenging. “You never know what is going to happen next,” he says. “The most difficult part is that there’s no pathway for me to follow. It’s quite scary. I had sleepless nights because things did go wrong from time to time, because nobody has done anything like that.”
However, running Theatre Noir Foundation and doing drama with different kinds of people has also been very rewarding. “I have seen so many good things, so many changes with people, so many big smiles, and so many happy tears. I want to do more,” Yip says.
Yip hopes to continue to develop Theatre Noir Foundation to bring the benefits of drama to many more people in Hong Kong and elsewhere. “My plan is to build a stronger team,” he says. “I have this energy that I want to share with people with the same passion. There are so many people in the world who’ve not received the same opportunity to enjoy theatre.”
TOPPING THE BILL
William Yip cites the theatre works that have been most significant to him
Animal Farm This won four awards, including Top 10 Most Popular Productions, Best Original Music, and Best Costume Design at the 20th Hong Kong Drama Awards.
With Love, William Shakespeare This original musical has been performed in Hong Kong, Beijing and other cities for more than 300 shows.
13 The performance of this musical was the first time Yip did “accessible performance for all”, where audio descriptions and captions helped visually- or hearing-impaired people to enjoy the performance too.
Journey to the West His first production with deaf and hearing performers.
Mulan This was the culmination of Theatre Noir’s summer musical school.