Unleash Elderly’s Acting Talent

April 2021
In the Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly, both Olive and Uncle Mok pursue professional acting skills and they find the new meaning in retired life.

“Grocery shopping, cooking and general housekeeping work has filled my repetitive daily life. Sometimes, I couldn’t even remember what day of the week it was.” More than a year ago, Olive Chan felt rudderless and disconnected. But now it's different.

In 2019, Olive took the advice of some old friends from her amateur theatre days and joined the Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly founded by Arts’ Options, which provides professional stage training for seniors aged 55 and above to help them tap into their creativity. Her schedule is now packed with drama rehearsals three days a week, giving her more energy than ever.

Rekindling the theatre dream

Olive, 55, had been a full-time housewife for more than a decade, having put her passion for theatre aside for the sake taking care of her family. Back in her early twenties, she had once lived and breathed acting as a member of an amateur theatre troupe. “I used to rehearse all night, and my mother complained that she had ‘lost’ her daughter to theatre.” Olive recalls. “But when I became a mother, I had to put my acting dream behind me for the time being, although I still made time to watch one play a year.”

Olive performed in the theatre

Today, her daughter has grown up and Olive has more time to herself. After more than a year’s drama training with the Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly, Olive was selected as a member of the touring team to perform in the community. In the dramedy The Final Escape, Olive plays Siu Ha, a sweet talker who covets her father’s wealth.

“Link Together Initiatives funds this programme and provides performance venues in Link’s malls.” explains Olive. “I have performed in Lok Fu Plaza and Wo Che Plaza. My most memorable experience so far was when an elderly woman playfully scolded me after one of my shows, saying ‘You are not a good daughter,’ before praising me with a smile and noting that I had acted very well. It makes me happy to bring others entertainment and happiness, and I also feel reconnected with society."

Some people may feel uneasy to come to terms with life after retirement. “Like many of my peers, I’m afraid of becoming physically weak, but we must accept ageing and learn to live a wonderful life.” she says. “For example, as a senior it helps to be open-minded and to embrace new things, especially in order to communicate with young people. This is a key to happiness.”

Pursuing professional performances at 85 years old

Uncle Mok joined the Inspirational Drama Programme

While Olive has just started her senior citizen journey, 85-year-old Mok Chik-kan has been on this track for over 20 years and has truly demonstrated that one is never too old to learn.

Uncle Mok, who lives alone, became widowed 17 years ago. With help from social workers, he successfully battled depression and began participating in various activities, including doing volunteer work, learning how to sing and dance, teaching classes in community centres, and performing in advertisements and short films. However, he was eager for more. One day, Uncle Mok learned about the Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly, which is led by the well-known and experienced stage artist Brenda Chan. He believed he had finally found a way to take the next step towards becoming a professional actor instead of just being an amateur.

“When I first started, one of the most difficult trainings was voice training, which combines Cantonese vowels, body movements and facial expressions.” he says. “It was interesting to learn many new terms for each of the facial muscles!” Despite suffering from arthritis and frozen shoulder, Uncle Mok insisted on practising every day. His persistence paid off, as he was later selected for a singing role in the theatre version of The Final Escape. “This programme is unique, since the teachers will not lower their standards simply because you are old. This pushes me to keep improving.”

Uncle Mok’s open-mindedness comes from his life experience. Born in Hong Kong, he was originally a liberal arts teacher in Mainland China. However, when he decided to return to Hong Kong in 1990, his mainland educational qualifications were not recognised in Hong Kong. To make a living, he worked as an office assistant. Throughout his life, his resourcefulness has guided him through the ups and downs, and he relies on the wisdom in Sun Yat-sen’s famous saying – “adapt to the trends of the world; cater for the needs of people” – to keep moving ahead.

“For example, technology advances rapidly, so you must stay up to date with the latest advances to keep yourself less dependent on others.” he says. “Especially given Hong Kong’s ageing problem, I hope I can convey the positive message of self-reliance of the elderly with my role in the play and bring a positive impact to society.”

Aiming to establish the first elderly acting troupe in Hong Kong

The elderly took photo after the show

Since October 2019, the three-year Inspirational Drama Programme for Elderly, which is being funded by Link Together Initiatives, has attracted around 180 participants to its experiential workshops. While the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the activities of many organisations, Arts’ Options has proven its agility and resilience by moving all in-person training classes online, helping seniors who were once unfamiliar with computer technology to overcome any technical difficulties. According to a recent survey by Arts’ Options, upon completing 100 hours of drama training, most participants noted a big difference, including improved self-esteem, interpersonal skills, memory and creativity.

The troupe’s first theatre performance, The Final Escape, was originally scheduled for December 2020. Although it was cancelled due to the pandemic, participants were committed to performing the show and insisted on recording the performance online. The programme is now recruiting new elderly participants to join, while the students from the first year are now progressing to their second year of professional training with more advanced subjects such as troupe management and TV performances. The programme aims to establish the first professional elderly acting troupe in Hong Kong.

Professional elderly acting troupe

Introduction: The Final Escape

Performance Video: https://youtu.be/AgN3pdNLqSA

Can money buy loyalty?

Boss Lee, once powerful and dominant in the business world, ended up living in home for the aged without anyone visiting him! Lee met fellow elderly residents from all walks of life there, including some who had been ignored by their children and others who had been cut off from their family. All the residents of the home decided they no longer wanted to stay, and together they planned their daring escape!

Do Boss Lee and his fellow residents long for an escape from the elderly home, or from something else? Can a tragedy turn out to be a comedy? The answers are to be found in this local production, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Screenwriter: Ada Chan
Director: Brenda Chan
Producer/Deputy Director: Rebecca Po

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