Instead, he became the director of the Ming Ri Children’s Theatre and Institute for Arts Education in Hong Kong.
Upon meeting Simon at Ming Ri’s modest housing in the northern part of Kowloon (just north of Honk Kong Island) I immediately felt at home. This is the kind of environment I’m used to.
Desks and storage boxes shoved in a mosaic of ordered chaos, littered with puppets hanging from every protruding pipe and atop the haphazard furniture. He said “Hello” with disarming swiftness and we carried on talking for the next three hours. The bulk of which is too much to print here, but I’ll do my best to summarize both his amazing history and what he’s contributing to my research.
Meet Simon Wong
Simon began his circuitous theatre career in the 1970s as the assistant manager for the Hong Kong Players Theatre. At that time, companies were only producing western story imports in rep. After months of sitting backstage and listening to show after show, the lack of local theatre was too glaring to ignore. He is a Hong Kong native and he saw the need for homegrown culture to be cultivated, not imported. So he started a theatre.
His first project, in the 1970s mind you, was called ‘Twisted Condom’ and dealt with the topic of nearly forced abstinence of physically and mentally disabled Chinese. Controversial, of course, and a total success. His company carried on for a few years, building a name on their experimentation and fearlessness. During a company meeting to discuss their next show, someone posed a shockingly simple question: no one in Hong Kong does children’s theatre. Now wouldn’t that be experimental?
Here they are, 30 some odd years later – the largest children’s theatre in Hong Kong. Along with their four show season, they run a teacher training certification for utilization of puppets and drama in the classroom.
Simon also teaches periodically at the Hong Kong Academy for the performing arts, has studied and worked with theatre artists from nearly every country (I really do mean every), is currently starting a three year long collaboration creating a new piece of children’s theatre with four European countries and four Asian countries, has served as the China UNIMA President for several years and was instrumental in canvassing and cataloguing Chinese puppet troupes around the country for UNIMA in 2000.
This is where I got lucky.
I happened to come to Hong Kong first for the Fulbright midyear conference. It coincided perfectly with my estimated grant start and so I, unintentionally, met Simon first. And he is the guy to kick this thing off right.
He has generously provided me with contacts to visit some major shadow puppet collections (many parts not on display to the public), contacts for the government sponsored provincial troupes, and even some master craftsman who are scattered throughout the countryside.
This wealth of knowledge from my very first interview had me worried. If everyone has this depth of networking and passion – where will the journey end? I’m allowing that to remain muddy for now and will simply let the puppets lead me.
Thanks for reading friends~