Director Ata Wong on his new play #1314
Director Ata Wong gave us a glimpse of rehearsals for his multilingual play #1314 – a deconstruction of Shakespeare’s sonnets. From morning to night, inside and outside the studio, we followed him around the city trying to discover art through the eyes of an artist.
Wong recalls an afternoon at a bookstore in Paris, France. He was a physical theater student at the Jacques Lecoq International Theater School – a prestigious school that offers an intensive two-year professional course that emphasizes body, movement and space. He later became one of the few graduates of Chinese origin.
That afternoon his eyes were fixed on the literary work of the Bard, poetry for which he had a strong affection. But with all his savings spent on high tuition, he couldn’t buy the book. After all, at that time in Paris, Wong says, he could really only afford to eat fried eggs and a sausage on the side. But Shakespeare’s sonnets resonated deeply with him, leading him to write the romantic musical #1314.
#1314: A love story without “two”
Performed by the physical theater troupe Théâtre de la Feuille and presented by the Jockey Club New Arts Power, #1314 is an avant-garde piece depicting a love story that slowly turns into a story of mistrust and exasperation. . A deconstruction of Shakespeare’s poetry, classic lines are read in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and paired with physical body movements.
In Cantonese, the numbers 1314 are a pun on a Chinese expression meaning “lifetime commitment”. Wong laughs when he explains, “It’s ironic that we always say that phrase in a relationship – love each other for life – but we know it’s not true.”
“It implies that there are no ‘twos’ in love. You are always alone or in a love triangle. Love is suffering. But Wong does not want to explain too much. “I prefer that the public feels it and interprets it for himself.”
He remembers the first time he read Shakespeare’s sonnet, calling it a Bible: “It’s not dramatic. It’s philosophical. You think the poems are about love and relationships, but really they are about time and human nature.
“Like animals, we are cruel. Some systems like marriages and contracts try to confine us but fail to do so. This is why we have divorces and why we break our promises.
In particular, time as a theme is tricky – it confuses people, makes us run down with selfishness and jealousy.
The body like a storm
It’s sunset. The performers, away from their full-time jobs, returned to their beloved studio. They do stretching exercises to “wake up the body,” as Wong puts it.
“The body is more honest and uninhibited,” he says, “we try to use facial expressions all the time, but it feeds the audience with standard language. It should be a research process.
Wong sees the body as an empty vessel for metaphors, believing “it can be a forest, a storm”. A storm? “When a person is in a bad mood and they sweep everything off the table onto the floor,” Wong explains. A body transforming into other forms.
Wong’s minimalism in the theater
Wong is confident in her way of performing, ditching traditional staging and extra props. Is it minimalism in a way? “It’s mini but big. The big part is the deep feelings and nature of humans.
He cites the history of the arts, from realism focused on technique and precision, to impressionism and surrealism that broke the old boundary of the arts. Wong admires great painters. “That’s what I’m trying to achieve, as much space as possible for the imagination to happen.”
He believes that art is about the searching process, not the definitive answer. “The love story is the hardest to tell because each one is different. Therefore, we don’t want an obvious plot. We want the text of #1314 to be as open and inclusive as possible, to invite the audience to invest their feelings and experiences in the work.
Are we invoking The Death of the Author? Wong nods. “It is a requirement that the public be involved, so that we can complete the work together.”
Theatrical artwork isn’t as commercial in Hong Kong, but Wong isn’t worried. He sees their mission as “fighting popularity”, an opportunity to excite the public.
Leaving the studio
Silence falls over the room. Repeat #1314 ends and everyone sits down quietly. “I see you’re not playing. You are only doing your duty.
Wong is a strict manager. “[On the day you perform] there is a bigger stage, a bigger audience. You will be even more easily distracted,” he says. Some actors stare at him, others nod.
With decades of experience in theatrical immersion, Wong believes that “actors don’t have to act. All they have to do is present their true feelings. We want to go beyond the drama and expose authentic experiences and feelings.
As the studio is much smaller than the stage on which they will perform, the rehearsal moves to a nearby amusement park. A few pedestrians stop to watch. The noise of passing cars and trucks should be distracting, but the crew is completely immersed in the singing and dancing.
The repetition of #1314 does not end until midnight. Wong is lying on his bed in the studio, staring at the empty black ceiling. He doesn’t sleep well these days as he constantly reminisces about the rehearsal moments and thinks about how they can go further.
Does it bother him? Not really. “I do what I love,” he says.
#1314 premiered in theaters from December 24 to 26 at Sha Tin City Hall. To learn more about the works of Wong and his Théâtre de la Feuille company, Click here.