Cover Ata Wong, founder of Théâtre de la Feuille. Courtesy of Ata Wong.

From meditating to going to the gym, Ata Wong follows a strict routine to keep fit for his job directing one of the few physical theatres in Hong Kong, Théâtre de la Feuille.

Ata Wong is the founder and artistic director of Théâtre de la Feuille, one of the rare performing arts companies in Hong Kong to specialise in physical theatre. Wong is one of a handful of graduates of Chinese descent to have completed the Laboratory of Movement Study programme at Parisian theatre school l’École Jacques Lecoq, which focuses on using the actor’s body as a form of narration. “I find physical theatre to be a very powerful storytelling tool,” Wong says, adding: “it is rare in the performing arts scene in Hong Kong. With Théâtre de la Feuille, I hope to introduce physical theatre to a wider local audience.”

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In his December production which was part of the Jockey Club New Arts Power last year, he reinterpreted Shakespeare’s love sonnets—a genre few dare to present in the form of a stage production—by adding music and body movements to the words. Through body movements, which he deems a universal language, Wong explored different kinds of love and passion in #1314, an apt title as the number sounds similar to “for eternity” in Chinese.

Wong shares a typical day in his life and tells Tatler how running his physical theatre is closer to keeping a wellness routine than one would imagine.

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9.30am

My day begins with a very light breakfast: just vegetables and yogurt to make sure I’m not too full when I teach my physical theatre classes.

10.30am

My classes at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts begin with warming up; it’s not just a physical exercise, but a chance to prepare our minds to interact with and be aware of our surroundings, which is crucial in physical theatre, where a story is told through movements. We adjust our body to present actions, attitudes and emotions to show the audience what is happening onstage. For example, this morning, I drew a simple line on the floor and asked my actors to imagine that it’s a narrow rope hanging ten metres above the ground. I guided them to explore how they could walk on the line, conquer their fears, and how they could be creative in presenting something out of nothing simply with their movements.

We also do a lot of meditation and breathing exercises. How we take deep breaths or hold our breaths would affect the way we move, recite and sing.

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Noon

I love sharing my theatre passion with school students. A few months back, my team and I did around ten school tours to perform plays that combined acting with Italian masks and xiqu, or Chinese opera.

But when I have lunchtimes free, I enjoy a full lunch, which is all about chicken and egg rice. Because I don’t eat dinner, I try to get as much protein from a full lunch as possible.

1pm

Singing plays a big part in our productions, especially #1314 where sonnets were sung. I used to take vocal classes while a student at the HKAPA, and I was one of the first cast members at Hong Kong Disneyland’s Festival of the Lion King musical. When it comes to coaching my actors, our company works with an opera singer.

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2pm

The vocal exercises last for one or two hours,  then we would research our productions. When we were developing #1314, I didn’t intend for it to be just about reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets. The sonnets don’t have a storyline, so I worked with actors, composers and playwrights to translate some of the sonnets into Cantonese and Mandarin and write music for them. Chinese is a tonal language, which helped with composing the music for the translated sonnets. Then we connected the sonnets to create a production that would take the audience on an emotional journey.

Throughout the process, composer Charles Kwong, actress Han Mei and I experimented with the accompanying music; in the end, we decided that Han would sing a capella so that even the most subtle emotions in her voice could be heard.

3pm

I take a long nap, which is rejuvenating ahead of more evening rehearsals that can last until 11.30pm.

5.30pm

After my rest, I’m fired up to continue rehearsing into the night.

Midnight

Some of the cast members and I like staying up late. We go to the gym to do some weight training after our full day of rehearsals. The gym is quiet then, and I can wind down with my friends. Exercise is also very important for me as a physical actor: strengthening my muscles prevents injuries.

‘A Day In The Life’ is a Tatler weekly series, which delves into the lives of the tastemakers within Hong Kong’s arts scene.

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