How do you bring the gods of Greek mythology to life on stage for an audience that may not be familiar with their epic tales? We sat down with Allan M. Nazareno, director of The Lightning Thief (US/UK) at Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong, to find out. Below, learn more about the joys and challenges of bringing Percy Jackson’s story to Hong Kong.
Tell us about your experience bringing The Lightning Thief to your stage.
Putting up a show that the students closely relate with made the production process joyful and manageable. When Brandi (my co-director) and I saw how much our cast and crew enjoyed this process, it was truly a happy moment for both of us. We attempted something unique and different from the original production by making full use of our LED wall and letting our actors interact with the images to tell the story. This made the show extremely challenging not only for our actors, but for our tech crew as well. Seeing them successfully pull this off made them feel very fulfilled and that makes Brandi and me extremely happy, too.
What challenges did you face in presenting the show?
The main challenge was that the story deals with fantastical, mythological creatures. We could have opted to invest in costuming and character design, like what most other productions do. However, due to the tight budget for costuming that we had to work with, it was decided that making use of projection animation would be a more viable option for us. However, our school auditorium schedule could only afford us about 10 days to put everything together. To coordinate everything, from tech to live musicians to actors, was extremely challenging given that short amount of time.
Another challenge worth pointing out is that our school only has a few boys wanting to be involved as performers. Thus, we ended up having girls play many male roles. This was a challenge because the keys were difficult for our girls to sing. Our voice coach had to find many creative ways to make the singing work.
How did the students feel about working with their peers?
As this is our all-school musical, so our secondary students had to work with younger students from primary school. Initially, there was resistance and indifference from the older students, who did not want to be around younger children. However, as the production rehearsal progressed, they were able to establish strong relationships with each other.
How did you incorporate a professional projections designer? What did that add to the show?
Since it was decided early on to make use of projections for this show, the school already made arrangements to have a professional projections designer from Manila to create the projections . She already did the animated backdrops for last year’s musical, so it was natural to have her be involved with this project. The first step was to offer a “Projections Animation” class to the students who would help design the production. One boy even went further, operating the projections for the show and helping to create some scenes. It was a great addition to the show as it not only helped us provide creative solutions to the fantastical scenes, but it also allowed our students to be involved in the design and tech aspects.
What was the audience’s reaction?
The audience was very enthusiastic. The young audiences especially were thrilled by the fantasy aspects they saw from our animated backdrops. The “D.O.A.” number was the most applauded, as well as “Put You in Your Place.” The student who played Annabeth had a wonderful moment singing her solo.
The story takes place in the US. How did this American story work for a Hong Kong audience?
Luckily, our cast and crew members were quite familiar with the novel and so it was easy to relate to. Three weeks prior to opening night, many of our cast members were with Brandi and me as we led them through a field trip to New York City. Our itinerary included the scenes that figured prominently in the story such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since our students were familiar with the story, they just presented the show as truthfully as they could, and the audience got it. It worked because our students’ performance focused on telling a universal story.
What would you like the students to take away from the show?
As director, I am hoping our actors will learn to appreciate the hard work that tech people do to make them look good on stage. I would want them to remember the hardships we went through and how we as a team were able to overcome the challenges we had to face.
Any tips or advice for other groups producing The Lightning Thief?
I would advise other groups to look for other creative ways to mount the show and not just recreate the original production. The great thing about this piece is that it can surely benefit from different ways of telling the story. Go outside the box to stage this show. It is also perfect for schools as it may be produced with a limited budget. They should not be bothered by the fantastical aspects, as those can be staged in many creative ways.
To license a production of The Lightning Thief, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK. Alternatively for the 70-minute, one-act version of the Theatre for Young Audiences Edition find out more in the US or UK.
Header image: 2023 Yew Chung International Schools Secondary Production of The Lightning Thief (Courtesy of Yew Chung Education Foundation)