For the Academy’s new Dean of Drama, Jorge Luis Cacheiro, leading always starts by learning. His priority is therefore to educate himself on everything about the Academy, its students, and the Hong Kong theatre, film, and television industries that it serves.
Cuban-born, US-educated, and a prior resident of numerous countries, Jorge has been swimming in cross-cultural currents most of his life. But he sees Hong Kong as one-of-a-kind place, a city with the potential to be a global cultural centre. And he sees his new students, many of them able to switch seamlessly between three languages, as the embodiment of global artists and citizens.
“We have this trilingual performer that can act in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. You just don’t see this anywhere else in the world. These are the languages that represent the largest storytelling industries in the world. So, it’s crucial we ask how we can embrace these abilities. I believe our students are uniquely positioned to be employed in and impact numerous markets while being cultural ambassadors for Hong Kong and the Mainland.
Jorge thinks this is a huge advantage for the Academy and the School of Drama. Today, the Academy already stands out as a top-ranked institution for performing arts training regionally, and internationally. But he warns, the field is becoming ever-more competitive. “It’s become like sports teams looking for talent. You go everywhere to find the most talented students and teachers. Academies have become global and more internationalised.” For example, he says, drama schools in London go to the Colombian capital, Bogotá, to recruit students to study in the UK. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland goes to Orange County, California, looking for students. And the New York schools go all the way to the Mainland looking for top talent. “We are all looking for the same thing: exceptionally talented students to train, students who will succeed in the profession, who will be professional and cultural ambassadors for our Schools and cities.”
The Academy’s Place in the Industry
Jorge, who took up his post as Dean last June, knows he must “differentiate” the Academy’s School of Drama from other drama schools while continuing to raise its profile and international reputation. Along with unparalleled training in acting, directing, playwriting, dramaturgy and applied theatre, Jorge looks to build career networking partnerships with the drama industries of Hong Kong, the Mainland, and Los Angeles.
“We don't train anymore in a vacuum,” he exhorts. “We train in connection to an industry, so it’s important to ask the right questions. How well do you know the industry you train your students for? How connected are you to that industry?”
For Jorge, this means, first and foremost, having Hong Kong’s theatre, film and television industries as strong partners in the education of the School of Drama students. And because of the unique trilingual ability of the School’s students, it also means networking with the Mainland and US industries to make sure they know of the drama students at the Academy.
“With the explosive convergence of storytelling and technology, there are more opportunities than ever in the drama field, and our students, because of their language skills, are uniquely positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. So, we want to find key sustainable educational and industry partners for the School of Drama,” Jorge explains. “Partners that both present new perspectives on training but also serve as employment conduits to the drama industries of their cities. Everything is evolving. And we, as academic leaders, must ensure that our School also evolves.”
The Marriage of Knowledge and Practice
Still there are core educational fundamentals that Jorge believes should never be lost. One of them is the pursuit of knowledge, and learning how to use it effectively as an artist. While studying drama in Hong Kong often calls to mind physical performance and intense practice, the new Dean also wants to make sure the students have time to read, to watch plays and movies. The intellectual and inspirational stimulation from knowledge, and the artist’s ability to apply their craft through a personal perspective is crucial in the training of young dramatists. Our students are the “hardest workers I know,” he continues. “They are extremely dedicated and will practise as much as they can. But I believe that it’s equally essential for young artists to feed their minds, to be inquisitive knowledge sponges.” He believes you ignore the mental side of being a dramatist at your peril. “Exercising the muscle that is your brain is as important as exercising the muscles that are your body,” he says. “It's when knowledge, idiosyncratic application, and practice all come together that magic is created.”
After studying at UCLA and Yale University’s School of Drama, Jorge began his professional career as an actor, and then a director and writer working Off-Broadway in New York as well as on the West Coast. He has directed world and west-coast premieres of plays by such playwrights as Harry Kondoleon, Eduardo Machado, and David Lindsay-Abaire. His own work has received numerous awards and support from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, the Princess Grace Foundation, and the Goethe Institute. Along the way, Jorge became the first Cuban-born US theatre director to helm a Cuban company, an invitation he accepted in a bid to build cultural bridges between the United States and the country where he was born.
In New York, Jorge was the founder and inaugural executive director of the Pace School of Performing Arts (now Sands College) at Pace University in New York. At Pace, Jorge established the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Acting for Film, Television, Voice Overs and Commercial, as well as the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Devised Theatre with an international travel component. True to his word, he also expanded Pace’s academic and industry reach out to the West Coast with acting and dance partnerships in Los Angeles as well as to Europe, with a partnership for devised work in directing and acting in Barcelona, Spain. Prior to Pace, Jorge set up the New Works Initiative at Montclair State University in New Jersey – a unique programme where major emerging artists develop new work alongside performing arts students. Rachel Chavkin, the Tony Award winner in 2019 as the director of the musical Hadestown, was the inaugural guest artist for the programme. “You get brilliant people to come in and workshop their ideas with your students and the results are a win-win for everyone.” The professional refines their first draft, while the students gain invaluable learning experience as well as lifelong employment connections. “Often our guest artists like our students so much that they offer them work in their very next show.”
Having lived in London, New York and Los Angeles, Jorge believes Hong Kong is even more exciting. “So when the opportunity to work in Hong Kong came up, there was no hesitation. Just like Europe and the US had its time, this is now Asia’s time. This is the next wave. And Hong Kong is as poised as any major city to be the world’s next centre of business and culture. So, to be able to train dramatists here, in this city? How exciting is that?!”