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Let There Be Lighting

Stephen Mok and Tomtom Ho

1 Aug 2022

A stellar concert requires the coming together of performance, stage design, sound, image, lighting and costume. Of these elements, lighting is arguably the one most capable of rendering a moment suddenly magical. Tomtom, a graduate of the Department of Media Design and Technology in the Academy's School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts, is passionate about media art. Her unusual lighting design for a per se concert, "Interstage 2020: per se - in an instant, autumn came" caught the attention of per se member Stephen Mok.


"The background lighting for one of the songs came from a linear fixture," Stephen says. "We were very impressed." Last year, per se recruited Tomtom for another concert, in an act that reaffirmed the trust and understanding between the two parties.


The School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts (TEA) partners with local musicians to produce an annual highlight event, Interstage, with the aim of allowing students to immerse themselves in a professional setting.


Stephen Mok performed as the vocalist and guitarist of per se at Interstage 2020. He is also a TEA graduate, specialising in audio recording. Stephen returned to campus seven years after graduation to help put the concert together. He lauds the professionalism of current students.


"We spent a lot of time communicating and experimenting," he notes. "During the six months from planning to performance, we were at the mercy of Covid, and all its trials and tribulations. We couldn't be sure whether the show could take place until the very end. Luckily, our passion was not dampened by time. The production team never ceased to come up with new ideas. Collaborating with a team of such energy and dynamism was unforgettable."


The Academy students are often seen as the "academics" of the performing arts field. Stephen, who is well-known locally, believes the main difference between academics and non-academics is the way of thinking. "Skills can be learnt through different channels, but mindsets are not formed simply by throwing yourself into the industry or the job," Stephen notes. "In fact, working non-stop could deprive you of time and energy to experiment, leaving you with no choice other than to accept the status quo. The Academy, on the other hand, not only teaches professional know-how and knowledge; it also offers space and encouragement for exploration, and the chance to do the same thing using different approaches. Such opportunities are golden."


Growing Through Pressure


More than six months after the concert, Tomtom received an invitation from Interstage producer Hong Ka-chun to be the lighting designer for per se's 2021 concert KINGDOM FAR AWAY unwritten characters. "I was shocked as I thought I wasn't up to par!" Tomtom reflects. The three shows took place in Mong Kok's MacPherson Stadium. The stage was larger than the one at the Academy theatre, and her co-workers were no longer classmates, but well-known professionals in the industry. All this put tremendous pressure on Tomtom.


"We had two weeks to prepare for Interstage, but only four days for KINGDOM FAR AWAY, three of which already had a performance taking place," Tomtom explains. "I was really nervous." Fortunately for Tomtom, the steadfast support and encouragement of Hong Ka-chun and art director Orange Chan helped her to overcome her fears, and let her creativity manifest itself.


The idea behind KINGDOM FAR AWAY unwritten characters is to create a fictional utopia infused with elements of medieval fairy tales that will take the audience on a fantastical journey. Adept at using linear lights, Tomtom came up with an edgy concept, as is her style, one that illuminates with rows of overhead fixtures to create a fairy tale vibe in digital fashion.


Stephen believes the main challenge is that many songs have to be accompanied by background images. The question he posed to Tomtom was "How would this affect the lighting design?" Despite the lack of time, the collaboration was a success. It helped that Tomtom was familiar with per se's songs, and her designs won the approval of the art director. "I was happiest with the Pippi Longstocking part. I was completely immersed in the song, like I had touched its soul."


Sunset Memories


Tomtom had her own band way back in secondary school. At 15, she attended Sunset Concert 2012 at the Academy. "It was as if I had an epiphany," she recalls. "I felt I had to study at the Academy. I had to be involved in producing Sunset Concerts."


While she was quite determined to develop her own band initially, she changed her mind after entering the Academy, where she met media art-loving peers. Together with a few classmates, Tomtom formed a group called NATP, and vowed to perform every year on campus. They created the sound, lighting and multimedia installation "420 Bad Trip," but their subsequent 2020 trip couldn't happen because of Covid.


"In the few years at the Academy, I kept building my own database," she says. "I strived to find myself through my own creative work, discover my personal artistic language, and at the same time, let others know about my style."


The Sunset Concert provides what's often a collective memory for many TEA alumni. Stephen himself was involved in audio recording for the 2013 edition of the concert while a student. During the process, he got to know a guest lecturer from Australia. "It was this teacher who landed me my first job after graduation," he says. "The concert opened a door for me, gave me the chance to build my network, and form my own team. And, in hindsight, it all began when I was still a student at the Academy."


Now in its tenth year, per se branched out to form an independent music label as its own company this year. New endeavours are to be expected – plenty – as are uncertainties. "It feels like we are starting all over again and exploring afresh," Stephen observes quietly, not without some of the anticipation he remembers from his early performing days. "We haven't felt like this in ages."


Tomtom graduated in August last year, and had been a professional, full-time participant in the industry for only three months when the fifth wave of Covid struck. Although all work was put on hold, her enthusiasm did not wane. "Now that I have left the Academy, I no longer have access to all the equipment I need," she laments. "I try as much as possible to create using the computer because it forces me to think."


She advises the current graduating class not to fear failure. "We grow when we confront and accept setbacks," she says. "Do not let one disappointment ruin the rest of our hard work."


They are wise words. It is only by sustaining a positive mindset and equipping ourselves in difficult times that we can rise to new opportunities.


The article was published in the Aug 2022 issue of Academy NewsClick here to read the original story.)



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