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Onnie Chan 陳安然

By Richard Lord /

No one’s route into as niche and demanding a field as immersive theatre is a straightforward one. But for Onnie Chan, founder and artistic director of Banana Effect, Hong Kong’s first immersive theatre company, hers has particularly deep roots.

“My father died when I was very young,” she says. “It made me a bit disconnected from people, and kind of confused about my own identity. When I was about nine or 10 years old, I realised I could get connected with the world again through drama.”

That search for connection, she adds, has powered her entire career. “That word is very important throughout my theatre journey. Through acting, I thought I could connect with people around me.”

It eventually led her to apply for the acting course at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts behind her mother’s back, and after five years of study, she was offered a full-time job by the Hong Kong Repetory Theatre. It was her dream come true – but something was missing.

“A big theatre company is like a corporation; everything is very structured. I felt disconnected – it was like going to the office. 

And theatre is all about performers performing; it’s kind of disconnected from the audience.”

She decided to continue her studies at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and it was there she discovered immersive theatre, putting on shows with fellow students, often in bars.

Six years ago she came back to Hong Kong and found the city not quite so receptive to the concept. “It’s so difficult to explain what immersive theatre is in Asia,” she says. “I couldn’t find anyone who understood it.”

Help came from an unexpected source when she met a friend of a friend who was involved in creating escape rooms – live-action role-playing games in which players collaborate to solve puzzles – and eventually became creative director of game room company FreeingHK. 

Channelling Hongkongers’ love of gaming proved a fruitful entry point for Banana Effect; its first production, The Game Of Life, was structured like a game show. Other shows have included Alice in the Stuckyland and The Last Journey to the West, loosely based on the respective literary classics.

In addition to immersive theatre, Chan also hosts immersive storytelling workshops for children, as well as teaching tour guides, including the docent training at West Kowloon’s Xiqu Centre. The common thread through all of them is human interaction.

“What I really like is not giving a message to the audience but that they start thinking about other questions after the show; I want to make ripples in their lives,” she says. “After a show about absent fathers, one man came up to me and said he hadn’t talked to his father for 30 years. I told him: ‘OK, this is the first step – what you do now is up to you.’ This is what I want. This is what I figure connection is really about. I was a very disconnected child; now everything’s about making connections.”

的領域之路,沒有一條是平坦直接的。但對於香港首個沉浸遊戲劇場Banana Effect.的創辦人及藝術總監陳安然(Onnie Chan)而言,這麼做卻有其根深蒂固的緣由。

她說:「在我很小的時候父親就去世了。我變得有些離群,對自己的身份有點迷惑。到了大約9歲、10歲時,我意識到自己可以通過戲劇重新和世界連接。”」

尋找關聯是她畢生事業的動力,她補充道。「在我辦劇場的整個過程中,『連接』是個非常重要的字眼。我想自己能通過表演與周遭人連繫起來。」

這使得她背著媽媽去報名香港演藝學院戲劇系,經過五年學習後,她在香港話劇團謀得了一份全職工作。她的夢想成真,然而某些東西卻不見了。

「大型劇團就像是一個公司,一切都很結構化。我感到斷了連接,就如同去辦公室上班。劇團關注的只有演員的表演,卻和觀眾失去了連繫。」

隨後她決定前往皇家倫敦大學中央演講和戲劇學院繼續學業,正是在那裡她接觸到了沉浸劇場,並和同學們在酒吧等場所演出。

「六年前她回到香港,發現這個城市還不太能接受沉浸劇場的概念。「在亞洲想要解釋清楚什麼是沉浸劇場好難。我沒有找到一個懂它的人。」她說。

她遇見了一個朋友的朋友,獲得意料之外的協助。這個人參與設計密室逃脫,一種真人角色扮演遊戲,玩家需要齊心協力解密。後來這人成了密室逃脫公司「FreeingHK逃出香港」的創意總監。

最終證實,將香港人對遊戲的熱愛加以引導,對Banana Effect來說是個富有成效的切入點。首部製作《你喪心.我病狂》結構有如遊戲節目。其他劇碼如《麻甩愛麗絲塞住喺仙境》和《末世西遊記》均改編自文學名著。

除了沉浸劇場之外,陳安然還舉辦了針對兒童的沉浸講故事工作坊,以及培訓導遊,包括給西九戲曲中心的講解員培訓。而將這一切連接起來的主線都是人與人之間的互動。

「我真正喜歡的不是給公眾傳達訊息而是引發他們在劇後開始思考其他問題。我想要在他們的生活中掀起漣漪。」她說。「在一部關於逃避責任的父親的劇後,一位男士上前來告訴我說他有30年沒和爸爸說過話了。我對他說:『這是第一步,你的舉動取決於你自己。』這就是我想要的。我想這大概就是真正的『連接』。我曾經是個很離群的孩子,而現在的一切都是在連接。」

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