My creative autobiographical PhD
Song & Dance of a Cancer Survivor
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Click "Thesis in PDF format" and go to Chapter 5 (PDF file from p.229, i.e., thesis p.213).
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For John David Morley's (English writer and novelist) response and critical comments on my creative autobiographical PhD, see pages.
Teaser excerpts at end of Introduction New addition 16th Oct
INTRODUCTION TO MY THESIS
I have lived most of my life in the UK. Providence decreed that I am married to Western Classical music, but as a small child in Hong Kong, my first love was Cantonese opera that reached the lower classes, including those shunned by society – the poor, the illiterate, beggars, prostitutes, gangsters… bringing them enjoyment and culture, and I lived among these people as a child. Dante used his memory of his first love Beatrice as creative inspiration. I also use my memory of this first love as creative and staging inspiration while the art form is facing possible demise.
I wanted to write a PhD in storytelling style that can be enjoyed by the general public. University regulations demand inclusion of research and academic writing. However, the creative core Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor, a humorous story in 12 acts is not in academic English (e.g. its title), and I kept to storytelling throughout my thesis as much as possible.
The Cantonese opera that I remember was at its most cross-cultural and multimedia – anything goes for survival. The basis of 'big drama' (i.e., Cantonese opera) was a Quben 曲本 (pronounced chuben: u as German ü; en as in happen) – quasi libretto cum script that was also the basis for new versions. The music was a selection of existing tunes that performers had freedom to modify. A lead performer had a say in all performance aspects of his/her troupe. Performance could be unrehearsed, with ad-lib and changes on the spur of the moment. Many performers had a talent to interact with the audience, stepping in and out of the drama in live performance.
I therefore supplied a Quben in 12 acts with original music that can be played as written but with room for expansion, and production ideas based on my expertise… a reservoir of materials allowing free use and modification by others. I especially hope that creative performers and people who do not have the opportunity to receive professional training would make use of my PhD. The humorous Song & Dance is a good read on its own. My thesis is also a narrative of things disappearing that are not well documented, and my encounter with well-known people and those who were less respected in society.
This project helped me understand why I instinctively write music in a certain way, my venturing into electro-acoustic music, my proclivity for cross-cultural combined arts, and directing and designing my projects. My ultimate aim is to realize the Quben as an Internet opera.
A BEGGAR BOY
(When I was about ten) While roaming free on the streets I befriended a beggar boy about my age. He sometimes put his hand into my jacket pocket to see if there was anything there for him. He was unusual because he was Eurasian. In colonial Hong Kong, ethnic Europeans were usually well off and occupied good positions. They did not mix with local Chinese, let alone beggars... I sometimes saw a pregnant woman begging on a nearby street. The beggar boy told me that she was his mother. He told me that all his relatives were beggars, though they never acknowledged one other on the street... He never mentioned his father. Perhaps his mother worked as a prostitute, and the boy was the issue of a drunken GI or marine, commonly seen on the streets when their ship visited Hong Kong. To be the son of a beggar woman who also prostituted to gwai-lou 鬼佬 or devil men – the Cantonese term for Westerners – would make my friend the lowest of those shunned by society. Yet he knew Cantonese opera... (See PDF file Chapter 3, p.95, i.e. thesis p.79, 3.2.1(iii) Playmates, And A Beggar Boy)
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
I sustain a smile in company,
my demeanour is courageous,
my condition, not contagious,
yet you who spoke of love have flown,
I am left to groan and moan,
alone, all alone...
(from Act 11, Heroine's Song, Verse 4 – PDF file p.386, i.e. thesis p.370)
You are not alone.
Survive and be well.
In your journey through cancer,
you meet new people,
who are kind and helpful...
When you are well again,
you will see friends, old friends and good friends again,
and those who spoke of love...
(See PDF file Chapter 5, Act 11, p.387, i.e. thesis p.371)
OPERATION BLIND DATE 互不相識的男女的手術約會 (見博士論文第五章)
這是真光同學蔡美珠看了以下英文段落後寫的 (請看我與蔡美珠音樂視頻) ：
Surgeon (smile benignly):
We have a date at an operating table for two –
by the window.
This is a blind date –
an NHS patient cannot be sure of which surgeon.
But at least please don’t be late -
you doctors are so used to being late!
You can’t keep time.
You would never make it as musicians!
There is this “Nil by Mouth” sign hung high above my bed.
Nil by mouth -
nothing but a tiny, tasteless pill, by mouth.
Though you wilt and plead starvation -
it is still, Nil, by Mouth.
I am to be emptied inside out.
What a preparation for this blind date!
We prepare ourselves – ‘scrubbing up’.
You have a pre-med ‘cocktail’ beforehand.
Not wearing Chanel No 5,
but some potent antiseptic for our date!
Anaesthetist: (with gestures like a magician)
I will put you under my spell – anaesthetic.
Nurse: (with anxiety)
The patient has already had anaesthetic -
she’s nearly unconscious,
but the surgeon is still not here!
Heroine: (mumbling, worried)
I am still conscious –
I can hear you!
Where the hell is he, the surgeon, my date?!
Surely he won’t be so late,
that I’d come to in the middle of the op?!
Surgeon: (rushes in, cocksure of himself)
I am spick and span, wearing a dashing white suit.
I have a blue gown –
With a fine cut – exposing the part.
What sinister intimacy!
No soft lights this date of ours
but blinding bright ones.
When I wake in the morning
Will I have flowers by the bed?
When you wake you will look like an octopus
with tubes like arms, extending from your body -
the aftermath of this intimacy!
Heroin’s final speech:
When I wake
there are flowers from unexpected visitors –
while I was still in a blissful sleep,
a friend has placed photos on my bedside table
for me to see faces that I know when I come to.
(I have already written music for part of the above libretto)
(See PDF file Chapter 5, Act 4, p.278-280, i.e. thesis p.262-264)
THE LIVING TRADITION 活的傳統 (見博士論文第二章)
In 1988, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum advertised in the press, inviting innovative proposals for ‘Special Events’ to take place in the museum. In response I wrote a proposal entitled The Living Tradition, which called for the performance of new works based around images of museum exhibits and involving many creative and performing artists with whom I had worked. The proposal was initially accepted, but as the project developed the V&A official in charge felt uneasy about the ‘creative’ and ‘living’ aspects of the project. I had to answer to repeated queries: Would the relationship between the creative work and the image be historically correct, and in what way would the relationship between the creative work and the image have educational value? The official seemed not to understand that the project would use images of the past as creative/performative inspiration. Creative and performing artists are different from museum curators in that imagination and originality take precedence over historical accuracy or factual research; and creativity has a value of its own. In the end the V&A cancelled the project. However my group Inter Artes performed The Living Tradition at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre on 6th May 1989, in a version for soprano, dancers, three instrumentalists and multi-slide projection of images of V&A exhibits. A later version of the work was performed at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall in 1991, with images from local museums (Fig.4.7b, p.203). Even when writing a historical novel or directing a performance of historical drama, though the writer/producer will undertake a certain amount of research, authentic historical details alone cannot ensure the success of the work – ultimately it is the drama that matters. My PhD project is similar to The Living Tradition – its purpose is to create a performative work inspired by Cantonese opera at a time when the art form is in danger of becoming a lifeless museum exhibit.
(See PDF file Chapter 2, p.62-63, i.e. thesis p.46-47, 2.2.2 The Living Tradition)
- the core of my creative PhD - is a humorous read. Click the blue title to enter.
NEW 16th Oct:
HONG KONG WOULD SINK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
During my childhood, Hong Kong was divided into three main areas: the city – Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula; the villages – the New Territories with old world charm, where villagers still cultivated fields in primitive ways; and many less populated or uninhabited offshore islands. From time to time I stayed in a village for short periods. In the early evenings, elderly villagers relaxed in a small open-air flat area surrounded by stones, telling stories of the past. An old and illiterate village woman once told me a legend about a tiny turtle crawling slowly on the seabed around the outer circumference of Hong Kong: when it finally completed the full circle Hong Kong would sink to the bottom of the sea. Perhaps the legend could be interpreted as a metaphor for the fast change and disappearance of many aspects of Hong Kong culture, in the absence of an oral tradition to pass them on. This PhD thesis is a narrative of things disappearing, and a creative intervention that enables them to continue in a new form rather than sinking to the bottom of the sea. (See PDF file Chapter 1 Project Background and Metamorphosis, p.38, i.e. thesis p.22.)