Johnny Tam

Theatre director, art director of the Macao Experimental Theatre, has been living and working in Shanghai and Berlin. Representative works from these years are Mr. Shi and His Lover and Lungs.

Memorandum of going into society by a theatre worker (Part II)

02 2020 | Issue 37

The commercial world was an entry point for me to enter the theatre industry instead of the finish line. From my own experience, the most important thing for professional talents in the theatre sector is to find a special and meaningful role regardless of where they work. Then it is all about making yourself irreplaceable. Perhaps, it is impossible for you to find a particular job position. For me, it is more like self-alignment. You would need to explore this field with an open heart as an artist.


I have spent countless nights and days composing music in front of the computer, dreaming to become a composer and produce music for different theatre plays. I immerse myself in the intersection of music and theatre and really enjoy the works behind the scenes. When I was studying directing in college, I also worked as a music director for my professors’ theatre plays. Those plays were going to participate in overseas art festivals. Given that back then mainland China didn’t really pay attention to music and audio system, I was able to receive recognition in the theatre circuit because of my musicianship. That was something that I did not anticipate. But was that an adequate role for me, a fresh graduate from the directing school? I was valued because my hobby catered to big demand. But that demand could change and decline. I didn’t want to be needed for a certain lack of demand and then slowed myself down. That’s why I decided to leave music directing and turned to direct plays. I love music, but my role in the theatre scene is a theatre play director.


It is a long process for you to start from scratch and then gain recognition. During several rounds of negotiation with the investors, you would have to prepare all kinds of creative plans without making any money. Play directors are definitely in a disadvantage as they need to prepare a script when there hasn’t been any contract signed yet. If the negotiation is not successful, the director would need to pay for all the opportunistic cost. After spending two years in Shanghai, it occurred to me that I was a typical loser in the commercial world. I wasted my time and I lost money. I didn’t achieve much during those two years and I failed to fit in. Shanghai already has a mature theatre industry that has completed commercialisation, which has more abundant cultural resources than Macao does. There are more space and more talents in Shanghai. And I failed to find the right place in the metropolitan where I can become someone special.

If I only produce theatre plays out of passion, I wouldn’t really worry about having a livelihood or career development. But once you choose art, you would need to face such struggles. I am experiencing a lot of self-doubts and lows that many young artists would experience. I simply want to make plays instead of money. But if I could not make a living then I wouldn’t be able to fully create plays. When you can’t reconcile with the reality you are facing, it is extremely important to stay true to yourself. For me, my goal from the very start is to become a theatre play director. But as a fresh graduate from college, I didn’t know how to grow from an art student to an artist in society. What I needed to do the most was to care less about my sense of pride.


I decided to go back to the areas where I could achieve progress. I made the decision to go into a new environment where I could learn from seasoned veterans in the industry. I worked as a director’s assistant, supporting actor, and doing odds and ends. I did everything that was related to the theatre industry, seeing personal development as my first and foremost task. I didn’t have the pressure to produce satisfying works. I found the whole process meet all the expectations that I had had in the beginning. Art is not all about imagination at all. Every artist needs to have a solid foundation before they can enjoy freedom in the art realm.


Gradually, the way I work and think changed overtime. Even now I am still building my own theatre company and slowly develop the role of Macao Chinese director that creates content and curate exhibitions in different cultural circuits. This is merely a start for me instead of the finish line. Macao does not have a complete theatre industry yet and it is something that local industry workers need to embrace. In order to achieve development, it is necessary for professional theatre talents to absorb experience from different chains of the cultural industries, which will enable professional talents to accumulate skills in regards to theatre. In addition, this will also allow professional talents to have a deeper observation of the cities they are stationed in. This is how I enter the theatre industry. It is like a process of creating characters for a theatre play and experiencing the way of living in different places. It is important to be humble and keep growing.


(Memorandum of going into society by a theatre worker - part 2)