AT the tender age of 14, Malaysian-born Misha Mah is already becoming a seasoned pro on the Hong Kong performing arts scene.
Her portfolio includes a role in the 2013 Hong Kong musical, Good Morning Hong Kong, directed by Australian director Frank Howson (who discovered Iron Man 3’s Guy Pearce), performed by an international cast which included West End actor Michael Pickering and Hong Kong actress/singer Celina Jade.
On top of that, the music scholarship student at Renaissance College Hong Kong has been involved in eight choir/band performances and nine musical theatre shows, including productions by Theatre Noir Foundation and The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ prestigious Excel Summer Musical Schools. The productions include Mulan Jr., Grease, High School Musical 2, Footloose and Beauty And The Beast.
Juggling her passion for performing and studying at the same time isn’t easy, but Mah said it’s all about sorting out priorities.
“Balancing your interests and education is not an easy task, but after you get through those times when you’re swamped with things to do, you’ll come out more organised, driven and determined,” she said.
It helps that she is primarily involved in the choir group and jazz band in school as well as youth-oriented theatre companies that generally schedule rehearsals around her school hours.
Sometimes, however, rehearsals can last a full day, especially when a show is about to premiere. This is when Mah has to make sacrifices, missing classes and catching up with her school work after rehearsals.
Having friends and family who know what you’re going through is important because when you lose yourself (during the experimentation period), they can be the ones to remind you to take a step back
The under-10 talent club
Mah’s introduction to the performing arts began at the tender age of six, when she moved from Malaysia to Hong Kong and joined her school choir. A year later, she would do theatre for the first time, auditioning and winning a role in her school’s annual play.
At the time, everything she knew about performing, she learnt by watching YouTube videos and regularly attending stage performances.
Soon after, she attended a course at the Hong Kong Academy For Performing Arts during her school summer holiday, and by age 10, she was also taking professional vocal lessons.
“Surprisingly, age hasn’t been a big deal,” said Mah of her initial forays into stage productions. “As long as you look the part, the (theatre) companies here will give you the chance.”
Aside from her budding stage career, Mah also hopes to build a career for herself as a singer and musician. She has already sung with her school choir at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing, China at the International Schools Choral Music Society festival.
When someone is as invested in their work as Mah is, maintaining a professional life as well as a personal one can be tough.
“Having friends and family who know what you’re going through is important because when you lose yourself (during the experimentation period), they can be the ones to remind you to take a step back,” said Mah.
“It’s also a matter of separating rehearsals from real life – when you’re in the studio, you are in character; but when you’re out of that environment, you have to be yourself.”
Mah relishes the challenge of playing complex characters, especially those that take her beyond her comfort zone. Case in point: Mah recently had to play a character that was manipulative, hypocritical and rude.
The difference between the scene in Malaysia and Hong Kong is that more international companies visit and perform in Hong Kong, while Malaysia is still growing in terms of getting more people interested in performing arts
“The most difficult part was figuring out how to be her, but still maintain some of my own personality,” she said. “We had to experiment with our characters throughout the two-month rehearsal period, changing things up and adding new aspects to the character.”
Though she is enjoying her time working in Hong Kong’s performing arts scene, which she describes as “vibrant and diverse”, Mah said she hopes to be more involved in Malaysian productions when she’s older and has gained more experience.
“The difference between the scene in Malaysia and Hong Kong is that more international companies visit and perform in Hong Kong, while Malaysia is still growing in terms of getting more people interested in performing arts,” she said.