Making the leap from China to Claremont stage

Love of theatre and interest in Canada brings youth to Saanich

Steven Hao will play Tweedle Dee in Kaleidoscope’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Steven Hao will play Tweedle Dee in Kaleidoscope’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

It didn’t take Steven Hao long to figure out he wasn’t one for the Chinese system.

At 10 years old, he had made up his mind he wanted to live in Canada.

To his immense pleasure, his parents were not only OK with that, his mom brought him here just one year later. He’s now a 16-year-old Claremont student in Grade 11, and has been here five-and-a-half years.

“In China, in Grade 1, you go up on a stage, and you’re taught an oath, in which you swear your life to the communist government,” Hao recalled. “They put a red scarf around you, and you’re so proud of yourself, and you’re brainwashed [that China’s system is the best] until you’re older and can see how other countries work.”

Growing up as an ambitious child actor in Xi’an was limiting. But leaving China wasn’t about escaping the communist government or school system. It was about finding opportunity to be on stage, which he’s found much of.

This fall Hao was a member of the ensemble in the Victoria Opera Society’s production of Chorus Line and between Christmas and New Year’s Day he’ll star as Tweedle Dee in Kaleidoscope’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the holiday pantomime borrows a few characters from other classics).

“I always did well in school, so I wasn’t escaping the strict school system. But when the teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a clown, because Chinese stage acting didn’t look fun. My teacher interrupted and shutdown the idea before I could finish my sentence.”

Chinese stage acting, as far as Hao’s foreseeable future was concerned, was mostly historical re-enactments. None of it offered the colourful and creative freedom he identified with from watching Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean.

“I started questioning why can’t that work? Why can’t I be a Mr. Bean? The teachers told me I won’t make it in the real world.”

Well, Hao is in Saanich now. Whether it’s part of the real world is debatable. And he’s already been in too many shows to count on one hand. Last year he was in both of Claremont’s productions, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Crazy, a musical.

This year he will be in Claremont’s Up the Down Staircase in February, and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in May.

“I like all acting, I just like being on stage. It feels good, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing up there,” Hao said.

When he got here, Hao spoke little English.

The adjustment of coming to a free culture where people can speak their mind took some getting used to.

“I couldn’t believe all the people saying [then prime minister] Stephen Harper sucks,” Hao said. “And when I learned he was the PM, I was just shocked. If you talked about your PM or president like that in China you could be killed.”

At first, Hao thought maybe there was more freedom afforded to Saanich youths, until he realized the whole country had these freedoms.

In middle school drama class Hao had fun but didn’t get any of the jokes. So he watched old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyways? and other shows to try and understand why the jokes were funny.

“That led to me getting into theatre in Victoria, which has been a great thing to do.,” Hao said. “When I was in China, my father would take me travelling on summer break. He believed I’d learn more from seeing places rather than reading about it in a book. I don’t know why Canada, but at 10, I really wanted to go to Canada, and my father was proud that I made the decision myself.”

Hao’s father remains in China while Hao lives near Claremont with his mother. Visiting happens less now as he’s not used to the smog.

“I miss my dad but when I go back my nose doesn’t work.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays Dec. 27 to 29 at the McPherson Theatre.

 

Just Posted

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

The City of Victoria is hoping to ring in the summer by celebrating local art and offering some distanced, live music to surprise people in parks, plazas and other public spaces. (Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria)
Live, pop-up concerts and local art being showcased in Victoria this summer

People will see surprise serenades at 16 locations throughout the summer

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey are the valedictorians of the 2021 graduating class at Parkland Secondary School. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Pandemic taught lessons in perseverance for North Saanich high schoolers

Parkland Secondary School to release 2021 grad ceremony video on June 25

The 14th annual Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star (YES) awards June 3. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay celebrates its Young Exceptional Stars with outdoor award ceremony

Nine young people recognized in 14th annual awards

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read