Artist of the Month-April- Nikel Mordis

This month's AoM is Nikel Mordis. A native Hong Kong kid he's recently appeared in several productions, including Thinner than Water and will appear this month as the villanous Edmund in Lear at Shakespeare in the Port. He's a perfect example of unique melting pot Hong Kong's acting scene has to offer. Made in Hong Kong performers can be much more than Cantonese Opera and studying at the APA. Here what Nikel has to say...


1. Name, Birthplace, Age

Nikel Mordis, Bangalore, Some say I’m 19. Others don’t. Some don’t say anything because they’re mute.


2. How does where you were raised affect your work?

I was raised in Hong Kong from the ripe old age of eight months up until I was four or so; then it was straight back to India up until I was six or so for that in turn marked my return to this city; I studied at a Canadian international school here up until a few years ago when I decided to pursue further studies in Philadelphia. Now, although English is not my mother tongue, it is my dominant language and so most of my artistic work, particularly my written work, is in English. I’m what they call a “Third Culture Kid” and so my English has always seemed a little twisted to me, (though the nature of the language itself is somewhat to blame).

Because of this, I’ve been able to explore many cultural identities and these have been manifested in the many accents I liked to ‘put on’ whilst growing up. On the plus side, I have often used these accents as the basis for character outlines both in writing and, at times, in performance. On the downside, I have allowed some of these accents to stick so much so that they’ve become an integral part of my “real” self; but that in turn has made me frown at the oversimplified dichotomy between what is deemed “real” and “fake”, and all of this drives my passion for a better understanding of what the hell I’m trying to understand.


3. Where did you train?

In the head and in the works.


4. What is your favourite style of theatre? Why?

I don’t like the term “favourite” but I must say that at this point I am perhaps most stylistically fascinated by the Theatre of the Absurd, epitomized by the works of Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard and Edward Albee (The Play About the Baby being one of the most impressionable, in my opinion). Perhaps I’m drawn to the existential, even nihilistic, qualities that this art form tends to exude or maybe it’s that juicy tang of surrealism that makes me realise how both the trivialities and magnitudes of human existence are equally valuable and simultaneously pointless. Then again, I can’t say that I don’t enjoy all styles of theatre – balance may be key (though a niche should also be).


5. What was the best show you EVER saw?

A friend of mine once stripped to the skin and with a wink went, “There’s your show.” Standing ovation.


6. What was the best show in HK you EVER saw (you cannot say your own)?

Back in high school, when I first discovered my love for the theatre, I recall auditioning for a musical and I was absolutely atrocious. A couple of days after my rejection, I decided to go watch the 25th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera (being screened in cinemas worldwide) with a now very close friend. As soon as we left the movie hall, we downloaded all the music and began to meet more frequently to write our own little musical; we even met regularly to watch and analyse films. Above all this, however, we sang; oh yes, we sang very loudly and very operatically in public and in private and we seemed to lose track of ourselves when we sang.

As a result, I’m damned sure my range has improved tenfold and my confidence has gotten to the point where I just simply don’t give a single shit anymore. Now, in December of 2014 my friend returned to the city and on her birthday we went and watched the live performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the AsiaWorld-Expo; there we were trying our best not to sing along to the entire libretto. Although this show’s a standard (and so eye-roll-worthy to the more pretentious of you readers out there) and although it perhaps does not stimulate me intellectually as it once did, I have to say that this was the most memorable show I’ve seen in Hong Kong because it’s a reminder that I’ve found some of the best people I love at the theatre and through the theatre.


7. What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I began to pay tribute to the psyche-entities in my subconscious by attempting to sketch them, though when traditional portraits did not seem to satisfy the cause I turned to more geometric and abstract elements. These twisted fabrications were perhaps what beckoned me to embrace my own twisted forms of what the hell I deem “art”. Eventually, I compiled many of these faces and started to sketch them on the walls of my bedroom. Am I proud of this shit? Not really. Satisfied? Sure. It also goes to show that procrastination has its therapeutic benefits.


8. What is your process like?

I plan to start a little blog that tackles this question with more eloquence, actually – it shall be up soon, I expect. Now, theatre is a collaborative approach towards an expression of empathy and the impression of a story. It is folly for an actor to believe that their process is a singular and isolated means to give the play its effect. Therefore, my process begins with familiarising myself with the playwright’s intent and the director’s vision for the piece. All theatre is birthed from a mix of both the Symbole and the Humane – that is, the elements of surrealism and those of realism, respectively.

There are characters, for instance, which call for grounding (the method actor comes to mind for portrayal) but there are also other characters whose natures seem based on caricature (and so portrayal calls for the character actor). I detest the notion of singularised processing in the theatre; a technique depends completely on the intent of the piece and the intent of the character’s very existence. There is no single answer as to what “good acting” is or requires. Plays that are Symbole-dominant serve as an escape from reality; on the other hand, Humane-dominant plays are more slice-of-life and require realistic interpretation by the players involved. Both require immense research, both internal (from the actor’s life experiences) and external (from influences outside the actor’s own psyche). When dealing with the Symbole, it’s important to acknowledge the conventions of the theatre itself – whether to comply with or actively go against; when dealing with the Humane, it’s vital to try and ignore said conventions.

As for my own journey, I’m grateful to former directors, Aaron Cromie and Bill Fennelly for their insistence on the significance of the manifestations of the character’s body and voice (especially voice, in my opinion). I am also grateful to Nick Atkinson for his persistence on the notion that the actor must emote only in relation with what drives the story forward – excessive emotion is best left to the baroque musical or the surrealist play about nothing at all. Finally, and perhaps most significantly in recent discovery, I have Brad Powers to thank for his direction that has reminded me of the fundamentals of Humane theatre – fundamental elements that are requisite for any actor who wishes to make an empathetic impact on the audience, I believe. All in all, once again, there is no single process but rather an amalgamation of several. But hell, what do I know, talentless upstart that I am. In the words of Steve Martin, “Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.”


9. What is your dream project?

That would be telling.


10. If you could change one thing about the art scene in HK, what would it be?

We have a load of youth theatre companies and T.I.E. programs in Hong Kong designated for the adventurous middle-classed and the pompous higher-classed but what we do not have in sufficiency is an artistic platform of the kind for the less fortunate. Coincidently and absolutely shamelessly, I’d like to herein promote the COMPASS project, which is a two-week summer program that I’m taking up as a means to encourage economically unprivileged, ethnic minority and refugee children to participate in and explore their cultural identities through expression of art, drama and dance.

The project is funded by the University of Hong Kong and the NPO group, Speak for Humanity; full details of the program can be found on our Facebook page ( We’re still looking for volunteers who have a passion for working with children and have an interest in any artistic field! The Hong Kong art scene may not be as much of a wasteland, as I once thought it was. It needs all of our support in all of its many layers.

Related articles:

hong kong, aom, april


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