Thursday, Mar 04

Overcoming the language barrier in WRT rehearsal

November 29, 2019 | Jonas Trinidad

Under the tutelage of Tzu Chi volunteer Chen Ting (left), the actors play out one of several scenes in the Water Repentance Text stage adaptation. Despite the language barrier, Chen and the actors manage to understand one another through constant interaction. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Hindered by a language barrier, local actors struggle to learn the right movements for the scenes in the Water Repentance Text stage adaptation. Through hearty interaction between them and their Taiwanese instructor, they make steady strides to perfection.


Tzu Chi volunteer Chen Ting is tasked with preparing the local actors for the Water Repentance Text stage adaptation. He speaks in Chinese with a little English in between, so local Chinese volunteers serve as translators. Under his guidance, the actors practice their roles throughout the night.

However, even with translators, this language barrier has been the source of his frustration. The local actors, save for a few, speak no Chinese. His words may have been clear, but he had to explain the story of each skit to them over and over. This is different from Malaysia or Taiwan, where Chinese is widely spoken.

“At first, it’s very hard because the actors are just listening. And then we have to tell the story for the actors to understand the whole play,” said Chen.

Because of this, actors like Valerie Devulder cannot rely on having their cues “played by ear.” A fellow actor has to set the rhythm by clapping in beats of eight. And even getting that right alone is a challenge in itself.

“We were used to practicing [the actions] through the music, which we don’t really understand [with regard to the cues]. Now, we were forced to follow the beat like this: 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4,” she narrated.

Despite the difficulty, neither Chen nor the actors gave up on one another. They rehearsed each scene over and over until they got the timing right. As Chen told the actors, it’s better to make a hundred mistakes in rehearsals than make one in the actual play.

The actors instead took this as a step forward in the steep learning curve of acting.

“It’s good that [the Taiwanese] keep on teaching us because there aren’t many who’s willing to guide you on the spot. To make so many mistakes here and being corrected gave me more confidence as an actor. I realize that there’s still a lot more that I need to learn,” said Jeel Cheng, an actor who understands Chinese.

“This production is definitely a learning experience, starting with Tzu Chi being a Buddhist foundation. It managed to broaden my perspective of life, along the way, I can see things that introduced me to another perspective of life,” said fellow actor Kim De Las Alas.

Chen and the rest of the Taiwan production team will return for one last rehearsal before the big day to iron out the last wrinkles. As it’ll be the Philippines’ first hosting of the Water Repentance Text stage adaptation, it must make the most impact. The actors, along with the participants, will be at the forefront of cleansing people’s hearts and minds with the Water Repentance.

  • Valerie Devulder (left) and Jeel Cheng (right) play their parts as unknowing scam victims in one scene of the adaptation. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Victimized by false promises, the girls direct their ire at the people who are at fault. This plays out as one of the Four Evil Karmas of Speech, part of the performance. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • As most of the actors don’t speak Chinese, they cannot rely on playing by ear to determine their cues. They must internalize the song’s rhythm to be able to project its message. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Overall director Lee Tzu Yeh (right) gives an actor advice on how to perform his part better. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】