Xiuzhong had its 4th annual English musical this past weekend at the Haiyang Theater, a traditional Huizhou Opera (徽剧) house with wooden pillars and balconies surrounding the main seating area; the theater is rather small, compared to a Broadway theater, but the acoustics are surprisingly resonant, perhaps due to its high ceiling and right angles. “Robin Hood” sold out both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, with Saturday’s performance containing over 40 SRO attendees!
The following are some thoughts about the “Robin Hood” performances from the four Xiuning Teaching Fellows.
Doug (Co-Director): Students whose English wasn’t “performance ready” were given the opportunity to work with several of us in extra afternoon sessions. Three of our main actors decided to work with us, in sessions that used the words “regal,” “dignified,” “sincere,” and “noble” more times than I care to remember. For me, I ended up learning a lot about teaching pronunciation, which spilled over into my other class: my students now understand that when I say “Big Mouth,” I am highlighting, of course, the juxtaposition of the greater use of the mandible and lip organs in the production of English phonemes as compared with Chinese phonemes.
Annie (Musical Director): The choir admirably performed two pieces in three-part harmony: “Happy Birthday” and the introduction to “Seize the Day.” Because all three parts in “Happy Birthday” began on the same note, it was easy for the students to perform this tune a cappella. However, “Seize the Day” was a challenge, and for our two performances, I quietly accompanied the three parts on the piano while the students sang on risers next to the piano. It was a rewarding experience to see the students step out of their comfort zone and try a different form of art from the Western culture. Many audience members commented on the quality of the singing as a highlight of the show.
Aaron (Technical Director): Working with the crew was two great, distinct experiences. One was a mob of 20 kids designing, painting and building in the weeks leading up to the performances. The other was watching a pared-down team of six students design and execute a plan for setting up and breaking down the 10 scenes of “Robin Hood” – practicing to the point where I, as the technical director, could just sit back and watch them go.
Zoe (Co-Director): One of the more interesting decisions we made for Robin Hood was the casting of King Richard the Lionhearted. It seemed like a waste to cast a student for only a few lines at the very end of the play, but who else could we ask? Using one of the Teaching Fellows would be too obvious and would lack the proper “oomph” that a deus ex machina of that magnitude deserves. Who then, to ask? For us, the answer was obvious. One of our good friends, Mr. He, was not only the most renowned English teacher at the school, famous for both his strict teaching methods and impeccable gaokao (college entrance examination) record, but also a current Senior 1 (freshman year) teacher. Even better, Mr. He spent most of his first semester in England, so King Richard’s return from far-away Jerusalem nicely paralleled Mr. He’s own return home from distant lands.
Next step: secrecy. In retrospect, I have no idea how this was kept quiet in the furious rumor-mill of Xiuning Middle School, but it was. We didn’t tell anyone, trying to keep it a secret not only from our audience but from our actors as well. We managed to guard the secret right up to the afternoon dress rehearsal before our Saturday evening performance. When Mr. He stepped on to the stage, clad in a red tunic emblazoned with a lion rampant and a sword at his side, our actors still didn’t know who the king would be. I half-expected our onstage “audience” to shout out “Mr. He?!” but we had trained them well. All that astonishment and surprise went into the line “King Richard!!??” and everyone acted the rest of the scene beautifully in a slight natural daze.
At that moment, hidden behind the curtains upstage left, I was literally jumping for joy and pumping my fist in the air. Almost more exciting than the performance itself, this was the moment worth waiting for. And if the explosion of noise and applause that accompanied King Richard’s entrance on Saturday night and Sunday was any indication–the audience agreed.
Check out this video clip from our Sunday performance. Robin Hood and his Merry Men disguise themselves as fortune tellers and steal from the cold-hearted Prince John and his sycophantic sidekick Sir Henry. Robin Hood Fortune Tellers