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Adapting to a new idiom

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-17 08:03

American student Will Joseph is a student actor of the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, which will perform during the China Children's Theatre Festival in Beijing. [PHOTO BY ZHU XINGXIN/CHINA DAILY]

"When the American student actors learned the Chinese idioms and brought those stories alive onstage, it was a process of learning traditional Chinese culture," Yang says. "These stories are simple and easy to understand. The American students worked very hard on learning Mandarin during the 18-day rehearsals before we came to Beijing."

Thomas Kejin Huo, who is 15 years old, plays the role of painter Fan in the piece, Dong Shi Xiao Pin. Born in the United States to a Chinese immigrant family, Huo joined the Children's Theatre of Charlotte eight years ago as an amateur actor.

"My parents speak Cantonese. Mandarin is new language to me," says Huo in Beijing. "I practiced the way painter Fan walks and speaks. He is an artist and he greatly admires the beauty of Xi Shi."

Huo adds that he has watched Chinese movies by Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, but ancient Chinese stories were something quite new to him.

"It's an interesting way to learn about Chinese culture and the country where my family came from," he says.

Will Joseph, 15, plays the role of Lord Ye in the play, Ye Gong Hao Long. He joined the theater nine years ago also as an amateur actor.

"All of the three plays in the China Idiom Stories are comedies. I like comedy and these stories are short and simple, yet dramatic," says Joseph. "I had never learned Mandarin or read Chinese idioms before. It's been amazing."

According to Michelle Long, education director for the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, she first came to Beijing along with the theater group in 2016 to take part in the sixth annual China Children's Theatre Festival held in the capital. Since then, the two theaters have built up connections and now plan to co-produce a play.

"It's about exploring language and the culture. The director has stayed with us and answered the actors' questions about the play, which has been very helpful," says Long. "The ways of thinking and acting are quite different in the two cultures. The process is progressive. We perform one piece as our own adaptation, then we perform one piece in English as a literal translation from the Chinese. We perform the final piece in Mandarin."

The Junior League of Charlotte established the Children's Theatre of Charlotte in 1948. It is now home to a fully professional touring company, which has traveled across North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia, and offers a wide range of education programs.

The performance of the Chinese Idiom Stories by the Children's Theatre of Charlotte will open the annual artistic gathering of the ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, which will be held in China for the first time in the capital from August 18 to 24.

One of the largest international delegations of artists, theater managers and children's theater researchers-around 500 people from 46 countries-will gather in the capital for the event. According to Yin Xiaodong, head of the China National Theatre for Children, 17 productions from 10 countries, including China, the US and Poland, will be staged in more than 50 performances in Beijing.

Besides the many live performances on offer, many theater workshops, seminars and dialogue sessions will also take place, exploring issues such as exchange programs, developing child acting talent and enhancing creativity in youth theater.

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn

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