Bats on the Loose

I’m doing some catching up on blog-worthy things at Orientation Week here at Shantou University.

There was a lot of hype about a performance on the second night after my arrival. The Chinese play was supposedly student written, directed, and performed by students. Apparently (I learn all of this second hand, obviously), the show was put together last year to compete in a play festival this summer, which they won first place. Needless to say, I was excited to see a first-place performance regardless of what language it was in.

The story is convoluted but humorous involving lots of senility, violence, and family relations. Needless to say, I was briefed on the plot before arriving at this performance.

I used the night to measure the level of performing arts at the school. If this is best of what kids could do, I would need to surpass this level in Pippin. The first things I noticed, critical or not:

  • They didn’t close any of the theatre doors during the performance
  • They didn’t dim the house lights
  • There were about fifty cell phone noises
  • Set changes took about five minutes, each
  • Spot lights came on a various times, without warning
  • The stage is big, the theatre is big and the space used was small
  • Recorded music sounded way too loud in the first ten rows
  • There was a bat or other flying creature going around the entire performance

So, a lot of technical elements were very loose. It turns out, as I took my investigative walk backstage during the performance (lord knows, I didn’t understand the story really anyway), that the students do very little of the tech work themselves. Staff run all the fancy equipment with cues from students who know the production. The other thing was they literally had a table just off stage right where all the techies sat with one of them on headset and on book. It was like it was a board meeting during the show. As a pet peeve, I couldn’t stand the fact that the light for this board room table always lit the stage during blackouts so you could easily see every painstaking set change. Other things I noticed backstage:

  • all the actors who weren’t on stage went out to watch their own performance
  • there was one guy running around with his head cut off trying to move props the appropriate side of the stage
  • at least half of the actors answered a cell phone call during the performance
  • all the actors used their cell phones as mini-lights backstage

Dramatically, I was impressed with the work on stage. All the actors need a lot of vocal training to project but were generally very physical and emotional. I fear, however, that a lot of their “training” comes from imitating Chinese soap-operas. While that worked in this production because it was soap-opera-ish, Pippin needs a different feel that the hyper-dramatic.