Wild Wild East

This is truly the wild, wild East with this production of Pippin. Everyday has such extreme highs and lows that it is nearly impossible for me to judge how things are going. So a bit of an update:

Where I thought I had secured a Music Director, it looks as if he will pull out of his position entirely opting instead to stick to his contract of being an English and band class teacher. He was incredibly conflicted over what he wanted to do, almost to the point that it pained him to talk about the musical. While I understand his need to not get caught in between adminstrative/political workings within the University, I don’t quite understand why he won’t just tell me no once and for all. Maybe he’s just a nice guy.

Obviously, this is a bit of setback for the production but nothing that can’t be fixed. I have already began discussions with Dr. Liu, another teacher (this time one that speaks no English…well I don’t speak Mandarin either). He is also a band leader and jazz player. He reminds me a great deal of Tim Price because Dr. Liu smokes and dresses just like Tim. It will indeed be an adventure with Dr. Liu both linguistically and organizationally. Today, we spent fifteen minutes talking about how long he could borrow the Pippin CD for and an additional five minutes on what the band/orchestra should wear during the performance.

This disturbance has brought about the addition of another fellow named Matt, an English Language Center teacher and lead organizer of the English Festival in which Pippin will be performed. He is trying to manage the musical situation but is finding himself without the big picture. He has tried to act as the go-between for the recently departed Music Director, without luck. I need to approach Matt with greater focus (he always just catches me in the office or in front of the apartments) and bestow upon him the magnitude of the musical production. Without being the big-headed director that thinks the world revolves me, I need to show him that Pippin is the centerpiece of the English Festival (a step above the “singing contest” and “speech contest”) and should be treated as such.

Meanwhile, I have been having wondeful interactions with the students of Shantou University. Two nights ago, I launched the campaign for auditions at the English Corner/Creative Expressions Club Event. There was so much excitement and enthusiasm in that room, that evening. There were skits, games, and music but I also had the opportunity to plug Pippin. I played about a ten minute clip of the show for the many freshmen. I proceeded to talk about the show and auditions. After the meeting, I had students sign up with a helper of mine and take audition packets (they gobbled up at least a hundred and twenty five copies of the packet). I then talked to some students who had questions. I had trouble communicating with some students due to the language barrier but, in general, found the evening to be invigorating.

The packet listed two workshop classes that would take place before the auditions. The idea would be for students to get an idea of what acting in the production would be like while I could test how responsive students would be to acting concepts. Last night was the first workshop and six students came for the 1.5 hour session. We did some theatre games and some exercises. They got some concepts better than others but it became clear of how I need to start teaching these students: slow and repetitive. I need to be crystal clear in my vocabulary choice, and I need to simply talk slower. It also helps to demonstrate and give lots of examples.

Teaching here is hard because students are not trained to respond orally (partly that and the fact that they don’t understand everything I say). When I taught 6th Grade Summerbridge two summers ago, I could count on a very interactive class becuase students would respond to my questions, both if they understood or did not understand. It’s not that way here. I need to tortuously draw out responses in students about what they are feeling.

This morning, I had a meeting with the student costume designers. Okay, so this is not my area of expertise; I set them with guidelines and told them to come back on Monday with sketches. We’ll see what comes back to me. I enjoy these small group meetings with students the most because I can talk through some of my ideas with them and they respond. The informal setting works well.

On the bright side, the scores and scripts are finally on their way!