Part 2: Let’s Get Together, Yea, Yea, Yea

The rehearsals and emergency meeting left me exhausted. I went to bed early hoping to revitalize by sleeping in on my self-imposed day-off. However, I received a wake-up call at 8AM the next morning; so much for sleeping in. My team took Shantou University Vice-Chancellor Julia Hsiao’s words to heart and already had begun to mobilize. Rain called to ask me about instating more rehearsals starting that very evening.

One thing I have learned while here in China is that things are done either very quickly and very slowly. This was a case of the former because I knew that I could email the students that morning and expect every one of them in attendance that evening for rehearsal. That’s not possible in the U.S., you have to give people time and notice.

Stumbling over my words having just rolled out of bed, I managed to ask why the team thought it necessary to have extra rehearsals especially the rehearsal planned for that evening. Rain relayed a message from Liu Da Wei, the music director, that he wanted to have skill-based singing rehearsals where students would be going “back to basics.” In fact, Liu had asked Ms. Jiao, a choral instructor and Arts Education Center Department Chair, to lead exercises for the cast. I was happy to move forward on such a positively collaborative effort. I was also told that the “supplementary” group of chorus members would be there too so I would get to meet them.

So, I gave the approval to the leadership team and sat down at the computer to draft up a letter to my cast of students explaining the changes in the path ahead. Here are some highlights from what I wrote:

We [the leadership team] all agreed that you, the cast, are working hard but perhaps without the knowlege of how important this show is to this University. It is meant as a showcase for this University displaying a combination of liberal arts (music, dance, drama, english, technical expertise, western culture). No university in China except this one can provide such an opportunity to participate in such an event. This is bigger than you can imagine, and it’s time for you to take ownership this production.

I was forced to take a somewhat harsh tone in the letter even if I didn’t think this was the appropriate time to come down hard on the students. It’s true that the cast needed to take the show much more seriously but I was coming off a good rehearsal and this was a bit of a reversal. I was very worried of confusing students instead of motivating them to higher level of work. The reality, which is not presented in the letter, is that the pressure is on. School board members and even billionaire and private donor Mr. Li Ka Shing is expected to watch this performance.

You must take responsibility for what happens in this show and how you prepare for this show. You cannot count on teachers and others to forcefully make this show great. YOU must make it great, not anyone else.

The idea of self-motivation in China is really interesting. I was told flat out that Chinese students would not self-motivate themselves to do any kind of work. I was told that I had to provide consequences for everything, that everything had to be imposed upon the students from those with authority. I was told that I could never play “bad cop” because I did not hold a title of authority, and therefore I was not afforded a high level of respect. That matter I considered to be made even worse by the fact that I am younger than most of my students. Some of them know it, some of them don’t believe it, and some of them have no clue. I refuse to believe that students here cannot self-motivate. I’ve seen them do things all on their own. My production manager, Camille, literally had a list of thirty students willing to take part in the production before I even stepped foot on the campus here in September. That is self motivation because she didn’t have to lift a finger but she did anyway because she was excited to see this production take flight. I was asked today what the consequence would be if the cast failed to meet the “off-book” or memorization deadline for lines and lyrics. The best answer I could come up with was: a good yelling at. There is no consequence because failure is not an option.

You are college students and we are aiming for college theater. Our level of work is nowhere close to where it needs to be. If this show is to come anywhere close to college standard, we must push harder and further. I have no choice but to bring in help. We will be bringing in two new groups of students: one set of singers, one set of dancers.

This was my weak attempt at justifying to the cast why a bunch of newbies would be joining them for chorus rehearsals that evening. I had nothing else to go on, and this option seemed to do the least damage to the trust between the cast and the director. The issue of trust is unheard of in China. No teacher trusts their students here. The school does not trust its students to run the lighting and sound equipment in the theater. Teachers do not trust their students to self-motivate. Funny because theater is all about trust. If you cannot trust that actor to deliver the line, the techie to execute the cue, and the band to play loud, you might as well not do the show.