3 February 2016
After a well-earned day off, we transferred to the theatre to resume our work. It was located in Chongcun, just south of Guangzhou proper and not far from the homes of most of the cast members; it would be easy for parents to attend.
The day off was timed to give the students a break from all the hard work two days before the final show. It was supposed to be earlier, but two days of downpours made it prudent to move it from Thursday to Sunday. It still rained, but not as hard. The students spent the day at an amusement park in Shenzhen, three hours away, and they practiced en route by putting their bus’ microphone in front of someone’s mobile phone playing a recording of our show. We spent the day touring Guangzhou with our gracious hosts going from the old to the new sections of this complex city. The mixture of Eastern and Western cultural styles and behaviors were evident everywhere; from the bustling seafood markets where we picked out our own live seafood and had it cooked in an elegant restaurant upstairs ten minutes later, to visiting the luscious and elegant Pearl River where senior citizens who are in great shape play games sports, walk, run, mostly laugh and look happy and alive, to visiting the stately architecture and traditional shops, to the more modern Western malls and shops, and finally on to the markets set up just for the Chinese New Year with remarkable colors sights and sounds.
We lost a bit of momentum with the day off, and a few kids got sick playing in the rain. Traffic delayed their arrival at the theatre, and when they entered we were setting light cues. So we practiced in the lobby, a cappella. After a box lunch, the piano arrived, and we ran the show in the lobby. Shortly after that we finally got onstage. We knew the students were excited to do the show in its proper setting, but energy was lacking. They were tired. They couldn’t see with the lights in their eyes. It was rainy and cold again, ugh this weather, the coldest in 80 years was a major factor hampering our efforts all along the way in this beautiful Southern area of China that is completely unprepared for the bitter cold. The majority of the population here doesn’t even use dryers and hang most of their clothes out to dry as the weather is so nice year round. So this snow and freezing ice rain was a major obstacle to overcome.
We mustered a run-through, but it lacked focus. Midway through our choreographer had to fly back to San Diego for other commitments. When we finished, it was time for the tech crew to leave. We dispersed with a promise to renew our energy the next day, the day of the afternoon performance.
Amy led a motivation session in the morning, asking what people had learned during their time with us. As is customary in their culture, they needed to think hard first to ensure their answers were “correct” (even as relates to feelings and emotions) rather than the spontaneous burst of emotion our American youth usually express. Finally, they came forward with answers.
“I was shy, but now I am brave.”
“I am more confident.”
“I am so happy to now love Broadway music and dance”
We held our customary vocal and dance warm-ups, but instead of the usual movements Amy had the students make up their own dances, moving freely as the mood struck them.
We ran the show twice, now using the colored “Broadway” T-shirts ordered as costumes. There was more energy than the previous day, but there still seemed to be a disconnect from the material. We broke for lunch and then returned to the stage, where Amy had the students lie on their backs and feel the story, without singing, while I played through the show. Chattering parents who had been waiting ten days to see their children and who held high expectations dribbled into the auditorium well before the house was officially opened, and Amy had the stage curtain closed to keep out the prying gaze of these early distractions.
I joined them onstage. I had them hum a note in unison and close their eyes to get them to connect with each other one more time. Amy had them touch hands and repeat the word “energy.” One lead who had been sent home sick, rushed in at 2:29 for our 2:30 performance.
By golly, it all came together. The students looked like an ensemble and performed with drive and commitment. Young people who had never sung a note in tune managed to hit the right pitches. The 45 minutes passed quickly and ended with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
We concluded with a ceremony in which each student received a certificate of completion of the program. There had been a few troublemakers in the group, but even they had matured a bit as actors and team players. And then they were all gone. Much like a Chinese banquet, where guests leave immediately after the last course, the students and their parents dispersed but not before some sincere and touching goodbyes by the students who had been changed the most (albeit with some picture-taking, of course). Surprisingly, one of the most distracted and hard to focus boys called out to a very busy Amy five times, who was immersed in discussion with the parents, wanting to thank her, give and get a hug, and connect before leaving. Eye contact with authority figures had been a problem for the students, as a culture, but by the end of this day, they looked squarely in our eyes, trying to express their true emotions. Many did not want to leave, uncertain how to say goodbye and sadly surprised that it was over. We are certain that having to express and react quickly to all we required them to learn and produce in a short nine days, will have a delayed but more emotional impact now that we are gone, especially fresh in their memories over the next few days, while they get back to their customary lives and pace. Many of the parents stated they plan to come to New York to take this to the next step, and immerse their children in our Broadway culture even further. Clearly, they saw the change in their kids.
Each one has made an impression on us, and they won’t be forgotten. The rest of the American team left China tonight, with memories of this beautiful country and our amazingly generous, caring and visionary partner Ron and his English and dance teachers, Carmen, Heidi, Ivy, Lively and Jane from the Clifford International School, going above and beyond the call of duty every second, on little sleep, to take care of us and the students so beautifully, and making this first time partnership with StudentsLive Broadway Education a major success. This, and our experiences in this country, a true dichotomy of modern and traditional beliefs, will have a lasting effect. We believe the students, who learned to be free through the Broadway musical theater platform and newly developed love for telling a story through song, dance and acting, will also use this to impact their future choices and belief in themselves.
Our final parting shots of this young and forever changed group of students are included, who took this amazing journey with us and tried to express themselves artistically in ways their culture is not accustomed to. This was a first but hopefully not last time experience for all. Our team is forever changed and grateful.