The first day of foray into the introduction of our creative team to the students from China began with a buffet breakfast at the International Guest House where everyone got a chance to meet and greet each other briefly before heading over to the studios. The students were promptly escorted onto the bus as early as 7:15am in order to beat the Los Angeles rush hour traffic and be on time. Everyone was eagerly anticipating an exciting first day of learning all of the wonderful Broadway show music that has been prepared for them. The creative team had to hustle to ensure that they got there before the bus with the students from China, as they were not as expeditious and were lagging slightly at the breakfast buffet due to some delays with the eggs being served properly. The team was trying to gather their own similar eagerness, as quickly as possible, to get ahead of the bus. Ironically, they never saw the tour bus from China as they embarked on the same journey to the studio. But, when they arrived, there stood the 35 Chinese students outside the Madilyn Clark Hollywood Dance Studio waiting for the creative team, who knew nothing would be open for another 30 minutes.
In Los Angeles, fortunately, there is a lot more space and very few people walking the streets. So, the students and team had the opportunity to casually meet, speak with, and get to know each other before entering the studio. Our Artistic Director, Amy Weinstein, was so pleased to see the familiar faces of approximately 10-15 students who came to the United States to continue their studies in musical theater and that had done such beautiful and challenging work in China this past winter. Most of the students were highly motivated and excited to take on more material and be given the opportunity to further their studies with some of the best Broadway material and stories that have been created just for them.
When they were finally able to enter the studio, they began the very serious process of setting standards and high expectations for the intense study and work over the course of the next four days. Beginning with some spirited and challenging dance warm ups, led by Emily Seibert, in a beautiful expression that provided a wide range of music through their bodies accompanied by vocal sounds that integrated their voices and bodies as one. They then moved into an intricate vocal warmup, led by Andy Peterson, that stretched their ability and helped them specifically be able to enunciate and articulate some of the more difficult English language, verbs, and consonants that are not necessarily part of the Chinese language and placement of the palate and voice.
The team then did a mock audition to decide who would receive what part. The students were both excited and nervous by the fast pace of the first day and the expectations of the creative team. The team instructed that over the course of the next four days the students would be required to consistently sustain the three F’s which are: Focus, Fun, and Fearlessness. A lot of the students from China tend to be apologetic in their cultural body language, due to the cultural tendency of the Asian culture tending to be more subservient. Therefore eye contact is limited with authority. As well tendencies to be extremely shy, inhibited, and require a lot of thought processing before diving into anything. Passport to Broadway’s mission is to help modify that cultural barrier and allow them to experience instinct, emotion, expression, to take a chance, take a risk… say yes and never no. Specifically, to teach them a more Western approach to communication and expression.
While casting the show and assigning individual parts, the students realized that the only way they would have a chance to be seen was if they were bold and expressed themselves in the moment. Still, musical theater, expression, and the ability to be more extroverted is more of an American and Western behavioral trait. Across Asia, especially in China, the idea of being more thoughtful, correct, reserved and deferring to authority often prevents freedom of expression or the ability to make a mistake and not feel judged in a negative fashion. In their case, one of Passport to Broadway’s overall goals is to instill in these students a sense of pride and breaking bad habits in a very short amount of time; virtually impossible, but as they say at StudentsLive and Passport to Broadway: “We never say never and always believe in miracles.”
The students were keenly aware of the time limitations. The pressure and urgency allowed them to overcome their immediate fears and pushed them through their own reservations. Many of them dove in with great joy and determination. The team was pleased to see that the approach to singing, dancing, and acting, that came from the best musical theater art forms that they arranged and composed specifically for them, gave them the emotional bravado needed to overcome those cultural barriers. Many of the students started to limit their thought process and began to react and act in the moment. And even more of the students began to understand how fast paced and important it was to do this immediately, as there is so much to learn in a short three days. They wanted to be proud of themselves and achieve as much as possible in the short time they are in America. As the day continued, the parts were assigned, and they began to learn the music. However, it became more and more apparent that they had suffered through a 25 hour flight and travelled through three different cities for connecting flights, all just 24 hours before this intensive first day of auditions and rehearsals.
Lunch consisted of a half hour break of Chines take out: Chicken wings, spare ribs, some broccoli, and white rice. The team experts knew this food was going to sit too heavy in the stomachs of the children for them to focus in a proper fashion, as they began the second part of their day. The wall was hit, the jetlag sunk in, the carbs from the rice took over, and the students could barely keep their eyes open. However, the Passport to Broadway team, with great necessity, pushed the students through the exhaustion so that they would be prepared to do the staging and choreography the next day. Everyone was painfully aware that the students had very little control of their bodies at this point and desperately needed to sleep. In China, it was approximately 5:00am in the morning, while in Los Angeles it was only 2:00pm in the afternoon. Despite their utter fatigue the students were still so excited and understood that this was a once in a lifetime experience and rallied to the cause. They began jumping up and down to various singing parts and nudged their neighbors when they would inadvertently nod off, trying to keep their friends present and focused for the final hour.
As of Monday, July 11th, the team is an hour behind schedule and has already decided how they will make up that time. The students have been given the task to fully memorize the songs they have learned so that they may be prepared for the staging and choreography they will begin to learn on Tuesday, July 12. Should they not be off-book and memorized they are well aware that their parts may be reassigned. The students certainly feel the pressure and the team is hopeful that they will all be working hard after an early dinner and early night’s sleep in order to achieve the great things Passport to Broadway believes they can achieve.
Everyone is excited to get up on their feet for the second day. The team has taken some wonderful pictures, you can see below, of both the students participating in the vocal and dance warmups as well as being in their music rehearsals led by the patient, lovely, and sensitive Andy Peterson, who has been great in instilling positive support and belief in themselves. Though the team was exhausted after the first day, they took a moment to pose outside the wonderful Madilyn Clark Studios before heading off a Chinese Buffet dinner in East Los Angeles with the students. It seemed that thousands of other students from China found this very out-of-the-way location just so that they may have the experience of homemade food, filled with the culture and familiarity of their Chinese roots. They all went back to the hotel to celebrate one of the team member’s birthdays in great fashion and help answer some of the student’s questions before hitting the sack. Everyone is excited to begin the second day. Stay tuned for the many more inspiring stories the team will have to tell.