Theatre Collaboration Combines Two Cultures, Two Languages in One Powerful Performance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Missy McTamney
September 24, 2012 – College Park, MD -- The University of Maryland’s (UMD) School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) crosses continents, oceans and 12 time zones with a groundbreaking bi-lingual co-production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream. Created in collaboration with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA), the production will be presented at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center September 27 through September 30, 2012, under the direction of TDPS professor Mitchell Hébert and Yu Fanlin, Professor of Directing at NACTA. After its premiere run at the Center, it will travel to Beijing for a series of performances.
Two Worlds, One Vision
Two years in the making, the production features lush, brilliant costumes and dazzling sets that create a fantasy world where elements of Chinese and American performance styles, music and language come together. Each of the Chinese and American actors – Shakespeare’s lovers, fairies and trickster Puck – will speak in their own native language but will perform as if in the same tongue. Audiences will follow the dialogue through supertitles displayed on large plasma screen TVs at either side of the stage.
Sets, costume designs, lighting and sound were created in partnership between the two schools. Using Skype, video drop boxes, emails and phone calls, the TDPS creative team shared their ideas, creative concepts and experiences with their distant partners. Cast members also held joint rehearsals using a new Cisco Telepresence system recently acquired by TDPS as part of a multi-year grant from the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.
Origin of A Unique Idea
This never-before-done production was initiated by noted costume designer and UMD Professor Helen Huang, who first shared the idea for a co-production while teaching a master class at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing.
Huang served as cultural ambassador between the two schools as the work unfolded, enabling all aspects to come together – from delicate creative interpretation in two languages to making actors comfortable with unknown foods. “We had to find our way in uncharted territory every day,” said Huang. “Each step required thoughtful consideration.”
Two Cultures, One Extraordinary Production
Cultural interchange infuses every element of the production. TDPS students helped prepare for their Midsummer experience by taking a semester-long class on Chinese culture taught by doctoral student Robert Thompson, who is also assistant director of the play. The class delved into Chinese history, social norms, politics, gender roles and money, among other topics, to prepare for culturally appropriate interaction with their Chinese counterparts.
The original music of the show uses a fascinating mélange of Asian and Appalachian music to capture the impish and playful tone of the work; this blend of musical ideas is inherent in the show’s selection of instruments — many Appalachian instruments like the banjo and fiddle are rough descendants of Asian instruments. Two-time Helen Hayes Award winner, Matthew Nielson worked on the original score and sound design for the production, and Aaron Bliden and Mark Halpern served as co-musical directors as well as composers of the production’s original songs. Both Bliden and Halpern are recent graduates of UMD’s theatre program and have collaborated on several musicals for the DC Capital Fringe Festival.
Aerial choreography for the fairy characters is created by UMD Dance alumna Andrea Burkholder, now co-director of DC-based Arachne Aerial Arts. Her work combines the artistry of dance with the drama of aerial acrobatics and she says she relishes the opportunity to “break the rules of being land-bound,” especially in such an unusual production. The fairies’ costumes were partially inspired by Chinese children who costume designer Laree Ashley Lentz(MFA Costume Design 2012) saw on a 2011 trip to China with the production crew.
Hébert summarizes the cross-cultural nature of the work by saying, “Works of art grow and you find a new vision. As a co-production, we will reactivate the text as two cultures in two languages. But the end result is one extraordinary production.”
The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. An agency of the Department of Business & Economic Development, the MSAC provides financial support and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations, units of government, colleges and universities for arts activities. Funding for the Maryland State Arts Council is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Learn more about the Clarice Smith Center's donor support.