UMD's Helen Huang Talks Cross Continental Production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT's DREAM
William Shakespeare is considered a universal playwright, and a uniquely groundbreaking university production of A Midsummer Night's Dream proves it. The University of Maryland's (UMD) School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) performed their original interpretation of the Shakespearean comedy in collaboration with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA) at UMD in September and Beijing, China in October.
Just looking at a photo from this special performance proves its originality and stunning success, but where did it all start?
Helen Huang, professor of costume design at UMD, is the co-production founder and cultural ambassador for the project, and first came up with the idea during a visit to Beijing in 2009.
"I taught a Masterclass at the Chinese Theater Academy and prior to my departure they said can both schools (can work on) a collaboration," Huang said. "They said, 'why don't we take a Chinese play and put it in English,' and I said, 'why don't we do Shakespeare. Shakespeare is universal.'"
From that first interaction with Li Wei, Head of Design at NACTA, the idea was born and soon grew into a vision when Huang recommended A Midsummer Night's Dream as the play. Huang said it was ideal for a bilingual show, thanks to the comedy's distinct and somewhat compartmentalized structure.
During a two and a half year period, Huang's idea blossomed into a collaborative effort with her colleagues at both UMD and NACTA, bringing on co-directors Mitchell Hébert, professor of theater performance at UMD and Yu Fanlin, professor of directing at NACTA.
Even though there was a language barrier between some of the cast and creative team and plenty of room for failure, Huang said the production still came together seamlessly, and inspired unbelievable success in both countries.
"It combines East and West (culture) and (everyone had to) understand both in order to come up with our own one of a kind show," Huang said. "We just said we wanted to try this. (We all had) the passion - wanting to try something. I asked the faculty in Beijing, and they said this was the first production at a college level like this."
Huang also said everyone's passion and willingness to collaborate and accept each other's cultural differences to tell the story in a completely unique way helped make it so successful. She also said the journey from concept to stage is something she still cannot describe.
"What a journey. I cannot describe it," Huang said. "I was born in Beijing and moved to this country halfway through my life, (and) I was able to do something to contribute to both places."
Huang also noted how life-changing the experience was for everyone involved, and it's something so unbelievably special which might not happen again soon.
"It's really a once in a lifetime experience. The time, effort and ressources might not happen again soon," Huang said. "I am just really proud. I've been the founder and the planner in this for over 2 years. It's so successful and it's really rewarding. It's something we're going to remember for the rest of our careers."
To learn more about the University of MD School of Theater, Dance, and Performing Studies, visit http://tdps.umd.edu/
Pictured: Helen Huang