Guest Blog: Passport to Broadway in China - Day #1
This week, StudentsLive returned to China for the third consecutive year to bring an intensive seven-day Broadway program to students in Guangzhou. Nineteen youngsters from the Clifford International School, aged seven to twelve, joined us at the Guangzhou Seamen's Club hotel in the center of the old city to learn a half-hour show full of singing and choreography. The StudentsLive team comprises director and founder Amy Weinstein, choreographer Stephen Brotebeck, and musical director Seth Weinstein.
The kids came to us perhaps a bit tired on Sunday morning, as the day before had been a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland, from which they returned after midnight. But they showed up promptly at nine o'clock, excited to begin. Our rehearsal studio is a well-maintained room on the hotel's fourth floor, with an upright piano, mirrors for dancing, and a sound system for playing pre-recorded warmup music. In the hallway is a series of electronic dartboards, good for some occasional post-rehearsal release. Fortunately the hotel has a good heating system; StudentsLive's January trips to Guangzhou always seem to coincide with unusual cold snaps.
On the first seven-hour day, we introduced the program and went through some dance and vocal warmups. We followed that with some old-fashioned zip-zap-zop, that popular acting game designed to get performers focused and their mental and physical energy flowing. Then came auditions; they sang and danced excerpts from the show in groups of three, and based on their showing we cast each actor in a specific role.
For an acting exercise, Amy explained the value of singing with passion even without knowing the language of the lyrics-or even how to pronounce them. The students' chaperone, Candy, sang a popular "Happy new year" song in Chinese, which happens to use the melody of "Oh My Darling, Clementine." Amy, Stephen, and I tried to sing it back, to the students' amusement. We may not have gotten any of the syllables right, but we had feeling.
That first afternoon the students learned all the music for the first half of the show and were told to memorize their parts overnight. Many did that admirably, and the off-book sing-through the second morning proceeded with most of the notes sung. Getting the words out was another matter, though. Our script has a good number of sound clusters that don't roll off the tongue easily for a native Chinese speaker. Chinese words mostly end in vowels, or the sounds "n" or "ng," so end consonants in the English lyrics often got dropped, especially when followed by other consonants. "Greenwich Village," which already doesn't sound like it looks, came out more like "Greenavidge," and the phrase "of the train" was rendered as "uh uh train." Slowing it down and practicing it led to improvement.
When we added dancing, more lyrics got lost; the students simply weren't used to remembering words and movement together. And mental energy came and went throughout the second day. But the kids like to encourage each other, and by the end of day two we had the first half almost entirely choreographed. That's encouraging, but much remains to be done and polished; the second half is harder, and the performance is on day seven. Still, this is a smart group, and for most of the students the process of learning this type of material-almost certainly a new kind of challenge for all-has clicked, and they know individually what they must do to succeed.
by Clifford School Teacher Candy
by Clifford School Student Rita, 11 years old