All last week, text messages were flying between the English language departmental staff (including myself and Peace Corp volunteer Jackie) and our English major students.
“Are we on for Friday or not?”
The 10th Annual English Language Play Contest was hovering over our heads with uncertainty.
While first and second year students in all 9 participating classes continued to diligently practice their skits, everyone was debating if the rains would hold off for Friday evening’s performances. Since the play contest takes place outside, with a hired stage and lighting crew that sets everything up, we are always at the mercy of Mother Nature.
At this time of year, our Yangtze River weather is either encompassing us in unbearable, smothering humidity accompanied by a wicked hazy sun or dousing us with downpours, drizzles, mists and sprinkles. It wasn’t until the last minute, May 13th Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., after a constant all-night and morning rain, that the skies cleared and a decision was made: The show will go on.
And on it did!
A Dazzling and Sparkling Display of Talent
This year, as always, an array of talent spread across the stage at our small college. Students who rarely say a word in our English language classes suddenly appeared before us as confident, energetic performers with acting skills that could put the professionals to shame.
Each class chose from English language scripts found on the Internet. These are usually abridged versions of various movies (we had the Titanic last year), Chinese or world-renowned folk tales, famous short stories, plays or books, or even animated Disney films.
Performances had a time limit of 10 minutes each, meaning that many of the scripts had to be downsized even more by the students themselves. This made for some interesting storylines, some of which were changed to fit the time limit and also to make sense. In other words, we had a few surprise endings, such as with Snow White, whose wicked queen (after poisoning the princess) had a change of heart and nursed her back to health. No prince was included to kiss away Snow’s deadly slumber, much to the disappointment of the nearly all-female audience. (Our English Department has about 15 boys out of 300 total English majors at our school. This seems to follow the world trend for humanity teachers, who tend to fall into the female category.)
This year, the line-up was: The Cop and the Anthem (O. Henry), The Little Mermaid ( Hans Christian Anderson), The Necklace (Guy de Maupassant), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin), Cinderella (The Brothers Grimm), The Sound of Music (Rogers and Hammerstein), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare), The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry) and Snow White (The Brothers Grimm).
We also had an opening hip-hop dance number by our more agile students along with an intermission drawing for prizes: hotpot dinner and a free 3-hour karaoke hall rental at a local KTV business.
Before the final three acts, we also enjoyed a rousing performance of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” by an invited student male guest.
For the latter, I couldn’t help but begin an audience wave of cell phone flashlights to encourage our singer to really belt it out and give it his all. Once my light went up, swaying from side to side, Jackie and our Chinese teachers, who were beside me at the judging table, followed suit. The audience members quickly caught on. Soon we had quite a “You go, Brother!” sea of energizing support waving him into campus stardom.
And it certainly paid off. Our efforts spurred him on to a bigger, brighter and more heartfelt interpretation of the song, with a idol-worthy fanatic cheers following when he took his bow.
We had a couple minutes of worry when sprinkles started toward the end but those held off just in time for the entire program to wrap up. This included comments given by one foreign judge (myself) and the Vice-dean of the English Department, “Lisa” Zhang, along with the anticipated moment: announcing the winners.
One first prize, 2 second prizes and the rest thirds were given as celebratory screams filled the air. The last act of the evening was to witness proud class representatives bound onstage to accept the awards and cram their classmates together for pictures. (Note: Giving all participants an award is how the Chinese encourage contestants. Everyone gets a prize to boost spirits and show appreciation by the judges for a job well done.)
So . . . Who Won?
Interested in knowing who walked away with first place?
This year was The Sound of Music, Freshmen Class 1, chosen because of excellent diction and a very creative dance number by Maria and the Von Trapp kids. Their playful and clever choreography was accompanied to Julie Andrews singing “Do, Re, Mi.”
How could you possibly go wrong with Julie in your sound track?
For all participants, I must say broken legs abounded. Well done, everyone!
While the following pictures don’t do it justice, especially with my broken camera that refuses to focus properly, hope the below slideshow gives you a little inkling of our exciting Friday evening.
Until next time, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your weekend.