The Chorus members take to the stage, their pale masks gleaming under the spotlight, their voices resounding as they comment on the drama unfolding before them. However this is no conventional, classic Greek tragedy, a fact that’s quickly made clear to the audience by how the Chorus members walk and talk.
"We’re not a regular Chorus. We creep around the stage a lot, very creepily," Carolina Liu says with a laugh. Liu, a Grade 6 student at The Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB), has been cast as "Chorus Member #19" in "10 Years Later", which is being performed on campus tonight November 27 and tomorrow November 28. She adds: "Our walk was kind of hard to learn. We have to move like mysterious people from the future."
CISB theatre arts teacher Angela Knowles relished the opportunity to subvert that Greek theatre convention while penning the play with Patrick Connolly, a Grade 7 English teacher who also co-directed the production with Knowles and Grade 6 science teacher Jessica MacKenzie.
"They don’t all speak together, speak in a modern way that’s kind of funny," Knowles says of the Chorus, whose lines she wrote, while Connolly penned the scenes in between those mysterious narrators’ appearances. She adds: "They’re still wearing the masks and everything, but it was fun to have them break the rules and conventions in other ways."
Knowles says the aptly titled "10 Years Later" uses its Chorus to give characters a glimpse into the future. She says she and Connolly were inspired to write about that, in part, by CISB’s ten year anniversary, explaining: "We didn’t want to directly reference that, but we wanted it to be a theme, to think about: ‘What a difference ten years can make.’"
Connolly agrees, adding: "It’s a comedy about what would you do if you could see the future, and how would it affect your life if you were a given a glimpse ten from now."
In a way, the young cast may feel the reverberations of this play well into their own futures. As Connolly explains: "I’ve made my best friends in life by doing drama in school, performing shows with all kinds of people. and I feel like the students are getting that experience."
Knowles says that bond is not only being forged between the students, but also with their teachers. As she, Connolly and MacKenzie spent ten hours a week after school with the young cast, they all gained a deep appreciation for each others’ level of talent and commitment.
"Spending all that time after school, having meals and talking, even coming in for weekend rehearsals, when they don’t have to be in uniform– all these things break down the barriers a little bit," Knowles says, adding: "That’s especially true when you’re working so hard on something in a short amount of time."
Connolly goes on to describe another major benefit of those long rehearsals: "You spend so much time with them making something together, there’s a sense of pride in the end that comes with the show that is unmatched by anything else."
Liu and her friend and castmate Keana Kormylo (who performs alongside Liu as "Chorus member #4") say they also feel that pride for their teachers, with whom they have quickly become acquainted with as playwrights.
"It makes us feel special because we’re the first people performing this play," Liu says.
Kormylo quickly echoes that sentiment, adding: "Lots of people have already seen classic old plays. If we did that again it might be boring. But when your teacher writes something totally new it it’s more interesting."
Photo: Courtesy of CISB