(Over the coming weeks we’ll be casting an eye over the performing talents of our community’s students and teachers, as we preview some of the upcoming school shows.)
Audiences at the International School of Beijing (ISB) are guaranteed an evening of magical storytelling and dance at this year’s Middle School play.
Once Upon a Hutong is an original play written and directed by Hannah Northcott, who teaches dance, drama and yoga at ISB. It tells the story of Wang Li, a young prince in search of a wife. He holds a pageant which draws ladies from all the provinces of China, but it is Mei Ling, a Beijing storyteller, who captures his attention with her tales.
We asked Northcott where she took our inspiration from.
“A few years ago,” she told us, “I wrote a play called Once Upon a Kampung about a sultan in Malacca who meets a magical storyteller, Sinta, who had a gift of bringing stories to life. I watched hours of Empresses in the Palace, did some research and rewrote the play changing the setting to the imperial kingdom in China.
“As a director, I was also inspired by the rich culture of China. The cast for example, had an experiential learning trip to the Forbidden City early in the rehearsal process so they could research the characters, setting and period of the play.
“The play has vignettes of short stories inspired by Aesop’s Fables, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Caps for Sale and The Nightingale. I tweaked the stories to fit the local culture; for example, in the play it is called, “The Boy who cried Long (dragon).” Also, in Aesop’s fables, instead of a fox jumping for grapes, I turned it into a Panda Bear.
“Last year, I workshopped the script with some 8th graders and they gave some good suggestions that I incorporated in the edits. I believe that one of the best ways to teach is to model to students what them to try. Thus, I wanted them to be a part of the creative process of bringing an original play to life.
“One of ISB’s strategic initiatives was linking to the local culture, and being a playwright, theater maker, director and actor, I knew that it would be a meaningful learning opportunity for students to learn about drama, theater and the Chinese culture through a play.”
The costumes are spectacular; were they created specially for the show?
“Yes, the costumes were made especially for the play. Our inspiration was the Qing Dynasty. We recycled some of the costumes from Mulan which I directed a couple of years ago but most of them were tailored for the cast. Our costume coordinator, Karen Fidler, works with a tailor so all the costumes are custom-made.”
An ambitious production like this must have presented challenges to its young cast.
“ISB is a big and busy school. There are a lot of events happening and one of the challenges is logistics or space because of everything else that is happening in the school. Thus, students had to learn to rehearse and remain focused in public spaces. We worked with the limitations and are still able to make it work. For example, we had to finish the show’s last dress-tech a couple of weeks before the performance so we will be ready for opening night. I was very pleased with our Saturday dress-tech and confident that we are ready for show time!”
The show takes place at ISB Theater, on the following dates:
November 24, Thursday 4pm
November 25, Friday 6:30pm
November 26, Saturday 2pm
Tickets can be purchased via paevents.isb.bj.edu.cn. Hurry though- the Friday performance has already sold out!
Photos courtesy of ISB