A Middle School Theatre Audition in China

We finally got to do what we were brought to China to do: TEACH DRAMA! We were commissioned by a primary school in Dalian to produce two shows with a handful of its brightest and most dramatic students and to chose these students, we put them through an audition. China style.

We were told we’d be choosing thirty students from a group of 400 in two hours (a feat that would be just short of Herculean), but luckily the school had chosen their best 180 students before we arrived, all marked by number. Still, we weren’t too excited to dash the hopes and dreams of over a hundred twelve-year-olds.

As the first group of students were herded in, we could tell that nerves and excitement were at an all-time high. Their first task was to recite a short line of English they’d been given to prepare in advance, to help us find the students with some expression and confidence. That didn’t stop over half of them mumbling off their line with their head bowed looking at tiny cheat sheets, but unfortunately there was no time for do-overs.

We did have some compassion for a couple of exceptionally passionate kids. One little girl–number 99–stumbled through her line but acted her little heart out. The disappointment and anxiety after getting the words wrong showed, but we couldn’t help but give her an A+ for effort. When we called her number to stay, she vehemently said, “Thank you, Teacher, thank you!” before heading to her chair.

With about half of the students cut, we moved onto the dance call. As Rose taught a few 8-counts of choreo to “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” from Mulan, Adam took the numbers of the best dancers.

More numbers were called. More hopes and dreams were dashed. With only forty-five students remaining, we gave each of them an opportunity to sing a song of their choice – Chinese or English. There was an impressive rendition of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and another Wiz Khalifa’s ‘”See You Again,” but after hearing the majority of kids sing “Happy Birthday” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” we finally had our thirty stars.

While the whole process felt a little soulless and not at all educational, I’m not sure what else we should have expected holding an audition for a Chinese middle school play. The directions were clear: Find the best kids as quickly as possible and don’t pay attention to the others. We did our best to be kind and encouraging…

But to be honest, we did have just a little bit of fun playing big-shot casting directors for a couple hours. And after getting through more than a few frustrating English classes, it was such a relief to finally get to teach what we’re passionate about and especially to get to do it together!

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