Tuesday, November 28, 2006

English Plays: Chinese Students Are Not Shy

I have often thought when doing role-plays in class that many of my students would make fine actors. So, I was happy to discover that all classes in the English Department would perform plays. They worked on the plays for weeks, and a final set of the 12 best were selected, down from the original number of perhaps twice that.

To my surprise, I was invited by one of my classes to take a part in their play. The role was that of a guitar-playing father, and out of 270 students I know of one who plays guitar (in another class), so I suppose I was right for the role. This was class 6, one of the most outgoing I've taught, and though the script was kind of weird, they turned it into an entertaining performance. The story, which they took from the internet but judging from the script was definitely written by Chinese English students, is about a dishonest candy salesman in front of the school gate, who makes dirty candy that makes the students ill. It was highlighted by talking, dancing candy ("I'm dirty!" "I'm ugly!" "I'm dirty and ugly!"), no less than two Aqua songs ("Barbie Girl" and a song that repeated, loudly, "come on let's go get it on!"), and the charismatic performance of Alice, the candy salesman with a drawn-on mustache. In the play I have two daughters, who ask me to play guitar in a ploy to get money from me, and were appropriately whiny. My students are better actors than me, and they had to encourage me to really get angry at the daughters when they trick me.

The final performances took place last Friday evening in the music hall. Many students went all-out when renting costumes and having their hair done, and some of them I had a lot of trouble even recognizing. After several "no"s, I finally got it across that I was not interested in wearing makeup. The picture below is from rehearsal; none of my pictures of the actual performances came out decently. Half of the plays were put on by classes that I teach, and I had seen rehearsals of several of them, so I had been looking forward to it for a while. The first play was Snow White, which I knew from rehearsal was one of the best, and I was very impressed. This was put on by a class which sometimes irritates me this term, due to their lack of enthusiasm on Friday, but in fact their English is very good. Another class, who are a teacher's dream and my favorite to teach as of late, did a very successful rendition of Cinderella. This class has always done amazing things with role-plays, and they love the stage. The student who played the wicked stepmother was perfect; Andrew has admitted to being afraid of her in the past. There was full-on ballroom dancing featuring the entire class in costume, and in true Chinese style, Cinderella was taken away on the back of a bicycle at the end. Another highlight was a Chinese story about two lovers (both played by girls) and a severe, disapproving mother, which was written by the class and did well with the judges.

Phillip, the teacher from England, was confident that the play I was in would win first prize simply because it had a foreign teacher in it. I doubted it very much, because although our play was good several others clearly deserved it more, and I figured he was just being cynical. However, sure enough, when the results came in it was our play, The Pocket Money, which was victorious. I was happy for that class, but also quite annoyed at how much I seemed to have affected the outcome. I disagreed with the results in general (Cinderella didn't even place), but it was an exciting night, and easily one of the highlights of this term.

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