26 April 2009

Hairspray: Say what?

Last Friday afternoon, I ventured to 大仁科技大學 in 屏東 with a few Fulbright colleagues to help with their student production of Hairspray (the musical). We didn't really know what to expect. Basically, it was a class worth of fourth-year students who major in English rehearsing the musical. They've spent the academic year thus far studying and understanding the musical, and their performances start tomorrow night.

大仁 is called a "technical college," which is something we don't really have in the U.S. According to wikipedia...
Students enter five-year junior colleges after graduating junior high school and passing a national exam. The curriculum is similar to that of vocational schools with the exception that 5-year junior colleges run for two additional years. Students graduate with the equivalent of an associate degree and are ready to enter the workforce. Some students may choose to continue their studies at a two year technical institute or apply to transfer into a four year university.

Our purpose was to help the students better understand and pronounce the English lines. Hairspray is a difficult musical with difficult dialogue for native English speaking theater majors, so their performing this play was quite impressive. We watched them perform act II, divided up the main characters and each gave them some tips, and then watched them perform it again. I worked with Seaweed (Ben), Little Inez (Sonia), and Prudy (Sharon). My favorite part was teaching Sonia how to say, "Say what?" with proper intonation.

Here, Little Inez and Seaweed flank Motormouth in the center:

Here's a picture of Wilbur (left, played by a petite girl) and Edna (right, played by the tallest Asian guy I've ever met), who stole the show humor-wise:

And now, a brief clip I caught on my camera during rehearsal. Remember that they are not theater or music majors, so watch it with a grain of salt. Sorry, my better-quality clips are too big to be posted.

Before you judge, think about how well your freshman Italian class would have done putting on a full opera. Which raises the question, would an academic year be better spent teaching useful vocabulary (conversational or academic), or having something fun to show for it? It was painful for us to realize that, though the show involves so much mature language, some of the students didn't understand many of the lines they'd memorized, and they were uncomfortable conversing with us in English.

Anyway, I'm going to see their opening night performance tomorrow, where I'll hopefully get some better pictures/videos. And the question will finally be answered: how does a show with central themes of racial integration and acceptance of different body types translate into a culture that has zero diversity of either skin color or body type? Stay tuned for the answer.

Edit: managed to post this longer, more amusing video to youtube. Enjoy!


Aubrey said...

I am very pleased to discover that swapping genders and contrasting heights are hilarious no matter what. The classics never die.

As your token theatre friend, I think this is a really ambitious choice for a musical anywhere.

And as your token monolingual friend, I will never perform a show in a Chinese language without offending at least 79% of its audience. 18% would enjoy it because they could mock it while the other 3% would give me the pity vote.

Joanna Leigh said...

woah, they're great!

Sonia said...

Hi, Katie!!Actually, Prudy is Sonia, but tha't ok. I'm very appreciate that you talk about me. Thank you very much!!^^