Never in a Million Years: Bringing Black Theatre to China

By Thomas, Lundeana | Black Masks, Fall/Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Never in a Million Years: Bringing Black Theatre to China


Thomas, Lundeana, Black Masks


Never in a million years did I ever believe that I would have an opportunity to visit China and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Wall. Never in a million years did I believe I would have the opportunity for a second visit, or the opportunity to forge a collaboration with the Chinese where I would be able to learn more about their culture and they would have an opportunity to learn more about mine. Well, all this has happened. It did not take a million years, and I am excited beyond words.

On the first trip to China by the University of Louisville's African American Theatre Program, we presented three productions on African American life: MufarotS Daughters, an African folktale; Seven Stops to Freedom, a story play by Dr. Von Washington about slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad; and a musical revue called The llarlem Renaissance Revue.

Never in a million years did I believe that I would go to China twice, yet in 2009, I was given an opportunity to lecture at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA). The new proposal to continue an association arose from a statement made by the Dean of the Performance Department of this renowned Natiomil Academy, who asked me at our 2007 performance if our performance was based in Western traditional statement. I explained that our performance was based in Western traditional theatre but distinctively flavored with Black cultural elements. Unfortunately, time prevented any further explanation or discussion.

However, in 2009. I met with Pei Lun. dean of the Directing Program at the National Academy. He listened intently to my words about the need for a collaboration between his program and mine to enable us to learn more about their culture and they about ours. Together w e reached a plan to do so. We performed a Chinese folktale. The Orphan of Chao by Chi Chun-hsiang. in three forms of African American performance-Afrocentric. Yoruba, and Hip Hop, and they performed the same piece in Chinese traditional style. Since we all knew the story, even though language could have been a barrier, we viewed and analyzed the treatments of each other s presentations to learn cultural distinctions. To further advance this plan, we hoped to bring the group to the University of Louisville to host the premiere of an African American play adapted to Chinese traditional opera for performance in our theatre.

Honestly, never in a million years would I believe that I would then prepare to go to China yet a third time on a quest to learn more about China, their traditions, and performance elements and help teach them about African American culture. We began the process of selecting three African American short plays for their consideration.

The most important blessings I have rcccivcd from the China trips and association include the following:

1) My first blessing is my new friend Xiujie Sun (pronounced Soon). 1 have learned so much from her about Chinese culture, especially how Chinese w omen are just as loving and vivacious as many African American women. They love dancing, laughing, lively conversation and eating, even though they appear to be very serious, quiet, and demure. 1 learned that Sun spent over a month living with an African American woman in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. This surprised me and endeared her to me.

2) My second blessing is my new godson.

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