Every year Quest tutor Fei Shi offers a theatre course on acting and directing. This past week Fei’s class staged two performances of the play they worked on tirelessly throughout the block, Peach Blossom Land. The play itself is quite unique, as it follows two plays within another story. Two theatre groups double book the same theatre space and their two different plays, one a tragedy about a couple separated in the 1949 Chinese revolution, and the other a comedy based on a classical Chinese poem, end up intertwining. I didn’t know the storyline before going to see the performance so I had no idea what to expect, apart from a couple of Chinese martial arts routines I choreographed and taught to three actors. I was however thoroughly impressed with the entire production, and amazed at what they were able to put together in a month. But since I wasn’t in the class myself I thought I would share a short interview with my roommate Maggie McPhee, who co-directed and played the role of Miss Zhang.
How did the class run/what was the structure of the class?
We cast the play at the end of the first week and from that moment on it was all play all the time, except for in class we would do some improv games that were meant to help the process. Some days would run from 10am till 10pm; different scenes all day long, so not everyone has to be there all the time, but if you are in a specific scene then your attendance is mandatory. Then in class we would do, as I said, improv games, and we would work on scenes that involved everyone—the large transition scenes—and we would also work on the backdrops and the sets and that sort of thing. So it was really a collaborative work. Everyone worked just as hard as the next person and everyone chipped in their own special skills.
What do you think was the best part of the class?
My favourite part was watching the play evolve over time from something that I just read to a full-fledged performance, all the steps in between, all the minute changes and all the growth that occurred. It was really cool because what I had envisioned in my mind when I read the script and what it actually ended up looking like were so vastly different, and it just kind of demonstrated to me the potential of the play as a genre.
What was the hardest part about putting together a play in just over two weeks?
I don’t want to say that there was no hard part because that kind of seems like a cop out. But it was just such a joy… every moment. I guess the hardest part would have been trusting the group and trusting that we were capable… that I was capable. And there was a lot of doubt, like can we actually pull this off? And to be honest I didn’t fully trust that we could do it until after we did it, and I don’t know if I were going to do this again that that would change.
What did you learn through the entire process?
I learned that I truly do love theatre. And I learned that… I was capable. In other settings, say in a more academic setting, when you’re just learning and then writing, or doing tests or whatever, there’s not a lot of creation. And so I never really got the opportunity to see if I could create something.
Would you do you it all over again next month if you could?
Yep! A lot of us are actually planning on doing an Independent study next year with Fei, where we will write a play.