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Innovative Theatre Collaboration Combines Two Cultures, Two Languages in One Performance

September 7, 2012

Beth Cavanaugh, 301-405-4625 or bcavana@umd.edu

Costume renderingCollege Park, MD -- The University of Maryland's School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) crosses continents, oceans and 12 time zones with a groundbreaking bi-lingual co-production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Created in collaboration with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA), the production will be presented at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center September 27-30, 2012, under the direction of TDPS Professor Mitchell Hébert and Yu Fanlin, professor of directing at NACTA. After its premiere run at the Center, the production will travel to Beijing for a series of performances.

Two Worlds, One Vision
Two years in the making, the production features lush costumes and dazzling sets that create a fantasy world where elements of Chinese and American performance styles, music and language come together. Each of the Chinese and American actors will speak in their own native language but will perform as if in the same tongue. Audiences will follow the dialogue through supertitles displayed on large plasma screen TVs at either side of the stage.

The Collaboration
Sets, costume designs, lighting and sound were created in partnership between UMD and NACTA. Using Skype, video drop boxes, emails and phone calls, the TDPS creative team shared ideas, creative concepts and experiences with their distant partners. Cast members also held joint rehearsals using a new Cisco Telepresence system recently acquired by TDPS as part of a multi-year grant from the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.

Origin of A Unique Idea
This production was initiated by costume designer and UMD Professor Helen Huang, who first had the idea for a co-production while teaching a master class at NACTA in Beijing. Huang served as cultural ambassador between the two schools as the work unfolded -- from creative interpretation in two languages to making actors comfortable with unknown foods.

Two Cultures, One Extraordinary Production
Cultural interchange infuses every element of the production. TDPS students helped prepare for their Midsummer experience by taking a semester-long class on Chinese culture. The class studied Chinese history, social norms, politics, gender roles and money to prepare for culturally appropriate interaction with their Chinese counterparts.

Original music by Matthew Nielson, two-time Helen Hayes Award winner, uses a fascinating mix of Asian and Appalachian music to capture the impish and playful tone of the work. This blend of musical ideas is inherent in his selection of instruments -- many Appalachian instruments, like the banjo and fiddle, are rough descendants of Asian instruments.

Aerial choreography for the fairy characters, created by UMD dance alumna Andrea Burkholder, combines the artistry of dance with the drama of aerial acrobatics. The fairies' costumes were partially inspired by the children's clothing UMD costume designers observed during a 2011 trip to China with the production crew.

Co-director Hébert summarizes the cross-cultural nature of the work by saying, "Works of art grow and you find a new vision. As a co-production, we will reactivate the text as two cultures in two languages. But the end result is one extraordinary production."


Production Photo Gallery
Performance Information

Media Contact:
Missy McTamney