Every year at HFLS, the students participate in Language Week- a celebration of all things English- which culminates in this event called Drama Night and a full day of speech competitions and spelling bees. The campus is transformed by the flags of many nations, a giant red arch, and professional-looking posters advertising the Drama Night performances.
This flag was my favorite. 10 points if you know what country it represents! (I have no clue.)
I like this one, too. 5 points if you can tell me which country it’s from.
Even the fish were excited.
They’re Pavlovian in their response to the vibrating footsteps of passersby.
Potted flowers around the ponds. (In the gladiola family? Again, I have no idea. Grandma Nelson, do you know what these are?)
So the stage was set. We foreign teachers had all been asked to help out in various capacities; I tried a little bit of everything. I recorded the first round of the spelling bee competition for the senior classes (which, to my surprise- and dismay- was played over the loudspeaker on Tuesday morning for every single person on campus to hear…longest 5 minutes of my life), and I agreed to judge the Drama Night performances on Thursday and the senior speeches on Friday.
Since Drama Night was scheduled to take place on Thursday from 6:30-9:30pm, I was going to spend a long day on campus. Unlike Minnetonka, which boasts approximately 489320 theater performances every year (not to knock MHS; our theater community thrives and teems with talent), this is HFLS’s only dramatic anything all year long, so the kids were buzzing with a special kind of energy that I hadn’t really seen before. I took my sweetly, unflaggingly obedient Junior 1s for class outside that morning because our door was locked and the weather was perfect; they were supposed to be editing their original skits, but it took about 3 minutes for their “wands” to turn into “swords,” which turned into just straight-up “stick beating.” I watched them for a while before stepping in, reflecting on how Chinese kids seem to not be as (over)protected as American kids (see: Kids Riding Electric Bikes through Insane Traffic Sans Helmet) and noticing that because so many of my students wear glasses, a.k.a. safety goggles, maybe I didn’t have to step in…
But I did, and they contented themselves with pretend stick beating for the rest of the hour. My class of Senior 1s that follows these Junior 1s is similarly bright and mature, and yet at some point during their first debate, one student literally threw himself across the teacher’s desk to shout at his opponent during their crossfire about gun control. Huh. Excitement was definitely in the air.
To keep ourselves from going crazy along with the students, Trisha and I took a milk tea break after 2nd hour and walked around one of the pretty, feng shui-ed university campuses near HFLS.
Later that afternoon, Trisha and I walked with Claire, a visiting teacher from the UK, down to the corner for one of those point-at-the-all-Chinese-menu-and-hope-for-the-best meals. Between the three of us- red hair, blue eyes, blonde hair- we were the weirdest-looking bunch of diners at this place.
Walking back to campus, we found wave after wave of students bringing their own seats to the gymnasium for the performance.
Lucky for me that I was judging because I was able to get a front row seat. I had my own name tag and received a gift for my “expert” services: a rechargeable mini vacuum to use for my computer and car consul. It’s actually really cool.
The schedule for the night included a performance from the Junior 3 students (Mulan), the Senior 1 and Senior 2 students (Mamma Mia), and the Senior 3 students (Glee); sandwiched between them were 4 musical performances, one by each of the Junior 1 classes. Looking at the lineup, I was excited to see what the students had created.
The 6 hosts of Drama Night. The boy on the far left is my student, William. He speaks impeccable English and as a Junior 2, I’ve been told he’s something of a celebrity on campus. He’s also got an incredibly sweet disposition.
Before I share pictures of the performances themselves, I should explain that the students record themselves acting and then lip-sync to their own voices during these plays, although the musical numbers are usually professional recordings. It threw me at first, but I wondered if it’s almost harder to lip-sync emotionally than it is to perform live. Either way, I was proud of the students, and in all of their nervous energy, they were really enjoying themselves. It was great fun to watch.
William! He drives those Junior 2 ladies crazy.
Junior 1 Musical Interlude:
One of my Senior 2s, Kevin.
Bao played the priest! The kids went absolutely wild for him.
I kinda want one of these shirts. There was a whole cadre of students sitting on the floor in front of the stage with giant SLR cameras. The Chinese paparazzi.
Junior 1 Musical Interlude:
This girl in front, Rita, is one of my precious Junior 1s. When I see her on campus and ask her how she is, she always responds with some completely genuine version of “I’ve never felt better!”
Bit of a technical difficulty. The show had to be stopped for about 15 minutes because the curtains refused to open. In the end, the stage techs literally ripped them from their curtain-holder-thingys, and the kids went right back on, hardly missing a step.
“Random guy with a guitar.”
Each performance had its own stage effects: bubbles, confetti, and those fountain fireworks. I missed this with my camera, but at their peak strength, they rained sparks almost down to the floor of the stage.
When the show was over, it was 10pm and I felt thickheaded with fatigue. The audience gathered their chairs and headed back to their dorms, and I reminded myself that these students spend Sunday night through Friday afternoon on this campus, and nearly all of their waking hours are occupied by school activities.
Breakfast at 7, recitation practice at 7:40, class from 8-4, dinner at 5, quiet classroom study from 6:30-9, then back to the dorms and lights out at 11 (that’s when the school literally shuts off the electricity in the dorms). Though the school is really good about mixing in snack and activity breaks during the day, these students lead fairly prescriptive academic lives.
At one point during Mulan, a soldier threw down his mug and it shattered on the stage; one scene later and with the pieces of mug unswept from their original positions, kid-soldiers were falling all over the stage in mock-death. Each blast of the confetti canons added to the debris and went untouched as dancer after dancer discoed onto the stage for Mamma Mia. The Glee singers darted in and out of the spray of sparks just inches from their heads and arms. It occurred to me that American teachers and parents would probably have tandem strokes if they saw this, but as I thought back to the sword-fighting and cacophonous crossfire from my classes earlier in the day, I figured this night was exactly what everyone needed.
By the next day, parents had joined us on campus and everyone brought their best manners to the speech competitions. For my judging help, I received a mini-fan that plugs into my computer’s USB port, which will be helpful the next time a class debate gets a little heated. Although honestly, I might just let it go. Who doesn’t love a little drama every now and then?