Bridging East and West Through Experimental Theater
BY NICK McCORD
Collaboration is an odd bird. Managing creative attitudes and predilections is tricky business, and here at Evergreen, it’s something we do often. One can easily find a handful of students to jump in with both feet on theater, music, and art projects. Yet, in all of the programs I’ve ever taken here at Evergreen, I’ve never collaborated directly with a faculty member. Students work with students, and the faculty generally observes the process. It’s an almost clinical arrangement that, in some programs, works quite well.
(Pardon me for gushing, but) leave it to Professor Rose Jang to break the mould.
Almost one year ago, after staging my first play, “Good Night, Good Doctor” with the gracious help of Elizabeth Lord of The Midnight Sun performance space, I walked into Professor Jang’s office. Word on the Evergreen campus was she wished to produce an original musical for the 2014 season, and high off of a moderately successful show, I was filled to the brim with hubris. Rose had a germ of an idea about a show presenting strong Chinese women who chose to express themselves beyond the restrictive social barriers their age presented. Along with poet and professor Zhang Er, and PLU professor and composer Greg Youtz, she intended on mounting a full production in the newly renovated Experimental Theater.
“Rose, I want to write this for you,” I said—or something like that (in my hyperbolic memory I kind of swaggered into her office like John Wayne and took a single drag on a hand-rolled cigarette). I had taken a program with Jang a year prior, and found in Chinese theater a series of remarkable aesthetics at once poignant and unique to the stage. I’m a drama geek, but Chinese theater shook me to the core. It’s primal and articulate; moving and stark.
To my surprise, she agreed to let me write the play.
I’ve often thought about this decision Rose made—allowing a student to work alongside, and in some ways appropriate and modify, her creative dream. It’s not a decision I think I could have made in her place last year. With so many projects and ideas I considered “mine,” the idea of making something “ours” defied the selfish brat within me.
Art changes people though—most often the artists themselves.
And so began a four part collaboration between Jang, Zhang Er, Greg Youtz, and, late-to-the-game, me.
Our goal was to paint the meaningful bridge between Eastern and Western theater by combining the Western writing I was so used to skewering on paper, the stage techniques Rose had been teaching for decades, and Zhang Er’s poetic sensibility. “The Blooming Season” was born out of fevered conversations and late night email exchanges. Once a skeleton emerged, Greg slapped on thick, chunky music with the artistry of a renaissance sculptor. Adding to that, the students of Theatre of Fantasy: Performing Chinese Drama On The Western Stage composed motifs and song riffs for Greg to utilize in his composition. “The Blooming Season” became an exercise in mutual influence and in that, it was truly ours.
Friends, I’ve seldom written anything I’m truly proud of. Perhaps that’s the insufferable artistic perfectionist in me. However, collaboration, the kind we do at this college, always surpasses personal performance. When I was allowed as a writer to engage with these brilliant and lyrical minds, faculty and students alike, a beautiful piece of art emerged—one that surpasses anything I’ve ever written.
Allow me to encourage you to embrace these forms of collaboration. In our Evergreen community, the best we can give each other are our own talents. Open yourselves, embrace the possibilities, and collaboration becomes less an individual idea, and more a multifaceted work of art.