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“All the World’s a Stage”: Music theatre students visit China

  • Peter Dennee, Associate Professor of Music

By Maren Schutz ’15

June 25, 2014

A group of Carthage music theatre students and faculty members traveled to China for two weeks during the summer of 2014, and gave 10 musical theatre performances to demonstrate musical theatre style and performance practice to Chinese students.

The Carthage group performed scenes from “Next to Normal” and “Seussical the Musical,” as well as other musical theatre songs. The group traveled and performed in Shanghai, Taiyuan, Linfen, Beijing, and Huairou. When not performing, they explored the sights of the country, including The Great Wall, the Main Sacred Way of the Ming tombs, the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, the Forbidden City, the People’s Square, the Summer Palace, and Ping Yao.

Carthage partnership

Music theatre instructor Lorian Schwaber began collaborating with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music 11 years ago, teaching music theatre and directing several Broadway-style musicals. Corinne Ness, chair of the Music Theatre and Opera Program at Carthage, began traveling to Shanghai with Lorian seven years ago, which led to deeper Carthage involvement in the partnership.

Both Profs. Schwaber and Ness have presented workshops for teachers and students in Shanghai and Beijing, but this is the first time they have brought Carthage students with them to China. Thirteen students were in China from May 27 to June 10.

On this trip, Professor Schwaber and Professor Ness were featured speakers at the International Conference on Musical Theater Education at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, sharing ideas and collaborating with music theatre teachers, department heads, and deans from across China. This provided opportunities for Carthage students and faculty to interact with faculty and students from The Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Central Drama Academy in Beijing, Nanjing University for the Arts, Shanxi Normal University, The Academy of Theater and Dance in Beijing, North China University in Taiyuan, and several active theater companies in China.

Scholarship meets service

“The opportunity to bring together scholarship, teaching, and service was something that we just couldn’t pass up,” Prof. Ness said. “This conference gave the faculty an opportunity to present their original research along other scholars of music theatre from New York University and conservatories in China. It also gave us an opportunity to work with our students and students from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music’s music theatre program — a great opportunity to share teaching strategies and provide new learning opportunities for the 13 students who traveled from Carthage. It was an amazing experience.”

In addition to the conferences, Carthage students and faculty also engaged in several service learning opportunities. They performed and worked with students from the Singing Hearts Music School in Shanghai, and worked with elementary and high school students in the Huairou Educational District, a partner to Carthage College.

The trip challenged students to balance responsibilities while adapting to new environments.

“The students grew in ways that we could only imagine,” Prof. Schwaber said. “First they rehearsed for this project while they were also engaged in the main stage musical, junior and senior recitals, and other end-of-the-year projects. They traveled to a foreign country where most of them don’t speak the language, and performed for non-English speakers. They were halfway around the world, affected by 13 hours of time change, yet still managed to perform at the highest level, be kind and caring to each other, and have a great time.”

Passions awakened

The trip also gave students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture, and experience the challenges and joys that resulted.

“The language barrier was a challenge, but the students were really helpful and patient with us,” said Brittany Coriaci ’16, a music theatre and communication double major from Gurnee, Ill. “They tried to give us the best experience we could possibly have in Shanghai and were wonderful hosts. They brought us to KTV (karaoke clubs which are popular in China), showed us places to shop, and acted as translators whenever they could.

“Once we got to know these students, the language barrier didn’t seem to really matter anymore. It was amazing to be halfway around the world and still be able to connect with someone, despite the language barrier.”

Trips such as this one often reawaken and intensify passions of students.

“A life-changing moment for me was watching the children of a weekend theatre camp perform ‘Food, Glorious Food!’ from ‘Oliver!’” said Preston Smith ’13, a recent music theatre alumna from Carthage. “It was amazing. All of us were in tears watching these young children put their hearts and souls into musical theatre. It awakened all of those childhood feelings of loving music and theatre and knowing we had to do it.”

Student travelers included: Grace Brunette, Andrew Stachurski, Kati Schwaber, Sean Kelly, Jack Lambert, Desiree Gonzales, Dan Brennan, Brittany Coriaci, Kaylee Annable, Preston Smith, Mitch Weindorf, and Courtney Matula, as well as percussionist Justin Hall. Faculty travelers included Corinne Ness, Lorian Schwaber, Maggie Ellsworth, and Radford University professor Tommy Iafrate. 

See more photos here