Friday, May 29, 2009

Blog Update

Our internet was erratic for a couple weeks, but now seems to be stable again. Access to the blog, however, is still being blocked. Thankfully our kids came home with a back-door proxy around the great China Firewall. (Isn’t modern education great!) The proxy does not allow us to post pictures, so we'll post some photos on Facebook (Judy McMorrow page).

Strut and Fret: Romeo & Juliet Update

Romeo & Juliet had a preview night on May 6th and officially opened May 8th. The cast of 18 puts on a wonderful show, drawing us into the amazing tale. The first half if full of lightness and fun, and the second half would give any current slasher film a run for its money. Lord Capulet, of course, is the highlight in our eyes. He is perfectly cast, walking proudly with a cane as a prop. His hand clap to call forth the musicians for the party is regal. His anger at Juliet’s defiance is startling. The audience draws back as he calls her a “green sickness carrion” and “you baggage” and “ungrateful wench.” The audience gasps as he runs toward Juliet with his cane to hit her as she cowers on the floor. As the production has progressed, so has Rick. He continues to work on his role. A few years ago our nephew Joe Howarth told us that every night in his play was different. At the time Rick said he didn’t understand, but now he comes home each night with a description of the slight variation that came through an injured actor or a dropped line or an intentional change in the action.

The day after opening night was media night, where several English language papers were to attend. Alas, there was a power outage in the block around the theatre and for only the second time in several years they had to cancel the performance. That impaired the publicity plan, but as with everything in China (and life), one needs to be nimble and flexible!

The theatre is an intimate stage in the round, with about 150 seats. Judy has now gone to 5 shows, Anna to 3, and Elizabeth to 2. Each of the three sections of the theatre offers a different view not just literally but also in the nuance of the action and the facial expression of the actors. It once again shows the subtly of both Shakespeare’s unbelievable gift and the creativity of this production. The show closes May 31st. We’ll miss it.

Continue on My Lord!

About that Next Gig…. (Rick)

The Beijing Playhouse also runs a casting agency and last week a filmmaker filmed me to see if I might be good for a role in a movie about Harry Truman and China. They emailed and wanted me to come for a final tryout for the role of John Leighton Stuart, who was the ambassador to China from 1946-49. They were going to pay me 4000 Yuan (about $600). 

The night before the final arrangements the head of The Beijing Playhouse called and said they were not going to participate in the casting of this movie because it was a propaganda film! Here’s some of the dialogue for my part. What do you think? (P.s. Since we are in China on a US government grant it seemed better not to take the chance at embarrassing the government. They’ve been too good to us. I passed up the role.)

The CCP wants to establish a new government before Jiang and Li’s inauguration, how could that be possible?

It’s just talk. The May 1st slogan is nothing more than Mao’s announcement of his existence to the world. Jiang’s military might is greater. The so-called political consultation is just a joke.

Mr. Ambassador, I hope the US government can participate directly in the intermediation between the KMT and the CCP.

Mr. President, I’d be happy to oblige personally. But unfortunately, I’m afraid the CCP won’t accept your conditions for peace.

The CCP has set their foot along the Yangtze frontlines. Mao delivered a strongly worded statement yesterday, calling Mr. Commissioner the foremost war criminal. I need support.

Yes, things look dangerous. It’s time for the deputy president to step up and alleviate the risks.

International Day

For the children, plays and films are just background noise in the daily life of school and friends. A variety of terrific school events have kept us busy. International Day and Spring Fair was held on Sat May 16th. At an International School in Beijing this is not just symbolic but a true celebration of the wonderful depth and diversity of the student and faculty at BISS School. The parade of nations was a colorful walk around the track, with costumes from South Korea, Japan, Africa, Indonesia, China (of course) and many other counties. The Yanks dressed in a cowboy theme, so the weekend before we went to our favorite market Jin Wu Xing, which has everything amidst its 1000+ stalls – assuming you can find it! We did find the hat area and for 90 kuai bought 4 cowboy hats (about $3.50 each). Some bandana type material was all it took to give the overall effect. Each nationality also provided food, and for 10 kuai (about $1.50) you could eat your fill. The proceeds of the lunch went to a charity. Thankfully one of the US teachers hit on the great idea to order pumpkin pies. That was much better than our original plan, which was to try and coax chocolate chip cookies from our small toaster oven.

Track, Swimming and Basketball

In May Anna participated in a track-and-field event for all the international schools. BISS took a big contingent. Anna won two (!) medals, a gold and silver, for her fast efforts. She trained with vigor and used the techniques taught by her daddy. In an elementary school swim meet last week she came home with two gold medals in swimming. She’s blossomed into a great athlete.

This spring Elizabeth participated in the junior high basketball team. Her skills also improved steadily throughout the season. Having tried soccer, volleyball and basketball teams (along with all the sports they engage in during gym class) the winner is….. VOLLEYBALL as her favorite.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Law & Journalism Program (Judy)

One advantage of being on a US government program is access to an amazing group of people. Glenn Mott, who is an editor with the Hearst group and teaching on a Fulbright grant at Tsinghua, put together a fascinating program with the public affairs section of the US embassy on “Law and Journalism: A Fact-finding Session.” I helped Glenn brainstorm this project and participated as timekeeper and back-up moderator. The panelists were Eve Burton (General counsel of Hearst), Jim Fallows (reporter for the Atlantic Monthly), and Mo Xiaping and Pu Zhiqiang, two courageous Chinese lawyers willing to take on high-profile cases defending journalists in China.

Both Glenn and I were able to bring about 30 students to the panel. Renmin would provide law students, Tsinghua would send journalism students. This required having everyone’s name, national ID and phone number in advance for security purposes. In addition, the consulates at Shanghai and Guangzhou were also inviting students to participate via teleconference. Alas, the night before the event the Tsinghua international office withdrew permission – without explanation. This one school got nervous. This simple act of cancelling participation sent a pretty powerful signal. I also realized with some distress that I did not want to get my Chinese host at Renmin in difficulty. I had not even known the names of the Chinese lawyers until the day before the program so he did not know who was attending this program, only that it was sponsored by the US Embassy. Since such programs by the embassy are vetted through the political folks at the embassy, we did not expect controversy. But we assume that the upcoming anniversary of Tiananmen Square has raised the official vigilance.

The actual program was terrific. The two Chinese lawyers made clear that their views were not the views of the Party. They were critical of the Chinese government approach to journalism and the press. The challenge facing journalists in China is daunting. My later discussion with my students who attended was interesting. The most common reaction of the students was embarrassment that China was being criticized by two of their own in front of foreigners. A couple students expressed frustration that the Chinese lawyers did not praise all the progress and provide a more “balanced” presentation. There was strong resistance to the ideas presented. I noted in class that such discussions where we focus on problem areas are quite common in the US. At least the students came away with a hint of the difference in how we think about and discuss problems.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Romeo & Juliet Photos

The director of Romeo & Juliet put together a slide show of publicity photos for Romeo & Juliet. We'll update this with more recent photos.