An American in Chengdu

Shining English | April 19, 2010

In high school I was a Lincoln-Douglas debater, and spent many Saturdays in various Colorado high schools arguing about the individual versus the collective, feminism, individual rights versus state stability, censorship–all topics about which no one really needs to hear a high schooler’s opinion. Accordingly, usually the only other people in the room when I debated were my opponent and the judge, though final rounds might garner more of an audience. The drama and comedy events would draw spectators, but only teammates who’d already committed to spending Saturday in the high school. Even our parents wouldn’t think to show up unless we made it to a big tournament like State or National Qualifying.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I first agreed to help judge a “Shining English” speaking competition a few months ago for the campus English club, and found it was designed to be entertaining. Held in a large room full of uncoerced spectators, it was set up like a TV show, complete with smartly-dressed MCs (one male, one female), visual effects (projected onto a screen on the side of the stage), and decorations.

On Friday I judged my second Shining English event, this one a drama competition. It started out with dramatic music and some scripted conversation between the MCs (“Vivian, have you seen the movie Avatar?” “Why yes, I have” “Do you remember when X character says to Y character, ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore’?”), then quickly segued into a play by the first of the eight teams, a sort of CliffsNotes version of the Wizard of Oz. In all eight plays the performers lip-synced along with dialogue tracks they’d pre-recorded, which I thought must increase the level of difficulty significantly. Most included impressive costuming and at least one dance number. Some threw in fake commercial breaks for laughs. All this in about 10 minutes each.

In my favorite play (which took second place), James Bond moonwalked onto the stage where the evil queen was consulting her talking mirror, and agreed to assassinate Snow White. However, when he showed up at her door disguised as a deliveryman and bearing poisoned Haagen Daas, Snow White insisted that he try some too. Then Bond returned for a quick interlude with his wife like Patrick Swayze in Ghost (complete with a few bars of Unchained Melody) before he was whisked off to the afterlife to join a game of poker. Then the whole cast joined in a dance number set to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”

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1 Comment »

  1. What, no video?

    Comment by Helen — April 23, 2010 @ 8:56 pm


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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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