Photograph of Baltimore School for the Arts students working on Chinese Opera Techniques

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Theatre Students Learn Chinese Opera Techniques

From traditional tea songs to entrepreneurship, the Huangmei form of Chinese opera has flourished by creating stories and characters rooted in 21st-century Chinese cultural reality. Sophomore BSA theatre students had the opportunity to learn about this firsthand during Susan Taylor’s Movement for Actors II class.

Olivia Brann, BSA Class of 2009, returned to her alma mater to help sophomores explore this traditional Chinese art form. Brann was the first Westerner to be invited to China to study and perform this movement and music-based theatre form. Her teacher, Han Zaifen from the Anhui province, has kept this traditional form thriving.

“It was exciting to see the students apply the fundamentals they have learned about moving their bodies to this specific style,” said Taylor.  “They were enthusiastic and eager to soak up this new-to-them form.”

The students immersed themselves in the new, and for most of them, quite foreign, sounds, movements, and visuals of Chinese opera. Brann helped them make connections with their own personal experiences, and with Western classics like Shakespeare. Within minutes of watching clips of Chinese opera, they were asking her to “play a little bit more of that one, please.”

Brann continues to travel back and forth to study and teach and learn and translate for her teachers and company in China. (She’s also working locally at Center Stage.) The students were inspired by Brann’s tenacity in carving out her own career path.

“It’s powerful for students to meet artists who represent a dynamic future of possibilities beyond New York and LA. She simply asked to do something no one else had thought to do, and she has made the world a smaller neighborhood by bridging cultures through her artistic passion,” Taylor said.

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