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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tues 9/28 Day after Opening Notes

From Don's Blackberry...

The before-open jitters are gone- blown away by fireworks on our bows.

All happy - wow - how did we do?

So this mornings meeting is back to normal - the director goes through the list of things to fix and there are many. I want a homing pigeon each night, and they say great.

I go to make notes of changes on the script again fighting cultural differences. This time it is the plastic sleeve vs the 3 ring binder. How simple an invention and tool the 3 ringer - allowing changes with one click. Even more so allowing one to write notes and changes and improvements on a paper. Any paper. It can be changed with a better idea.

Ah in china no 3 or 5 or 7 ringer. Papers are bound in a plastic sleeve. As if to protect it. - from rain or other ideas. Ok maybe it is just a cheaper idea in a country that did plastic when they were so poor.

Now at the banquet I meet the pigeon girl. Viola. Keming asks for little gusu sends one off to look over jiang qian and when he returns he has the bird. Ok. The idea is doubled and they'll like having a hand in it.

The singing goes on. Toasts and toasts. Leader style. They almost cried is the ubiquitous comment. It is their standard way to say good. We are not sure if they have ever really cried at a show.

Whichever, it is frustrating as hell!

OPENING NIGHT NOTES - "Tree Story" Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry....

Morning of the first show. Called to 9 am meeting. First a few and then more including 2 lead actors.

We got the lead composer and writer and producer to go through the list of sins. Essentially the actors are not reflecting the history. Some characters as written do show the best nature of the story. The argument about giving the land to government for the space center can be less.

It is the same as in US with beginning producers of course. They are learning.

Of course the writer and composer are feeling if only they could talk to the cast - if only they could direct. And so I released the cast for the afternoon before the show to them from 1:30 to 4. Talk about character intro to history, expressive singing and line reading....

4pm to 7pm makeup set. They love this.

4-6pm Dance - refine.
7:00 cast report.
8pm show

So no run through in the afternoon. The writer and composer (who arrived 2 days ago) feel they didn't get enough time with the cast.

So the writer will redirect all of the acting scenes to his style. It is unclear whether he was hinting at this all along when he gave notes or it is a last minute decision to save his script from feeling so slow and filled with pronouncements about the great country.

My associate director is concerned about how the scene will slow down.

I completely yield to what acting style they chose as it is just one non realistic approach or another. In fact an in-theater style is not what is suggested by our set and environment.

The basic fact is one I know - when the pace picks up in the final day before production no one can handle the translation process. I realize today just how much my composer and writer have no patience for translation as they talk long without the care to translate for me - they are talking to the rest.

I am the only english speaker. One producer is fairly fluent but must follow the leader and does not to appear as a mere translator. Curly injects his own thoughts and has little authority. Jiazi is quiet and meek in difficult circumstances. The limited english that the assoc dir and MD have freezes with stress.

More than ability is the usual flip to us against them when a native country is ready to do it their way after they think they have had enough.

So between pride, desire to drive the boat and following their leaders the foreigner who comes to help is eventually thanked and pushed aside.

Like USA a person will obey the will and try to please the person for their next job - in this way the american is always undermined even if they are paying the staff. The assumption being that the foreigner will go away eventually.

Flip side - when information cannot be delivered, and understood it is like you are in a silence chamber. You may try to scream - and oh oh oh

I did. Rarely in nyc but here - yes.

Sun 9/26 notes - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry....

Information from anywhere because of translation

Leaders take all the cars - no notice. Like food.

Yurong and animal walks

Bored of some - status quo

Sets welded day before - brought dress rehearsal - no pipe.

Walk the path 4 times for animals. Who does?

Keming and enkor said and as stars they do. - so new music just thrown in

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A welcome smile from our Choreographer, Ao Yun! A hometown girl from Erjina that left for the big city and has came back for our splendid week!

And the show is a big hit! Even the Army comes!

And of course, we have a party on the stage.

Ok, so her generous Mongolian love is hidden at first.

The Badge is from a famous old competition, so I'm waiting for that shoe to drop with my new friends.

She liked the show! And she is the Arts & Culture critic.....ok, maybe not.

Mon 9/27 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

The Morning/Day of Opening.....

Opening Day.....the ladies dance at dawn in the park across the street. The music of patriotic songs from the army base can be heard.

But all is quiet in the company's yurt village. Except for Song, who is still building items for the show.

Meanwhile, inside the yurt the cast gets ready.

And the outside cast prepares too!

Not all of the dreams are fulfilled as we still can't build the 100 year old yurt in a 5 minute scene in the show. Though we're still working on it.

And we had to cut this ancient cart, unless it could be pulled by an ox. And we don't have an ox.....because that is the Mongol way.

Once again, I do not know who is who in the cast, as they hide from the sun...and me!

Sponsor signs go up...........anywhere!

AND if you remember I got 24 new cast members 3 days before opening. I asked for a cast list with phone numbers and here it is. My first cast list is in Mongolian. Yep! That helps!

What's the difference between a leader and a citizen? Hmmmmm.

Don Frantz honored in small town.

And this time it's the small town in PA!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Alashan Photo Update

The YURT where they wanted Don to sleep!

Yet another banquet with singing in a YURT!

Set Construction commences in the desert!

The Mess Hall for all of the company!

And this is how they learn the music!

The cast rehearses on the stage!

Here's a sample of what the show will look like with the 1000 year old tree center stage!

Can you point out Don?

Fri 9/24 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

The choreographer and translator arrive after a 2 day journey from Hohhut…11 hour busses after other flights or busses to WuHai.

The morning is dedicated to setting the last piece in the show, but we know what the props, music and dance intend. Now the only hole is the song where I wish to see a real mongol bao, a yurt to be constructed. They love them, it is their image, they are so proud of the tradition but it is like pulling teeth, bad teeth, to get the team behind the idea. The request to start rehearsing with one 2 weeks ago was lost on bad ears. Now the yurts we have are here and the master will not show us, or the cast and crew cannot even bring themselves to try.

First answer was the owner rents and only they wish to put it up. Nobody else touches it. Ok so our scenic guy didn’t listen for the last 2 weeks. He is a TV guy that wants to fill the stage with stuff….more stuff than what’s needed, which is what they do. More the better. My intent is to open and close with only trees. A creative conflict buried in the interpretation and avoidance of conflict is now fully clear.

The producer resolves the issue and buys the yurt. 5000 rmb (850 dollars or so). It is a 100 + year old yurt. Ok…a little challenge as it is already falling apart. A 2 wheeled cart, even older, is brought in to carry the unassembled yurt across the stage before we set it up.

Lunch is spent with SiQi at the hostpital. Her brother MuRen also a lead in the show comes too. And then shows me the video of the first lift and the last fall. My body cringes …those TV bloopers and such may be just as bad but it’s different when you know the victim. And I realize for the first time how the happy sound effects on the TV shows take out the cries of pain.

Other cast members come to the room which is generally making sure it’s a happy visit so the conversation is lively and flips between mandarin and Mongolian as if they were one. I can hear the difference most times...when in doubt I know it’s Mongolian when Jiazi, the translator shrugs her shoulders.

Today is like any other show…add some costumes (which are all borrowed without regard to size or design), add some props, a pack of camels, 4 horses and it all slows down. After the second run when the cute baby camel decided that she couldn’t find her mom and walked willy-nilly all over the site, stage, audience, I had to say ‘lose the baby!’

Ji Ri is the lead in one of the 3 acts. In short – where else can you find a Chinese army sergeant who is an operatic tenor, willing to try the musical form, live in a yurt without plumbing or electricity, speaks 2 languages and can sing in 3 others, and can expertly ride a horse up and down sand dunes with ease. Where else?

The evening starts with another slowly paced rehearsal of the Silk Road caravan which we went over at dinner. When the caravan comes to the stage, it is nothing like the plan – anyone that could of jumped on any (and every) animal did...again more the better is the philosophy. Of course when the camels come to stage with lights and sound the commotion causes an immediate discharge of all waste.

So let’s try it again…according to the plan…and lose the baby camel! Asked the trainers if they have any solutions about getting the animals to dump before the show:
“can’t be done.”
“there are tricks, please ask.”
“can’t be done.”
“look I don’t know the tricks but there are animal acts all over the world that face this problem, maybe they have some ideas.”
“like what?”
“ok…here’s a new English word for you. Raking. In the circus it means standing the elephant up on their its legs, wearing a long glove and sticking your hand up its butt and pulling out the poop.”
- stunned disbelief – finally
‘wow, you’re so professional. Ok, I’ll ask.”

The evening ended with a stroll when the one and only music editor calls from a van. Deng yi xia! Wait a minute. He comes back within moments and walks with me for a beer. Phone calls to the translator confirm we go to a pool hall. This is Nasan who we desperately need to edit the music but has generally disappeared. The music director says he is not officially on the show and has just been doing favors and now…is tired of favors. But accompanying me and buying some beers is not over his limit.

At the pool hall we meet Dalai who is one of the dancers who stands on the giant bow at the end of the newly finished number. He’s a shark. And after some easy games on me and Nasan– and teaching me Shi Li , to Win, he wipes off the table and takes the victory sip – Wo shi li le!

We part with a toast to the show, good friends and I hop on the back of a motorcycle in a motorcycle helmetless country for a ride to the hotel.

Tomorrow we shift to a 2pm to 2am schedule.

Thur 9/23 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

Morning is not a combo of instant Quaker oats (honey and maple and such) and instant coffee.
Since the hotel only caters to Chinese leaders and functions of the leaders, it is very Chinese in its menu. This is always fine, except at breakfast. Their version of oatmeal would be congee but it just doesn’t give any strength to this still foreign lad.

Also in the Beijing supplies was my long missed dental floss. I could find none in inner Mongolia! The reason might be on the bottom of the floss package “made in Ireland.”
Or they just love tooth picks and there is no reason to change.

The moments after breakfast made me almost lose the breakfast. Got the call that at the ‘flying test’ for the brilliant young singer/actress/dancer Si Qi Ta Na, the cable broke. She was to be lifted up from the papa tree for about 30 seconds and the let down. They took her up about 12 feet and then she dropped. Feet, knees, and hand hitting first on the cement covered sand. She is on the way to hospital for first review before an arranged flight from the military airport to Beijing.

I watched the builders take great care to test and reinforce Mama’s swing on her tree. The steel was reinforced. The builder jumped up and down on it before the actress took her first swing. What happened? Maybe the builder didn’t listen when I said the Child Tree will be played by an adult. SiQi is the bright energy in the cast. We delight each other with both our attempts to speak the other language. She is the most pro-active performer who thrills at giving a director options that she makes up. I’m sick.

The morning rehearsal is a hodgepodge of fixes. Drudging through the morning with the cloud of the fall and waiting to hear about SiQi. At noon we do hear – there are no broken bones. She will stay in Erjina.

In the afternoon we get 2 run throughs of the show and the huge gaps are obvious. Still waiting for the Expo choreographer to do the Parade material. Still waiting for my real interpreter which is getting tense since there are now lighting, scenic, sound, costumes and props people to direct and my one translator/asst is like the great ancient black city being quickly covered by the sand dunes and disappearing in the challenge of each last minute, unforeseen (despite warnings) obstacles.

Like the one they were reminded of in our first night time rehearsal – it’s night! We can’t see backstage. Oh! And backstage is at least 300 yards behind the center tree and two sand dunes on left and right. Still we get through our first night rehearsal.

And at the end of night we hear SiQi has badly strained ligaments and tendons and muscle tissue. She will stay at the local hospital and rest. The last thing I brought myself to do was go to the rig and see what happened. The wire was crazily thin. No one considered the weight load or the standard multiple weight load when lifting a person. The assistant to the scenic guy just said he wanted it not to be seen.

Wed 9/22 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry.....(sorry for the delayed posting, but Don can't get onto the Blog from China!)

In rehearsal today...7:36am the driver arrived - ok!

The Music Team stayed up all night to synth up the "Soldier Song." Then the computer dumped and lost it. We Americans can only assume it was because of the pirated software! Since that's all there is.

2 hours into rehearsal, 4 days before show, a new actor appears. Gee! And a final run of scene, just steps into a part. Nice to know.

The other government performance at the secret space center for the afternoon is cancelled - we have our ensemble and dancers. Looking up!

Sound is available at the theater space. w0w! The third choreographer is coming, but he just started coming so it is 2 days before we rehearse his piece - the last one!

Rehearsal on stage is a hoot as the workers are pouring cement all over the sand in the audience area. Old carts of wet cement pulled by a wrapped up lady with a rope and guided by a man - mmmm.

The Chinese ladies wrap themselves from the sun..hats, scarves, sunglasses, mouth masks, gloves, scarves under the sunglasses - preserving their white beauty! Ok - but I can't tell who anybody is!

It is mid autumn festival day - a full moon holiday so evening rehearsal is cancelled for a lamb feast for the entire company.

The yurt 'camp' is walking distance from the theater. Each yurt sleeps 4 but beautiful flowers and veggie gardens all around. On the other side of the fence from the trees in the sand.

In the morning there is no hot water and the bathrooms are not open 24 hours. So the producer - who also sleeps in a yurt has grown accustom to borrowing my hotel room key to take a shower - least I can do since she let me stay in comfort of sorts.


Here's the latest show poster with the Revised Title!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mon 9/20 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

The 4th day the car didn’t show up..even after I paid the driver 100rmb and made a deal with him personally. Today I found out he gave the 100 back to my assistant who didn’t tell me. Alas.

The missing car is not a surprise. The raining drizzle was. So I was wet before I found a taxi. And the rehearsal hall was wet before I got there. The local team went around finding drips for their buckets. The wet stain from previous rains from the ceiling to the electrical breaker box was glistening.
We had a full cast arrive 30 minutes late and 30 minutes later they threw the power switch off before the wires arced. “It never rains here so we don’t take that much care about water proofing.”

Shortly thereafter we heard the power was out in the entire town.

For some American companies with experience, especially in the film biz, I heard a generalization about china – they don’t know how to problem solve. I don’t know if I would stand by such a generalization but certainly it is what I saw next. OR I might assume the general attitude was equivalent to 3 ft of snow in NYC. “It’s raining! Wow! Vacation!” it was like pulling teeth to focus and work! OR…ok there was probably a contribution to inefficiency by the amount of alcohol consumed last night. But we smiled a lot at each other remembering the dances, hugs, and songs.

I got the belt pack public address speakers (like for tour groups) when I asked for a bullhorn (another tale of miscommunication) that didn’t work.

Then my 2 bags that were left behind for 10 days in Hohhut, finally arrived at the studio. In it I had computer speakers which get power from the laptop, which has batteries of course. WE set this up for dance rehearsal, but the concept that the battery was going to run out was not comprehended. Our dear stage manager QiQiGe was assigned to turn on and off the speakers as they were needed.

We now have the 2 choreographers assigned to different scenes. That seems to work...except that one of them has such a limited range of dance…and now I’m told that the original choreographer I wanted in Hohhut will come for 2 days to help. Ok…how does that help exactly?

Ge Jian our producer who initiated the project dropped by with his Hulunbuir bother, Dong Ge and YY. We had a discussion about whether or not the Turkish dancers (with the Ambassador of Wusun) that arrive in the caravan with 8 camels, 2 horses and soldiers can be dressed in black leotards with feathers like birds..oy! Maybe we can use the 130 costumes from the Expo parade… OK, we’ll bring them all and figure it out in 2 days. See…they can problem solve!

Before lunch the cast lined up for the local leader and they were told they have rehearsal all afternoon and evening for ANOTHER SHOW on the 22nd. Also another performance on the 29th. What does this mean for us? Ok, another 2/3 of one of those 14 days is gone.

They say there is no power in the city…somehow I figured that they may turn off all the power except the hotel where all the leaders are staying for the conference in process. Yes. There is power for the leaders and my computer can recharge for the afternoon!


We worked on the last number – rearranged the song, dance and dialogue to make we just need a final chord!

Electricity came back on so we did a full run/limp thru for the Producer team of 3. Some moments were painful. We had a talk afterwards for 1 hour 15 minutes and of course with me out of the rehearsal - all stopped…lost that hour. Seems like all I do is count lost hours. The discussion was interesting…historical inaccuracies were pointed out in the story. The young actor playing the old general seemed to be a problem. YEAH! But most was the discussion about Mongolian actors performing mandarin.
Me: “Did you understand them?”
Them:“Oh, we read along no problem.”
Me:“I think that might be a problem.”
Them: “might be. Especially in the first story where they are reciting in ancient han style. We could not understand anything.’
Me:“oh, that’s the long scene, yes. What about making it shorter?”
Them: “mmmm…maybe they don’t understand the story.”
Me: “we will work on that. What about the language..”

Ok…1/2 hour later they think we can ask the writer to edit a little. But they should drill for the next 7 days too. The last point was better...maybe we open on the 28th. Maybe the 27th.
Ok…maybe the 27th. Any one experienced in China knows the terrible vagueness of ‘maybe.’

The second big topic... “what is your plan concerning the recording?”
Me: “record the chorus and the solos are live”
Lots of Chinese chatter. I know the drill…they love recording everything and watching the pretty faces lip-sync and not worry about a thing…especially when it comes down to the quality of the performer. I felt a trap coming on…get less than the best performer and force the pre-record. This is not what I nor any of the cast signed up for after our live success at the Expo with “The Promise.” Yet I saw the senior members of the cast nod their head in understanding.

Of course the subject may not have come up if the singers made any attempt to sell the songs. But, oh, they didn’t…they really didn’t. At any time in rehearsal. Of course some songs arrived 4 days ago…but the lack of any commitment scared the Leaders into ‘let’s do it the old safe way.’

I took the position ‘I didn’t come to Erjina to do a lip-sync show. And you didn’t start this work to be a follower of every past failure. You’re a leader, it is not your place to fall back.’ Ge responded, “I just asked what your plan was. You do as you think.” Gotta love him sometimes.

Later at a dinner in the yurt with the leaders to discuss more was as most dinners are in china, chit chat. It was good food though as 7 cooks were brought to Erjina to cook for the company.

My key interpreter is ready to return from Hohhut! Yeah. It takes one day to take a 7 hour bus to Wuhai and another to bus for 10 hours to Erjina. OH..but there is only a bus every other day. So she can leave on the 22nd. And get here the evening of the 24th and we have 2 whole days before opening, and 5 more days of sign language and bad chinglish.

A foot massage for 40 rmb as I wrote out the rest of the schedule to opening. Strong pressure on the foot matched the pressure on the brain.

Sat 9/18 SHOW - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry

I convinced myself that we would not open till the 28th but the party leader tonight again pledged "er hao!" Short for the fact that all will be ready from his team, a theater built by the 20th - monday!

Post script on the show - we started at 8:50pm waiting for the leaders and attendees - about 200 of them. The show was a dance after a song after a dance and of course the Teo character short play. With its special china character - local humor, tradition and insert message.

Lasting impression was the Chinese flag set piece - it was plastic! How can you do that?? The 3 strips of green grass carpet dance surface which became untaped during the male solo's 8 forte's! The rest of the show was like a glass half off the table ...waiting for someone to trip and fall. And finally living in a bilingual culture where Mandarin and Mongolian are tossed back and forth and double every speech. How narrow-minded we were in San Fernando valley of our Latino neighbors...let alone our Apache Tribe.

China has 57 native languages - how many are left in North America?

After the show, I returned to hotel after skipping lunch and having 2 Baozi for supper, craving the Quaker oats cinnamon raison oatmeal that finally arrived from Beijing courtesy of my producer. My electric hot tea pot is missing. The maids do tend to arrange things as much as my polish maid in NYC so I look. No. I thought I could do without until midnight. The front desk gal is a gem, having made it through my internet connection issues a mere week ago but no language...other than 2 or 3 that I don’t know. Luckily 3 leaders walked in...baijou fumes on their breath and anxious to help.

First they get my ‘shui’ and order water. Then beer. Then cold water...cold since I could say cold, but not the r in hot! Finally we hit on the word for electric and the word for tea. Then I say ‘wo zuotian you. Jintian meiyou.’ I had it yesterday, not today. Ohhhhhh says the hotel front desk and proceeded to explain that the teapot was taken by the show people for hot water somewhere. Oh...well they got no electricity in the yurts! So, maybe I have oatmeal at the rehearsal hall in the morning.

Ok, so I’m awake now and decide to go for a jog a few minutes before midnight. The knee still smarting from an unexpected and unwarranted choreography. A beat outside the hotel and all the street lights go dark. Only the moon. And it’s a chorus of stars with scenic by milky way. Brilliant.

Not so for the air...the trucks were rolling and it was a dilemma if it was bad exhaust efficiency or if there were nearby coal mines that they cook in the night. Nevertheless I jog in the dark with high beams in my eyes to the edge of town. Don’t worry..not that far.

Along the way one girl who was not looking up, finally saw my white skin, beyond the tank top and shorts and screamed shrieks thru the main street dust. Dui bu qi!

On the! Trucks and working, loading, unloading, an exit to the freeway near by. A breath and then a jog back with taxis frequently brushing near to offer a ride. I passed a truck in the dark, noticed a group of 6 or 7 guys crouching by the back wheel and heard the girl in midst of pain or orgasm. Both can stop a jogger in his tracks, but, after convincing myself it was the latter, I thought better. was past midnight on the fringe of a small town on the fringe of china...and I had heard that the truck stops between on route 78 between in my home state between Bethlehem and the capital have some vestiges of the oldest tradition. And so it has been for 2000 years.

Last week, my drinking buddy and shared mutton char barbeque actually told me, ‘mongolian girls are better than Beijing girls. The Japanese taught them. But you have to pay more.’ I debate whether he was trying to boost the local economy, or just blame the curse on the arch rival.

The other story/myth/boast or exaggeration is that its Mongolian custom if you visit a friend or a new stranger fast to become friend and stay over night you may get a daughter or wife to make your rest more comfortable. Only heard it here! Didn’t check Wikipedia yet.

But let’s finish with reality...I jogged past midnight, in the dark, in the poorest section of a small town. The street was filled with people walking - some back from a late dinner, some with large sacks over their back. A majority I believe part of the migrant labor force that has come to the expanding area. Helping the city prepare for their 6th Hu Yuan Tree Festival - in fact building a theater in the woods in 9 days. They are undoubtedly the poor of the poor in this booming country, generally made great on the back of these people. One quai..14 cents, is a big deal. They are weathered faces, unflattering shapes, smoking, drinking muscle.

The recent news about China buying US goods to make nice in homage to the trade deficit I believe is a diversion around our suggestion that China adjust their currency. They will not, not to keep an edge on foreign trade, but to not have to pay more for the millions of these wandering souls. My theory alone.

So some have been drinking, some may be bedless, some may be lonely and frustrated (I know) and yet there is not a smidge of apprehension in my gate. None. Since 1990when I threw away my new Gillette electric razor container in a Beijing hotel, and 3 weeks later it was delivered to me in Nanjing (because I didn’t put it in the trashcan), I have kept the belief that as crazy as they are in business, the Chinese people are amazingly free of the lawlessness that ..well…that I experienced last month when I left $1000 in my carry on bag, that I quickly decided to check at the Istanbul airport. me na├»ve.


Sat 9/18 Morning - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

And now my key translator is on a bus in the desert. The other english speakers in senior management were recouping from hangovers from their welcome party.

There's no car to pick me up and so the county leader who greets the guests every morning outside the government hotel watched me walk out the drive looking for a car again.

8:15am - Nothing is happenning. Half of the staff have not arrived, including the music director and asst who were to choreograph the 'Construction Dance.' I choreograph. Ha!

The new choreographer is not to come until tomorrow to help. The leader's son came at 9am, and, wow, pitched right in. Ok, he may work out! Oh, and he gets things done because he is THE leader's son! That's a lesson.

We do Act 1 and 2 run thrus. All raw music - like pop songs. No timing for talks, entrances, internal dialogue. Did I say that every 2 min or so a horrible grating buzz comes through the rehearsal room speakers? They point to the power lines outside and then shrug their shoulders. Nothing we can do. Mmm. Electromagnetic radiation? What are the codes here?

Taxi to theater site. More towers up, stage floor, sand filled in. More sand for more audience. Lots of dead trees in the last 3000 years for site decor. A power line. Green fence perimeter going up. Sheep pen built. Road work continues to refine and the cement on sand. That may work too!

Taxi man saw me take these set photos, so, deciding that I was a tourist, drove me back to studio past the 2 other monuments to take photos. So proud. He didn't say a word. Sweet.

Haha. We don't have a choreographer! This - well you gotta watch us try just so you know.

We patched together Act 3 and found a guy to edit the music. Wow, especially good since I heard today that the composer may come...on opening night! The lyricist is calling in the instructions that he wants. Two more songs arrive today, with still one missing.

From 3pm to 5pm we rehearse the vocal solos. The accompanist is fresh out of the Beijing Music Conservatory, and asked if I thought the lead man's solo was good enough. I said something innocuous. She said GOOD - I wrote it! What?? "Keming the lyricist/writer asked me to write it this morning. It's mine!"

A happy camper!

Break at 5:30pm and walk long blocks to cafe....we are sitting in empty cafe for 90 minutes waiting for food! I edit the script....and then 7 days before first show - just off the bus comes the Choreographer! She is from Alashan - the county that Erjina is in. I find that the local choreographer is a student of hers. That's comforting - we traded up. She has not seen a musical but has seen dvds of ballets. I am sure she is phenomenal at mongolian.

The local dancers and singers left at 3pm for their government show tonite.

Of course at 7:08pm I am invited to the very important 8pm show. It is in THE theater of the town built into the new government building in the new section of the in every city...the new government district.

It is a classic party cultural event. The back 3 rows are filled with soldiers an hour before the show to fill up the theater. The first 4 rows have a table with flowers and fruit for the county leaders. The show is subtitled "The Gala Performance for the Communication Experience Relating to the Party's Organization." So I suspect we are waiting for the leaders to come from the conference dinner. The official title is "september open sing." This is what a small town performance company does. Shows for leaders and the shows for the people...traveling around the country and giving shows...or as the head leader from erjina said "instructing in the party's messages."

Show time!

Fri 9/17 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

This is day 4th of rehearsal…it started at 1am when my translator and assistant called to say that she had to return to Hohhut today for a short time. Since it is a 9 hour drive to the nearest airport and a 16 hour drive to Hohhut, it means she will be gone at least for the next 4 days - out of the 10 day rehearsal schedule.

I have recent graduates from the Beijing Drama and Music Academies who know a little English and use every opportunity not to use it. And Curly who I have known for 3 years arrived for the first day of rehearsals, But Jiazi’s knowledge about me after the Expo show, and her temperament, and dedication and focus to the show is without match.

I was up till 4am...wondering I only get anxious when I am not understood. I only get mad when I get anxious. Jiazi leaving is a recipe for "Out comes the ugly American."

She showed up at rehearsal at noon. She went to get a ticket at 6am for the one and only bus out of town. At 11 am she could not get on the bus, but scored one for tomorrow. Got her for another day.

In the meantime the team responded by calling a recent grad from masters in the west. He missed the days rehearsal, wished not to be at the evening planning meeting, had to go to the leaders dinner to ‘pay respect’ to the local hosts. Got plastered and came to the meeting. The meeting was all about making sure he didn’t fall over. The deference to a leader‘s son was choice china. Someone whispers to me… ‘he’s had a bit too much. They made him drink.’ Yeah! I know! Do you want to tell him???

FYI...You can’t do a business planning dinner in china - the table moves, there are too many glasses of liquor varieties, add the soups with heads down when slurping noodles, and no one has food on their plate. You all reach for each chopstick of squeezed food.

Nothing like holding a big mac and dreaming big.

As I was told yesterday, the male dancers would not be rehearsing this morning!

I chalked out in the desert on the parking lot 3 sections. Map reading is not an inherent skill - no wonder there were all the border wars in the last 3000 years.

I LOVE rehearsing camels. No double translations to Mongolian - just PULL THE ROPE. Ok!

Friday, September 17, 2010

bye bye French Interns

You were amazing! We had a blast! Good luck in all your endeavors!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thurs, 9/16 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

Everything today was almost like a real rehearsal. I asked for some variety in the simple dances like, oh a lift. I watched boys trying to figure out how to lift a girl the first time. They probably saw it on tv. The most adventurous went for it. Crashed under the girl and limped out of rehearsal.

So all was typical USA. Until they told us that the cast is doing a show for the government and will miss to tomorrow night, the next morning and the following afternoon.

That's one of 10 days!

We are rehearsing in a small room with no sense of space. We will mark the desert trees in the parking space tomorrow.

A trip to the site. After 4 days of mishaps in road building, a semitruck of bricks, a truck of cement, a bulldozer start churning up the smooth slopes of the sand! 50 laborers with hats and bandanas holding shovels. Steel pipe going up for the light. And an 'experiment' where they just pour cement over the desert sand. Ok. And the bulldozer has extended the audience area with a rake going up at least 4feet higher from the original.

That's all great of course, except if we now that we could run over a twig of a tree sapling with a man made mountain there would have been more than 5 better sites.

But the money is spent here now and by gosh with a little chinese labor slapping together brick and shoveling sand we will have an outdoor theater reminiscent of the Lost Colony.

And here's the installation of the trap door.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don's show in the Desert

Until you see the poster, you can't imagine what all the hubbub is about these trees, and yes, that is their English translation!

Wednesday 9/15/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

Morning after up til 4am preparing all the SM materisals (costume charts, etc.)

Rehearsal #1 car made extra stops.. Claustrophobia flip out..

Director 5 min speech is a full excruciating actor Read thru

Lead actor takes role of one line...not good at mandarin

No piano work - copies for 30 thrown away - sofeg

No choreo. But they have bought a piano and the magic stick is promised in pm

Lunch spent choreographing - the composer is free form - no counts of 8 here. Probably a trait of long tones.

Touring site. Ha. Climbing hills.

Half of the boys ride horses! Only one girl rides a camel - all a dying tradition.

Dirt bikes by the dancers!

Dancing in sand - all different in wet sand!

Road starts being built on the set to the right of the stage.

First rehearsal. Great focus respect and QUiet! Wow. Hard to remember the count in chinese - the oldest reflex to undo.

Helps to have lyrics on a big board! Instant cue cards.

And the the stage manager who asked by gesture if I was going to add any hip grinds and stripper classic moves. She smiled the whole day at me.

Food is coming. - an hour later no food. 30 min later we are arrive at cafe - our food on shelf while everyone eats. Ok

Leave translator at cafe to eat..rush back and no 3 actors ..... Ok

YY - we get SM. ....ok...

Tuesday 9/14/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry:

Sheep at 8am.
Third truck stranded.
Stones arrived for the road.

Horses at 2:30pm and the opera tenors can ride the horses up and over the sand hills while singing. Cool!

Dinner and the Hohhut actors arrived - 3 more than I thought - great. And a crew. But no stage manager.

Oh and a guy asking about light and sound. - turns out to be a new vendor and designer - ha competitve bid with 2 weeks to go! So evidently nothing has started on tech. Ha! That killed us.

I got 4 songs. Out of 12. Not bad for day 1 of rehearsal. And the composer isn't in the room.

Monday 9/13/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

Morning camels. Plus we have a baby. The sacred trees for us - no twig touched are ravished by the camels pulling down limbs 8 at a time.

The trenches dug by hand in the sand for cables 2 feet deep are lept over.
Everyone speaking Mongolian. Maps are made for the route but...not easy either.

Lunches gradually a little more work. Added the girl singers.

YY told a Beijing composer to start writing. Whoopee another composer that doesn't know the show. Also going to film company to rent costumes for dynasties.

The sand road "needs another material". Oh. Not just sand?

2:30 4:30 is Camel Practice. I asked if the trainers will never miss a show. Absolutely not!

The new asst director came - with jire and all. I talked thru show. He said LED screen? No. Ta shouts 'impossible!'

Sunday 9/12/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry...

Woke for a run. - garbage truck playing happy birthday. Meeting with an actor at his house! Its a freaking audition - no its lunch. Ok. Actually a block from hotel the crabby alley led to blue painted door led to courtyard with pear trees to the old brick home. Inside a mirroed ceiling and mongol decorations in gold trim and of course a wedding pic .
The perf arts leaders parents in law. Previously leaders. 50 year anniversary. The leader when in 1958 the town was moved for the space station. Because party gave rice and a hospital. Before that only lamb and milk.
The grandaughter enters - the local tv producer.
And - we're speaking mongolian. The friend a man of intence angles and dark skin. He is multitalented sing , play, wrestle, build yurt, animals (camel and horse and sheep), history and deliver 400 babies.
Have tea anytime.
Write and build lists all day. The power stayed on.

Morning blocking notes and waking jiazi and yurong at 2pm during their nap.

The 8 music files were only 6 and actually just variations of 2 songs. Oh boy!

Afternoon to see costumes not like those in movie - a scheme. The oldest ladies in the county. Like the morning leader mom! 13 gals 50 to 90. And then they stay singing. Now this is an audition.
Batas is directing. One is his mother. Others are gao wa' aunts. They know the old songs. 3 tumes.
Showing off they costumes like princess. "The girls". Yes! They are in. No they will not be recorded - live. 2 sang for Mao.

Batar dancing and playing. The x leader joy$
The old want to celebrate - the young don't want to show themselves on stage. Mmmm.

I skipped dinner to figure out the rest of the staging and fill in pieces. Done at 845pm and then meeting till 11 with waxue yi.
A long long crazy list for 10 days.

I asked for camels asap. A music edit tech, cold beer (a frig) a yurt to assemble and a tree cast.
Tomorro I have 9 am camels. I met a music tech. The yurt has to come from hohhut and at 1am I found a sidewalk bbq with cold beer.


Saturday, 9/11/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

Don and one of his many trips to the GREAT WALL!

Thank goodness he read this sign before he visited!

Friday, 9/10 - Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China

From Don's Blackberry:
1pm no power! For second day in row. It came on around 3pm like yesterday does the electricity take a siesta too? So much for bucking the system!

Don Frantz is West of the Gobi Desert!

And no, I'm not kidding! I'll be posting his daily quips that I receive from his Blackberry along with some interesting photos!

The show that he's producing/creating/directing is an outdoor spectacle in a town west of the Gobi Desert (8 hour drive through sand!). Here, once a year for 2 weeks in October, the trees turn such a vibrant color that hundreds of thousands of people flock. The government, realizing that they should start entertaining the tourists, want to create an outdoor spectacle. So who should they turn to, but our dear friend, Don Frantz! With people, horses, camels, sheep and goat at his disposal, well, it'll be fabulous to see what he comes up with. Hope you enjoy reading his notes and seeing his pictures as much as I do!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

KATONGA closes after 10k performances!

It's been over 6 years since Town Square and its creative team installed KATONGA at Busch Gardens, Tampa. The award winning show made break throughs by bringing Broadway talent to the brand's African Themed Park. After 10,000 shows and over 1,000 performers, the show closed September 2010.