Junyi School of Innovation’s production of the beloved musical, Little Shop of Horrors, took place in July 2020. Over a short span of ten weeks, Junyi’s 11th graders put together an impressive show. The production was a collaboration involving each of the senior high school’s three innovative studies programs, Contemporary Arts, Green & Sustainable Architecture, and Hospitality, which aim to offer the opportunity for self-exploration, the opportunity to inspire talents as well as to foster good character, life competencies, and work ethic and skills. With the stage designed and constructed by students of the Green & Sustainable Architecture program, and refreshments prepared by students of the Hospitality program, the collaboration furthered the experience and success of the musical.
The Little Shop of Horrors was a production led by a team of renowned actors and Co-founder of Comedians Workshop, Wang Chuan, who offers mentorship to help develop Junyi’s Modern Arts’ theatre program and takes the lead in coaching drama students. Through drama, students are encouraged to let go of self-consciousness and challenged to express themselves freely in their roles. They learn to be mindful of non-verbal communication, how even fundamental positions such as standing is a form of their expression to the audience and the world.
At the auditions, judges were particularly impressed by the potentials and level of commitment students demonstrated. Judges not only sought for the best fit between the role and the actor, but also fit students into roles and situations that allowed them to thrive. Students were also encouraged to take on roles that vastly differed from their own characters which pushed them to step outside of their own comfort zones.
With theatre class taking place once a week, students had in total just ten days to make costumes, props, practice dance routines and rehearse a script that had over 90 pages of English. Each student was faced with their own challenge, from reciting lines in a foreign language to playing roles out of their innate characters, yet they persevered with Wang’s wisdom that ‘freedom on-stage comes from self-discipline off-stage.’ They were inspired to consider what they can appreciate from their struggles rather than complaining about them. Days before the opening of the musical, under immense pressure the lead actor lost control of his temper at rehearsal. The instructor addressed the incident constructively coaching students to accept and face their emotions rather than to hide from them.
Students playing more minor roles who had gaps in between their time on stage, used the time to reflect on and hone their performances as well as helped handle crises on stage. One of the greatest challenges faced at the opening performance was the malfunctioning of character Audrey II’s microphone headset. When switched to a handheld microphone on stage for the first time, the actor overcame his anxiety impressing the audience. In the second performance on the same day, though exhausted, students gave the performance of their lives. They endured through the final mile as they did in their Outdoor Education Program’s year-end challenges.
Working with students long-term is a first for Wang and her team. Accustomed to short-term drama camps and workshops where the focus is on honing performance skills and the motivation is high, they learned the differences in working with a group of youths long-term. They learned that supporting students in their different states and creating a deep bond is key to nurturing trust and inspiring true growth and courage within the students.
In the short ten weeks, there were many breakthroughs. Students demonstrated great courage, respect, time management, self-discipline and teamwork.