Andrew Beal exits the stage during a Young Actors Theatre camp rehearsal Wednesday at the Imperial Centre. The annual theater program stages 'Tales from a Chinese Studio' this weekend.
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Telegram photo / Adam Jennings

Andrew Beal exits the stage during a Young Actors Theatre camp rehearsal Wednesday at the Imperial Centre. The annual theater program stages 'Tales from a Chinese Studio' this weekend.

Young Actors Theatre readies summer show

By Tyler Kes
Staff Writer

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For two nights this weekend, the Imperial Centre will transport theater goers to the strange and wonderful world of Chinese opera.

The production, loosely adapted from “Tales from a Chinese Studio” by Pu Songling, is produced by the center’s Young Actors Theatre program.

“We are doing some of these stories, some selected stories, and we are using Chinese opera techniques, so it should be interesting and cool,” director David Nields said.

The show actually is nine different tales, some direct adaptations and others original works, all about characters common to Chinese mythology, including fox spirits, water demons and murderous ghosts, Nields said.

“They’re these very strange ghosts stories that are unfamiliar to us,” he said. “There are ghosts and fox spirits, some sort of ghosts that are full of water. Sort of painted skin and things like that. Demons wearing people’s skin. I think it will be cool and interesting.”

The program is a three-week camp for students ages 13 to 18, and provides them with something very important in theater: confidence, Nields said.

“Basically it gives the kids confidence,” he said. “That is the basic goal. Confidence and ability in front of a group of kids. Ownership over the creation of the show, but it also is to introduce them to different cultures and styles of theater.”

It also gives the students an opportunity to work on all aspects of the show, including writing the script, Nields said.

“I think one of the things I like about this camp is that we really get to work on this together, that it is not me bringing in a script, it is they are writing the dialogue,” he said. “Some of the coolest parts of the story they came up with.”

This level of creative control is part of the reason the program is as enjoyable as it is, said Morgan Cobb, a recent graduate of Northern Nash High School who spent five years in the program.

“Before the show starts, we kind of write the show,” she said. “He (Nields) will give us stories and we kind of split off into groups and act them out on our own, then he will pick and choose the pieces he likes and push it all together. So the show is not like a scripted show, it is our show.”

The amount of control sometimes backfires, but most of the time is very enjoyable, Nields said.

“You never know what the script is going to be like,” he said. “Some of them can be kind of hit or miss. I have been here for five years and it is always some of the coolest stuff I do all year round. It is experimental.”

Many of the 16 students, such as Hunter Nines, an eighth-grade home-schooled student from the Battleboro community, previously had been in the PlayShop theater camp, which is for younger students.

The jump to the older camp is exciting and challenging, he said.

“You get to use your imagination more,” Nines said. “You get to be more creative with the stories and put more creativity in it.”

The main draw of this production, Cobb said, is the open window to a new culture.

“Theater is like a good cultural thing that everybody needs in their life,” she said. “I would say it is a good way to be familiarized with a bunch of Chinese traditional stories that are very interesting but are not typical for the American stage.”

The performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Imperial Centre.

Tickets are $6.