Do you know why professional Chinese Opera performers are known as Children of the Pear Garden? The young actors at BEAT Children’s Theatre do! As part of their current production of Disney’s Mulan Jr., this group of talented people are learning all about Ancient China, the history of Chinese theatre and music and themes that define and unite cultures all over the world.
The legend of Mulan, brought to life and to the attention of audiences all over the world by Disney’s animated film in 1998, is a hundreds of years old story from which to begin conversations about the important of tradition, and what happens when someone shatters one. The staff and directors at BEAT are using this story, and this bombastic musical production, to bring alive some of the beautiful traditions of Chinese theatre and culture right here in Bend.
“None of us have enough background or experience to produce a proper Chinese Opera performance,” said Bree Beal, executive director at BEAT, “but we love to take the opportunity to engage our students in another culture through story, music and song!”
The music to which these actors (ranging in age from 8-18) will perform is not live, but prerecorded. This is often considered a lesser quality experience in theatre, but in the case of Disney’s Mulan Jr, Musical Director Angelina Annello-Denne considers is quite an advantage. Why? Because the original orchestration was written to incorporate many traditional Chinese instruments that we would be unlikely to find in Central Oregon. Through this production the actors of BEAT have had the opportunity to learn about and perform with these beautiful musical sounds.
The energetic and joyful choreography by Jennifer Morgan includes elements of martial arts right alongside some good old fashioned Broadway-style dancing. Add to that a set that changes from a small Chinese village to a mountain pass to the Imperial Palace, a Mulan that competes in Equestrian Archery in real life, and a tiny dragon that may actually breath fire…and the story of Mulan will bring tears and laughter to all who see it.
Emperor Ming Huang of the Tang Dynasty (years 618-907 AD) believed so strongly in the importance of the performing arts that he built a performing arts school in the gardens of the Imperial Palace, which became the birth place of what is known today as Chinese Opera. Its location in the palace gardens resulted in it being known as the Pear Garden, and all its disciples as the “Children of the Pear Garden.”
It is traditional for a portrait of Ming Huang to sit at the front of the stage during a performance of Chinese theatre…and in honor of that tradition he will grace the stage of BEAT’s performances of Disney’s Mulan Jr.
The production will be staged at the auditorium at Summit High School, May 5-14.