Beatrix Potter in China

In July of 2019, Chicago Children’s Theatre traveled to Beijing to perform in the 9th Annual China National Children’s Theatre Festival, an event sponsored by China’s Ministry of Culture and hosted by China National Theatre for Children (CNTC). CCT’s The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party was part of a multi-week line up of TYA productions from 20 countries and regions across the world, and was the first show from the United States to be included in the festival. Woohoo!

The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party is an annual tradition at CCT, and tours Chicago’s schools, libraries, and cultural organizations throughout the year. The highly interactive show features classic Beatrix Potter stories with iconic animal characters like Peter Rabbit, told through a series of handmade mechanized sculptures. Levers are pulled and cranks are turned to reveal images that surprise and delight. The entire piece is underscored with original music played live by a single musician on mandolin, violin, toy piano, and banjo.

Carefully, we packed close to 100 handmade puppets into our suitcases, along with set pieces specially modified to fold up and fit in our luggage, and flew for 15 hours around the world. Our group included Jacqui Russell (CCT artist director), Will Bishop (director), Grace Needlman (designer and co-creator), Kay Kron and Lara Carling (co-creators and performers), Ray Rehberg (co-creator, composer and performer), and Becca Jeffords (lighting designer). The same creative team has been working on this show together since it premiered in 2015, so we were ok being on a very long flight together!

Performing in China is an experience we will never forget. Translators in Beijing and Jinan helped us communicate with technicians, greet our patrons, and provided subtitles during the show. The children especially loved the moments for audience participation! After the performance, we took pictures with families and invited them to get a closer look at our puppets, just like we do in Chicago. All in all, we performed the show for sold out houses 4 times in Beijing and 2 times in Jinan, reaching over 1,500 people! Jacqui Russell met with CNTC leadership to discuss future opportunities for partnership.

When we weren’t on stage, we enjoyed exploring China. We saw The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and The Great Wall; explored Hutong market places; ate hand pulled noodles, hot pot, traditional Uyghur kebab, dumplings (of course), and balloon lollipops made of molten sugar shaped into animals before our eyes. We quickly made friends with a CNCT intern, Electra Hu, who took us to shops and restaurants we never would have found on our own. A few months later, Electra brought her many creative talents to Chicago for an internship at CCT!

The goal of the China National Children’s Theatre Festival is to “meet on the magnificent stage with arts, sincerity and responsibility, to lighten the hearts of children, fly their dreams and strengthen our international friendship and cooperation.” We found this beautiful sentiment echoed throughout our journey in the generosity of our hosts and the enthusiasm of our audiences. We were deeply honored to participate in the festival and had an amazing time in China.

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