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McGill Annual Drama Production: A Chat with The Birds Actor

This year, the English department at McGill will present Yvette Nolan's The Birds which is a modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic comic fantasy. Yvette Nolan as the director and the playwright, explores this classic through the lens of the Indigenous community. Since the production will soon be performed at Moyse Hall at the end of November, I interviewed one of the actors, Xin Shu, to share her experience with The Birds from the perspective of an actor. 

Huirui Zhang for Her Campus (HC McGill): Hi, Xin Shu, thanks for sharing your experience with us today! So, in your opinion, what special characteristics do you think helped you get the role in The Bird? How did you make yourself stand out in the competitive auditions?

Xin Shu: I think I can stand out from the audition because of 3 reasons.

First is because I am a Chinese classical dancer. The production of The Birds needs actors who know different styles of dance and my Chinese style of dancing is unique.

The second is because my Chinese background. The director wants cast actors who speak various language. And in the context of The Birds, the historical background for the two surveyors are Chinese immigrants. So I matched the requirement.

The last point, which I think is the most determining reason is that I did a great performance during the audition. The director, Yvette Nolan comments on my performance saying it was very moving and the dramaturg, Julie Berger, even thought I was a professional actor, but the truth is The Bird is the second drama play I participate in. Since I used bilingual languages during the audition, the director even added some lines in Mandarin into the script for my assigned characters.

HC McGill: You have mentioned that the director Yvette Nolan is the figure dramatist you have learned about in your class. How do you feel about working with her in the actual production? Does the experience fulfill your imagination about her?

Xin Shu: Before I actually met Yvette Nolan, she was just an image in my mind. I saw her pictures online thinking that she might be a serious person and hard to get close to. However, to my surprise, she is actually an open and welcoming person. Her special way of auditioning still left me with a strong impression. During her audition process, instead of making us perform monologues or dialogues, she started with a warm-up dance to let us relax our voices and body, which efficiently reduce my nervousness and awkwardness. (This is also the reason why I performed well, because I was in my most relaxing state). This kind of audition is rarely seen, and I am so grateful that I can have her as the director. She really helps the actors to improve.


HC McGill: What is unique about this production? Since Yvette Nolan is both the playwright and the director, how do you think about her directorical idea of the play? Does her playwriting perspective bring new interpretation of her own play during the rehearsal?

Xin Shu: I think The Birds is a unique production because it demonstrates multiculturalism while respect to individuality. The whole production has its own tone but actors still have space to interpret differently and insert their own thoughts. Also, The Birds is narrated through the perspective of birds. In the story, humans are actually the invader instead of the saver. Since, our director, Yvette Nolan is the playwright herself, she understands the context and themes of the play in a greater depth; she can transform the text to the stage more concisely. In addition, she can explain the creating process behind each character and provide more details for each role. For example, my role is a surveyor who is originally a Chinese worker who helped building the national railway in Canada. As an immigrant, the surveyor hates colonialism, so that he won’t pick the side of government. This kind of explanation help me to understand my role deeper. 


HC McGill: Finally, talk a little bit about the character you play in The Birds. What is your interpretation about the character? Is it challenging for you to perform?

Xin Shu: For my role in The Birds, as I mentioned before, I am the surveyor but I also plays the role of Crane.

The surveyor was a Chinese worker on the railway. So my own interpretations about him is that, mentally he is unpleased about the government but because he has to survive, so he chooses to be silent and continues to work.

About the role of Crane, it is my own choice. At first, the director asked us to pick a indigenous birds to portray, and I picked crane. Crane in Chinese culture has many symbolic meanings. It often associate with a good wish for somebody to live a longer life. Also, since cranes in real life are elegant birds, I think my Chinese style of dancing will suit their characteristic (another reason is because they look beautiful and cute!! LOL,(ᴗ❛ᴗ❛ั∗)◞✺ ). In Chinese dancing, we often wear a type of vertical-long sleeves. This element is used in the costume of crane.

Back to this character in the play, she is part of the younger generation of the birds’ society. She is somehow innocent but curious for new information. She is full of energy and loves listening to story. She hasn't build up her own identity, so she will obey what elders order her to do, and doesn't have her own opinions. These are my understandings of my roles so far. Since we are still developing characteristics during the process, the audience won’t get a full view of the story until the show day. So I hope everybody can come to see our amazing production and these questions will all be answered through our actual performance.



Images Provided by Interviewee.

Interviewee originally answered in Chinese, translated by Huirui Zhang.


Original Chinese Answers:

1、我觉得我在试戏中stand out有几个原因。一是因为我会中国古典舞,而The Birds需要会不同舞蹈的演员,古典舞是比较小众而有特色的。我之前申请进入ARTISTA项目,也有一部分原因是因为我会古典舞。二是因为我是中国人,而The Birds中两个surveyors,其中一个早先的构思就是中国人。同时我会说中文,The Birds希望cast会不同语言的演员。第三点也是最重要的一点,我在试戏中的表演表现的很出色,甚至获得了掌声。而在获得角色之后,导演Yvette Nolan说我当时的表演非常moving。而dramaturg Julie Berger也以为我演了很多年话剧。虽然The birds是我第二个舞台剧,第一个话剧。当时表演的一段是用了中英双语,也许也是因为那段出色的演出,导演在surveyor的角色上给我加了一段中文的台词。以上只是我个人的特色,而我获得觉得的基础还是因为这些特点正好是The birds looking for的。导演希望来自不同背景的,会不同语言和舞蹈的演员。如果是其他的话剧,我很可能不契合角色。


2、在实际见到Yvette Nolan之前,她只是我脑海中想象的人物,离我很远。在网上看到她的图片时又觉得她可能会很严肃,不好接近。但第一次在试戏中看到时和我想象中的完全不一样,是特别和蔼可亲的人。我印象最深的就是试戏的模式,不像绝大部分话剧,是一个人准备十几分钟甚至几分钟念一段独白,又或是几个人单纯的对戏。Yvette的试戏好像是表演课一样,试戏是一整个小时,几个人一起。最开始先热身,放松肢体和声音,消除紧张感。也会最快的和对手熟悉起来,不会觉得过于陌生和尴尬。等一开始准备工作充足了,最后才开始对戏,这个时候整个人比较放松,状态也比较好。这也是我试戏表现好的另一个原因。而这样的试戏模式是非常罕见的,我只在乌尔善的封神三部曲(Fengshen Trilogy)试戏中见到过,而那是一个投资¥30亿,总周期达10年的电影。所以我特别感动能遇到这样的导演,这种试戏模式对演员的帮助极大。也让我明白成功的人必有她过人之处。


3、我觉得这个production最大的特点在于它的多样性,非常个性化的统一。整个production有一个统一的基调,但是演员还是能最大限度保留自己的特点。还有就是The Birds是以birds的角度来讲述一个故事,而“人”反而是入侵者。所以也会给观众一个不一样的视角。我觉得导演同时是编剧的情况下,导演对于剧本本身的理解一定是更加全面并深刻的,可以更准确的表现出剧本想要表达的内容,而不会有大的偏差。而且许多细节都了然于心。比如我演的surveyor的人物背景,是在Chinese 在加拿大殖民时期 build railway时,有一句话叫“every meter of the railway has a body under it”(具体的词记不清了,不过是这么个意思)。当Yvette告诉我这个背景时,对我对于surveyor这个人物的理解和表演是有极大帮助的。当时在加拿大的很多中国人都来自香港或广州,那时也是处于被殖民状态。所以surveyor并不会站在加拿大当时的权利机构那边,但他也不认识birds,不会站在birds那边。更多的只是对于自己现状的不满。写剧本时,每一个角色的出现和角色的行动都是一个选择,而这个选择是基于编剧自身庞大的知识和见解。导演想要完全理解剧本所有的选择,需要极大的research的工作,但还是很容易忽视一些细节,或理解有偏差。所以同时是编剧和导演的情况下,对于文本的把握一定是更强的。


4、我在The Birds中扮演surveyor和crane。Surveyor在前一个问题中有所提及。因为他是当时被殖民背景下来到加拿大做苦力的中国人,所以我对他的理解是他对于加拿大政府是有许多不满的,他对于自己的工作也是抱怨重重,可是他没有什么选择,只能竟可能生存下去。那在表演上他的行为和反应,都是基于当下生存的最优选,不会去考虑今天以后的事(不能剧透太多)。Crane是我自己的选择。一开始被casted as a bird,但没有具体说是什么鸟,只要求是indigenous birds。选择crane一部分是因为我学的舞蹈有不少是模仿鹤的动作的;一部分原因是鹤在中国传统文化中有许多美好的寓意,比如长寿、吉祥等;还有很大的原因是鹤长得非常好看(哈哈哈哈哈)。中国舞中有很多需要广袖,这也被放在了crane的服装设计中。我去试过一次,超级超看!现在非常期待成品。目前我对于crane作为一个角色的理解是,她是birds群体中的younger generation,对于以前发生的很多事情都不知道,有些听说过的故事都是一知半解。比较好奇,略带活泼,特别喜欢听故事。她对于“人”会带来的害处不是特别清楚,对于“人”提出的一些建议比较好奇。她还没有builds up her own identity,所以很多时候年长的birds说什么就做什么,不是特别的有主见,也去不会坚持一些想法。但是现在对于crane的人物还没有建立完整,会在之后的排练中不断补充和调整。希望大家都来看amazing的The Birds呀!


image obtained from: https://www.bizhizu.cn/photoview/3673/5.html

other images provided by the interviewee

Huirui Zhang

McGill '22

a "mom" friend: if you need a hug, I will return with all my love. a theatre dreamer: a Disco ball falls into the dark forest, somebody gives a lights shot, and then the magic appears. I want to be the person who turn the lights on. a sensitive 18-year-old girl, experiencing brand new university life.
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