Just Like A Butterfly

by Lucia Xiaoran Zhu

It seems like the butterfly is always a popular metaphor choice in eastern theme stories, from the Chinese folktale The Butterfly Lovers (Chinese: Liang Zhu) to Puccini’s most well known opera Madame Butterfly (which inspired M. Butterfly). While most people compare the butterfly to a woman who is beautiful, delicate, and fragile, I prefer to see it as a figure that is struggling with her assigned destiny changing from one state to another, as are both Cho-Cho-San (heroine of Madame Butterfly) and Song Liling (heroine of M. Butterfly). Song Liling’s story sounds dramatic and audiences may doubt the truth of her experience. How similar is it to the real life story?

LuciaWhether or not you think this is true, the pain people suffered during the Cultural Revolution of 1960s China is immeasurable. And in that unconscionable 10 years, many people’s lives were changed permanently. My grandmother is one of those people whose destiny was hugely changed by China’s Cultural Revolution.

My grandmother had two dreams when she was young: to be a writer, and to be an engineer. Women in her generation who received a good education are rare to see in 1950s China, since most of the Chinese were still facing hunger at that time. She is not only knowledgeable in classical and western literature, but also adept in solving mathematical problems. Even now when she is well into her seventies, she is still able to tutor my little cousin’s high school algebra mathematics. She is the one who first read theatre stories to me when I was still in preschool, and I still remember the first Chinese drama she read to me was Thunderstorm. The first Western drama I know from her was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Though she was a brilliant woman, all the universities rejected her application. The only reason was because of her background: she was a daughter of a capitalist. Capitalism was a sharp word. Chinese society had accepted that it was reasonable to force those who embraced it to live like dirt because, as M. Butterfly’s Comrade Chin says, “you lived above common people” and should feel shame. I have to say my grandmother was lucky that she wasn’t hurt. Since she was just a student and didn’t live with her “capitalist” family, the red guards didn’t harm her physically, though she was robbed of the opportunity to receive higher education and could not realize her dream of becoming an engineer. Later, for a more stable life, she chose to go to work in a fabric factory as one of the “Proud Labor”.

Reading is my grandmother’s hobby, but all literature books from Western countries (especially Britain, America, France) were forbidden in China during the Cultural Revolution because they are “poisons from capitalist countries”. Therefore, the only way my grandmother could read literature was to borrow from her sister’s husband, a general in the Navy whose position was high enough to have these restricted materials at home. My grandmother told me that she wrapped those books with many pieces of newspaper, to make the book titles invisible so that no one would know that she is reading something forbidden. And everyday when she took a break from working on the machine, she would just find a remote corner, reading books quietly until her break ended.

Time flies fast when you have to spend most of your time struggling to earn a better living, with no time to devote to fulfilling your own dreams. Being a factory worker will not allow you to have much time to write a book, especially when you have two children to educate. For my grandmother, when she finally realized that she was dreaming to be a writer and an engineer, she was already old. My grandfather passed away in February this year, which was a shock for my grandmother and it also worsened her health: she has not been able to read or write since that time. Now she can only spend her time watching TV or going to the theatre to watch the Chinese Opera or theatre production. This summer she was complaining to me about how Thunderstorm has become a comedy in modern audiences’ eyes since the time has changed so much. I hope one day I can produce a play for my grandmother, I hope one day I can be capable enough to tell a beautiful story to her as what she did to me many many years ago.

M. Butterfly means more than a normal IU Theatre main stage production for me, I spend all my love and passion on this play, and I feel grateful that this play allows me to make connections with both my multi-cultural background and skills I obtained in the past two decades. Every minute I work for this production makes me feel how wonderful my life is with theatre. Personally, “butterfly” reminds me of my grandmother, who could not say “no” to all the unfairness she was given. This play, M. Butterfly just like a mirror that reflects those political events my grandmother might have gone through long ago.

As an assistant director, each time when I come to the rehearsal, watching this story performed live in front of me, I am reminded that no matter if it is a celebrity’s theatrical story like Song Liling’s or a common person’s story like my grandmother’s, the truth is they did actually happen in real history.

If you are available from Oct. 24th to Nov. 1st, please come to join us at the Wells-Metz Theatre to watch David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly! It is a fantasy. It is reality. Give us a chance, and we will fulfill Song Liling’s promise to “further expand your mind!”

Many thanks to our director Prof. Murray McGibbon who offers me this opportunity to work on M. Butterfly; I have an intuition that this production will change my life. And also special thanks to our department’s former faculty Prof. Fontaine Syer, who is the one that brought me back to the stage again.

Posted in Department of Theatre + Drama, Guest Blogger, IU Theatre | Leave a comment

IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance welcomes Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown

Nyama2IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance professor Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown has made it her mission to focus on cultural diversity in dance. “Dance is a human experience, a medium that facilitates social interaction and promotes social justice. It is a platform for performance and a conduit for spirituality.” McCarthy-Brown is inspired by a desire for the Arts to be culturally responsive and inclusive. “Ballet is fabulous,” she says, “but western dance training relies too much on ballet for its legitimacy. I’d like to see our orientation widen to include more ways of understanding dance and also reflect the diversity of our contemporary society.” With a strong background in dance pedagogy and responsive IU dance students, McCarthy-Brown appears poised to do just that.

Originally from San Francisco, McCarthy-Brown went to Spelman College for her BA in Political Science and the University of Michigan for her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography. She completed her PhD in Dance Education and Cultural Studies at Temple University, where she was awarded the Future Faculty Fellowship. McCarthy-Brown comes to IU from Bowdoin College where she taught Afro-modern, Cultural Choreographies, jazz, ballet, and African-derived Dances in America. She is excited to join a larger contemporary dance program.

Nyama1McCarthy-Brown has published articles in Dance Chronicle, The Journal of Dance Education, and The Journal of African American Studies focusing on cultural inclusion and the experience of African American ballerinas. People of color in dance and the interplay of theory and practice are vital research interests of hers.

McCarthy-Brown has performed for South African President Thabo Mbeki and studied tango in Argentina. In 2014, she was awarded several grants to interview African American ballet dancers in New York City and study dance with Ron Brown.

McCarthy-Brown shares that she would like to stretch students physically and intellectually to go beyond technique in her dance classes. “Learning the movement phrase and being able to perform it is wonderful. Now, try to think of why you do it. What muscles are moving in your body, how is the movement being motivated? Many students will learn movement, and are eager to perform, knowing what lies underneath is also important. The intellectual-physical connection is especially important in modern dance and both physical and theoretical foundations need to be solid.”

What’s next for McCarthy-Brown? Besides teaching classes, she’ll be presenting in Encounters & Collisions this January and is writing a book. We’ll be looking forward to seeing her work-on both page and stage. You can visit her website at www.nyamamccarthybrown.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heather Milam will head IU Theatre’s new Costume Technology M.F.A.

Milam.HeatherNewBeginning Fall 2014 the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance will offer an M.F.A. in Costume Technology. Heather Milam, the program’s director, most recently served as the Costume Production Specialist for the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance. She has worked for over a decade as a professional costume-maker, cutter/draper,* and pattern-maker in New York City and at other regional and professional theatres across the country. She and I sat down to talk about her work and what the new degree has to offer.  —Sarah Campbell

Sarah: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to costume technology.

Heather: I have been doing theatre since I was in 6th grade. Back then it was just crossing the stage and being in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. But from high school on I realized I was more of a backstage person. I did stage management, too. I went to undergrad at Ithaca College thinking I wanted to be a director. And the reason I thought that was because when I read a play, I saw it produced in my head. So I thought that meant that I was director-minded. But it turns out that you can use those same visual skills in any field in the theatre.

There was an opening for work study in the costume shop. I had gotten my first sewing machine when I was 13 and had the basic sewing skills, so I figured that was better than flipping burgers in the food court. I took the job and realized that it was something that I really enjoyed doing, that costume design and construction were the area of theatre that I wanted to pursue. At that time at Ithaca they required you to do summer theatre every year, so I started doing summer internships, which led to other jobs. In between my junior and senior year I interned at Barbara Matera Limited, which at the time was the top costume shop in New York City. It was an amazing, life-changing experience for me. They offered me a full-time job once I graduated, so I moved to New York and started working there. I worked there on and off for 12 years—I worked on Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Sunset Boulevard, most of what Broadway was producing from the mid-90s to the 2000s, and I learned from some of the best designers in the industry. I moved up the ranks, as you do in the costume shop. I moved to Phoenix for a little while, did some cutting and draping at the Phoenix Theatre Company. I came back to New York City and did some freelance work there. After that I went into academia. I worked at the University of Alabama for four years and then I got this opportunity.

Sarah: So, what is costume technology?

Heather: It is all of the processes that go into realizing a costume design. So the building of garments, the making of the costume pieces, dressmaking, tailoring, crafts, and millinery.

Sarah: How do you work with the costume designer?

Heather: The costume designer works closest with the director and the other members of the design team, like the set designer or the lighting designer. The costume-maker works, primarily, with the costume designer and then the people who actually make the costumes, which would be the stitchers and others in the costume shop. The designer kind of imagines or creates the idea of what each of the characters will be wearing—or even the functionality, what do they need to be wearing? Also, what they need for the show to indicate different seasons, times of day, or classes, all of that comes from the designer and their research. Then they present their drawings to a draper or a costume-maker and then the costume-maker works with the designer to figure out how it’s going to be built. There are always instances of dealing with how the costume is going to be constructed, whether it needs to be functional in terms of working with a quick change; where holes are going to be, if it needs to fit over other costumes, if it needs to happen really fast, if it needs to be of a certain material. So you work out samples first, that’s often what the first step will be—coming up with a variety of ideas of what the costume will be made of. You collaborate continuously with the designer; that’s really who you work the closest with. Once the designer is satisfied with your proposal, you’ll move forward and work with the shop to build the costume.

Sarah: What is the goal of this program? What do you hope to train students for?

Heather: Well giving the students skills that will allow them to function in a costume shop—that is the primary goal. My specialty is dressmaking and tailoring so that will be, at least in the beginning, the focus of classwork. I worked in a costume shop for many years in New York, and that’s where a lot of my connections still are, but I would like to prepare costume technicians to be able to function in the role of draper, or pattern maker/first hand** out in New York or LA costume shops, regional theatre shops, or Shakespeare companies around the world.

Sarah: How will the students be working in the department and on productions? I know M.F.A. design students work as a designers in IU Theatre productions. What kind of responsibility will costume technology students take on for the productions?

Heather: They will complete their graduate assistant hours in the costume shop working as drapers or first hands. They probably will begin to work on one of the smaller shows or overseeing the alterations for one of the shows that don’t have that many costumes or costumes which aren’t especially complicated. Also for one of the other productions that semester, they would be a first hand to me or for maybe a third-year student. They may not be in charge of how a costume is made, but they are in charge of the stitchers or the other students working in the shop, and they will oversee how that process occurs.

Then they would move up in terms of responsibility to a harder show or a different time period or a different challenge. That’s part of the goal of overseeing the students, that they leave here will all of the necessary skills, whether it’s working in period pattern-making or tailoring, or big builds like a 20-person chorus who all have to be wearing the same thing. I would foresee them having a thesis project that would be similar to the design students—meaning they would do research on different construction methods and innovative technologies in terms of costume production. I would like them to be research-minded as well. I would like them to explore new innovations, materials, and technique, so they can present at conferences. One of the things I would like to see by their third year is that they have done independent research and presented it at a conference like USITT or SETC, and also work on a production where they would be completely in charge of the construction and alterations.

Sarah: Are there other programs like this in the US?

Heather: There are about eight programs that are specific to costume technology. There are a lot of programs that are a dual focus in costume design and technology, probably two or three dozen. The program at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is probably the program that I’ve most modeled my ideas. The person who founded that program, Judy Adamson, was someone I worked with when I was very young when I was in New York, and I saw her transition and build that program from the ground up. Right now that school probably puts out some of the best technologists. But from any of the M.F.A. programs we know— if they’ve gone through three years of intensive training, you can depend on their skill level.

Sarah: What courses are you offering? What do you foresee offering in the future?

Heather: There will be courses in pattern-making, draping, tailoring, period construction, and understructures—like corsets and bustles. They will need to take costume history, the theory/history/literature requirements, and research and collaboration courses along with the other tech/design students. We will offer some special topics courses—these will be offered sporadically depending on the needs or desires of the students. Linda Pisano offers some classes like mask-making and millinery, so if the students are interested in those, they’d obviously be welcome to take those classes. They’d need to take at least one design class, so they understand the language and have the ability to communicate with designers. We are still working on a specific curriculum, but that’s the general idea.

Sarah: What are you the most excited about in launching the program?

Heather: I’m excited to be in a position to train masters of their craft. In our program you will be coming in for three years and 63 credits of costume technology, where your summers are focused at an internship or working with specialists. You’re specifically coming here because you want to master this craft. In the “olden days” this was an apprenticeship field, where tailors start learning to hand sew at the age of five, where they learned from their fathers and brothers and uncles. The apprentices were learning a trade they would be doing for their whole life; they were trained for decades to become really good at what they do. That’s not the environment here in America now, but this is the closest you can get to that model, where you’re working with someone who will allow you to truly specialize in an art.

*Cutter/draper is responsible for the creation of costumes; interpretation of original design work and custom patterning based on the design, and all facets of the construction process for the costumes as well as alterations, fittings, and maintenance of pulled or rented clothing items.

**First hand = the draper’s assistant, working with the draper to construct the costumes. First hands cut the fabric and distribute the work to the stitchers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Herald Times Review – Production features praiseworthy cast

Tantrum Time[1]“In her bones those five fingers know, that hand aches to speak out, and something in her mind is asleep. How do I nudge that awake?” These are the passionate words of Annie Sullivan as represented in William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” a staged docudrama telling the story of Helen Keller’s difficult upbringing.

“The Miracle Worker” makes one half of Indiana Festival Theatre’s 2014 repertory plays, the other half being Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The two plays (which will rotate in the Wells-Metz Theatre through July 27th) share a terrific cast assembled from professional and student actors.

Annie Sullivan answers her own question — “How do I nudge that (Helen’s potential for using language) awake” — with three words: “Keep at it.” As someone who overcame blindness herself, Sullivan refuses to give up on her mission of teaching young Helen. Through Helen’s screaming, hitting, kicking, slapping and throwing (not to mention a lack of cooperation from Helen’s parents), Sullivan perseveres heroically.

“The Miracle Worker” was adapted from Helen Keller’s autobiography “The Story of My Life” first into a 90-minute teleplay, then into a stage play, garnering the 1960 Tony Award for Best Play. At its heart, “The Miracle Worker” is a story about love and the lengths to which we go for it. In the case of Helen Keller, the love her parents feel compels them to spoil her. The love her teacher feels compels her to devote herself to giving Helen the gift of language.

Dale McFadden’s direction of “The Miracle Worker” is tasteful, simple and adroit. McFadden’s design team effectively establishes the atmosphere of 1880s Alabama.

Hillary Clemens brilliantly realized the character of Annie Sullivan in this production. Clemens brought scalpel-edged focus to the role, resulting in a nuanced and cogent performance.

Similarly admirable is the work of Lola Kennedy in the challenging role of 6-year-old Helen Keller. Not only does Kennedy consistently maintain a realistic portrayal of her character’s disabilities, but she also sustains high energy and reactiveness on stage.

A fervent (albeit somewhat underwritten) subplot involves Helen’s half-brother James (Adam St. John) searching for love and approval from his father. St. John is convincing and humorously cynical as James.

A highlight of this production is Rob Johansen’s fight direction. The play is fight-heavy, with multiple incidents blurring the lines between spelling lessons and wrestling matches. Actors adeptly and vigorously execute Johansen’s seamless choreography.

As Mr. and Mrs. Keller, David Kortemeier and Jenny McKnight bring the audience to understand their characters’ weaknesses in raising Helen. The Kellers struggle to let go of Helen and leave her to Sullivan’s care. Helen’s parents cannot help but treat her with pity, when firm discipline and high expectations will be more beneficial in the long run.

In smaller roles, Nancy Lipschultz (Aunt Ev), Ben Abbott (Doctor), Mara Lefler (Viney) and Ian Martin (Mr. Anagnos) achieve equally praiseworthy performances.

Gentle humor will keep the audience interested through this lengthy three-act play. Helen’s journey is an arduous one, and it is not until well into the second act that she manages to fold a napkin independently. Despite this slow-moving plot, tensions soared on stage; moments of boredom were few and far between.

“Language is to the mind as light is to the eyes,” claims Annie Sullivan near the beginning of “The Miracle Worker.” The events of this play only span a short period of Keller’s childhood, but they were an essential step in Keller becoming the renowned writer and humanitarian she was. This remarkably touching play will humble and inspire audiences, reminding us that determination and patience are the primary ingredients for great achievement.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Sunday and July 22, 24 and 26; 2 p.m. Saturday and July 27.

WHERE: Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Available at www.theatre.indiana.edu or call the IU Auditorium Box Office 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WFIU – The Miracle Worker: A Story Well Worth Retelling


“The production’s Helen, Lola Kennedy was simply amazing. Her spirit, her anger, her own frustration and occasional joy were wonderfully transparent. Never for a moment did you think that she could see or hear.”

“If you don’t come to the show, you’ll have to put up with friends who do telling you that they’re sorry you missed it in the months and perhaps years to come.”

You can hear the full story at WFIU and see The Miracle Worker on stage in the Wells-Metz Theatre, July 22, 24 and 26 at 7:30pm, and July 26th at 2pm. For tickets, visit theatre.indiana.edu.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer School

Tantrum Time[1]

The Miracle Worker’s Hillary Clemens and Bloomington’s own Lola Kennedy

The Indiana Festival Theatre is underway in Bloomington, and the move to Indiana University’s local campus has proven worthwhile to managing director Drew Bratton.

“By moving into our full-time theater spaces here on the Bloomington campus we’ve had the ability to do more technically complicated theater, do larger scale productions,” Bratton said. “We were sorry to leave Nashville and the tradition of the Brown County Playhouse, but with the opportunities to do more and involve more students and members of the community, our summer company has grown immensely.”

IU’s summer theater program was located for years at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville, until it moved to the Bloomington campus in 2011.

Everyone involved in the summer program, including the students, are paid a professional salary for their work. This makes it a unique, first-time experience for a lot of the cast and crew.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we run a full-fledged summer based company here in Bloomington,” Bratton said. “It’s sort of the first of its kind.”

Bratton said the Theatre Department at IU focuses on students’ academic responsibilities during the school year, so students usually make up 100% of the cast and crew for shows during the fall and spring semesters.

And that’s the other key difference with the Indiana Festival Theatre — they bring in professionals to work alongside the students.

This year two designers on faculty joined the team: Reuben Lucas on scenic design and Linda Pisano on costumes. And as they’ve done since the summer program came to Bloomington, the company is recruiting professional actors through the Actor’s Equity Association, including Hillary Clemens, Andy Sullivan, Jenny McKnight, David Kortemeier and IU professor Nancy Lipschultz.

“There’s a little less hecticness in the summer, simply because everybody involved isn’t also going to class,” Bratton said. “We have a little bit more time, we can work rehearsals during the day without too many conflicts. They get a taste of what that really feels like, to be in that professional world. That being said, there’s the whole added pressure of trying to do five shows in a really compact period of time.”

Work for the IFT started in May and continues throughout the summer, which means students are doing five shows in what Bratton said would normally span five months.

He explained another challenge, that the sets this year are quite different from one another, making the component of scenic construction and changeovers day to day truly transformative.

“It’s really quite miraculous to see,” he said. “Some people actually see two shows in one day, so you can see Twelfth Night with a mid-Shakespearean setting in Italy, and later that evening you come back and it’s The Miracle Worker, and it’s America in the 1880s. That’s part of what people always talk about as theater magic. A lot of work goes into the theater magic, but we’re happy to create that illusion for people.”

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare comedy being performed this year in repertory with the Helen Keller drama The Miracle Worker.

Chad Singer, a sophomore at IU, is performing in Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Twelfth Night. It’s Singer’s first time in the summer program, and his first time on a main stage. He joined because he plans on going into musical theater after graduation.

“It’s really inspiring and eye-opening to be working with professionals,” Singer said. “I’m very motivated and driven when I’m with those people.”

“Being in Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ve ever understood more of [Shakespeare’s] language than in that process,” said Jennifer Smith, a rising senior at IU who is also house manager for Schoolhouse Rock Live!. “ Everyone in the show is so talented, and they’re all really good at communicating the story with language that’s kind of difficult to understand.”

Schoolhouse Rock

Schoolhouse Rock Live! is this year’s show for children, a musical based on songs from the popular 1970’s animated series.

“We have seen an older crowd turn out that grew up with the cartoon,” Bratton said, “and a lot of people raised in the 70’s are raising kids now too. We like to do programming that’s for kids but doesn’t play down to kids, doesn’t make their parents fall asleep with boredom.”

To cater to a younger crowd, it’s being performed in a small studio space separate from the other four shows.

“The kids are really responsive,” Singer said. “It’s cute, we bring them up to dance, it’s really fun to see their reactions. The Studio Theater provides a more intimate experience for the audience, it’s nice for the kids.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“We will draw the curtain and show you the picture.”

Before you see Twelfth Night in the Wells- Metz Theatre, flip through our audience guide for a behind the curtain look at our production!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment