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A Chinese Fairy Tale


We have performed THE OLIVE LAKE A Chinese Fairy Tale at summer camps, elementary schools, colleges and universities, a psychiatric unit, The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, nursing homes, and Upstairs at the Firehouse Farmer’s Market in West Philadelphia. We traveled to England and Scotland via performances on the QE2 Cunard Liner, and toured little towns in Highland Perthshire, finishing with a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here are some highlights. We set up outside at Philadelphia City Day Camps. I used the outdoor site to represent spaces in the boy’s journey, ignoring the occasional plane overhead, or the neighing of horses. Continuing to indoor spaces, I scaled a lighting tower at a private school in Chestnut Hill. Finally, in Edinburgh, on the same stage for three weeks, in a tighter space, I climbed an imaginary Western Range, letting my reactions to the musician’s sound effects evoke the boy’s arduous journey.

I conceived of my adaptation as theatre for all audiences. The heroic story, fairy tale characters, and a colorful, highly physical staging enchants the children. My script adaptation and interpretation invites adults to experience the show on other levels. At Girard Medical Center, a psychiatric unit, one of the clients confided at the post-performance discussion that when he’d arrived in the space and saw the magical sets, he thought, “What do they think we are, children?” He then told me that the show had reached him as an adult. I did establish an age range: first 8 and up, then 5 and up. At the Walt Whitman Cultural Arts Center in Camden, NJ, the programmer informed me that the audience would include two year olds, along with older children and teenagers. I felt rather nervous. I will never forget the giggles of these very young children when the little tree defied the old man. Of course, I thought, two year olds experience this power struggle every day! During a week’s residency at Square Chapel Center for the Arts, in Halifax, England, the audience, a mix of all ages, was so supportive that the old man, joyful that his tree had finally grown oranges, broke into a Pavorotti style vocalization in the middle of his song. That additional “aria” has remained in the show. A First Night at the Diva Theatre in Scranton, PA featured three performances, one after the other, with a little time in between to reset costumes and props. By the third performance, rather than being tired, I was “in the zone,” as jazz musicians say, riding the wave of this beautiful fairy tale.

picture of serpent

I am grateful for the contributions of talented, generous musicians to the performance. Larry Dickerson’s lilting recorder so beautifully captured the innocence and faith of the young hero. The serpent undulates to the arpeggios of Paul Butler’s clarinet. After a performance at Woods Services in Langhorne, a young man asked me, “How did the boy find out the answer to his own question? No one told him.” I thought for a moment, and responded, “I guess that after all of his experiences, he was able to figure it out for himself.”

Click here for complete list of performances.