Primary Stage Talents Take on a Royal Contest with Help from The Three Feathers

By Communications
12/10/2021

A king whose health is failing rapidly must choose: to which of his three sons shall he bequeath his kingdom. Faced with a difficult decision, the king finds help from a group of boisterous elf-hunters, who suggest a test unlike any other: the princes must follow magical feathers across the kingdom to complete tasks set before them.

Hear ye, hear ye! The royal contest is about to begin!

Forty student actors and production talents from the Keystone Academy Primary School have gathered for The Three Feathers, a spectacular stage production based on a folk tale from the Brothers Grimm. And for the first time, the PS Drama team delivers a bilingual show, with cast members speaking English lines and singing in Chinese. The production draws on collaboration between the English Drama and the Chinese Drama teams, and precedes the scheduled renovation of the Keystone Performing Arts Center.

“It is such a serendipitous timing,” says English Dance and Drama teacher Elizabeth Steck, who is also the show’s director. “We usually do an English show and a Chinese musical, which is ideal for the bilingual nature of Keystone’s Primary School. This year, we can only have a single show—and instead of focusing on English or Chinese, we decided to do a production that will showcase both.”

“Since we needed to make the show more accessible to Primary students and a wide variety of audience members, we chose a story that could be easily adapted. Our colleague, Global Music and Drama teacher De Anne Dubin, brought her expertise and connections to Tan Sang, the author and composer of the adaptation of The Three Feathers,” she says.

Mrs. Steck shares that the team has explored several options to bring the show to the stage, despite the challenges of having student performers and production staff with varying commands of English and Chinese. During the rehearsals, Mrs. Steck saw how students well-versed in both languages helped co-actors understand complex lines.

“We overcame those challenges, because we’re quite used to working together in a bilingual environment,” she adds.

The show opens with a recital of the Yu Ge Zi Primary School Choir, conducted by Chinese Music teacher Kang Wande. The cast picks up from the jazzy repertoire and unpacks loads of fun in their character portrayals. Fifth grader Pierce Xia, who plays the weary King, admits it is challenging to act like an older person but stays in character by using the props for his hilarious adlibs. His sons, portrayed by fifth graders Matthew He (the militant Prince Percival), William Xie (the greedy Prince Oswald), and Emma Qu (the young Prince Simon), approach their roles with gusto.

“Playing Prince Percival is fun because I get so much acting time,” Matthew says of his role. “It’s not that hard to memorize my lines because I remember them just by performing with the other actors.”

“We memorize as we go!” Pierce adds. “Cooperating with others really helps us.”

“Because we need to show our emotion on the stage, we do adlibs,” William shares. “So, this means we have to know our co-actors very well.”

Emma thinks that portraying Prince Simon is just like playing other roles. What challenges her is the task of “delivering a complicated character” of the young prince, seen as empty-headed yet empathetic.

All four students played minor roles in previous Primary productions, but The Three Feathers is their first time acting a lead role with musical solos. Matthew says that while it is easy for them to sing in Chinese, they find connecting their English scripts and Chinese verses quite hard, especially in some awkward lines.

The show’s musical director and choreographer, Chinese Dance and Drama teacher Queenie Qi, says the song-and-dance numbers of each actor are designed to push the story forward and push students to their creative limits. The main actors deliver lyrical solos connected to their plot (for example, Princes Percival and Oswald chant in rapid and loud tunes, while Prince Simon sings with unease). Meanwhile, the choreography of the Three Feather fairies is meant to be magical and graceful. The Toads dance to jazz tunes to highlight their playful and energetic characters despite living in the caves beneath the castle.

Fifth grader Summer Gu, who plays the leader of the Toads that eventually becomes the Princess Jasmine, says she truly loves her role and thinks the Princess is an excellent example for the audience.

“Princess Jasmine is cheerful and kind,” Summer says of her character. “There is one scene where she tells the two older princes that she can turn them into toads unless they come to their senses. The princes become so frightened! I think this just shows how she regards justice highly, and I think that is awesome.”

The cast members say they have had fun and unforgettable moments in The Three Feathers. But for them, the best thing is the friendship they have made during the production.

“We enjoy acting those silly scenes that make the audience laugh, but I think it is really fun to be with my classmates and new friends from other classes,” William says.

“For me, it is the food,” Emma follows quickly, and then laughs. “I really like the noodles during our rehearsals!”

“And I want to thank the teachers for the opportunity to express ourselves,” Summer adds. “And thanks to my classmates as well for the interesting and fun experience!”

“I hope that you have fun,” Matthew tells the audience. “This has really been a great show for me and my friends!”