“I haven’t told a bedtime story since your Mommy was a little girl,” Grandpa tells his granddaughters. “Her favorite story was always Hans and Gretel.”
The cast of Bestest Bedtime Stories (As Told By Our Grandpa) (He’s Silly!) kept the audience awake during their show on November 29-30 at the Keystone Academy Performing Arts Center (PAC). Eighteen Primary School (PS) students delivered a hilarious and feel-good holiday production. In addition, the Sinfonia Strings performed an enchanting song number that brought the audience into the magical world of fairytales.
Grandpa (Simba Xiaoshu Xiong) did his best to retell some beloved stories. Along the way, he twisted and turned them for much confusion and good fun. He even forgot to start with “Once upon a time…”!
Grandpa’s Plot Twists
Left at home with his granddaughters Katie (Gaga Xiaoge Shen), Ashley (Sofia Zilin Wang), and Wendy (Lucy Ruoshu Sun) in tow, Grandpa has no choice but to lull them to sleep until their parents return from Shanghai. Grandma is playing mahjong with other grannies, sadly!
He needs the girls to sleep so he can watch a Bruce Lee film. The trio overpowers the old man anyway and gets their demand for bedtime stories.
He stays in the girls’ bedroom, complete with fairy lights and sketches, and tells them two stories full of plot twists!
In Act 1, Grandpa shares the adventure of siblings Hans (Unique Tianze Liu) and Gretel (Sydney Fengxi Zhang) and how they get out of the woods after being left by their work-obsessed parents (Lucas Yuke Wang and Emily Yuhan Li). Somewhere along the forest, the jolly siblings stumble upon a cottage owned by the wicked Witch (Helena Yuehe Guo). She traps the siblings in a cage and fattens them with broccoli. But Forgetful Grandpa remembers a plot—from elsewhere—and brings in the Oven (Shell Zhuo’er Li), which Hans and Gretel use to defeat the Witch.
Grandpa retells Sleeping Beauty in Act 2. He remembers a few details: the King (James Chen) and the Queen (Jiayi Wu) welcome their newborn daughter, Princess Briar Rose (Sophie Jingxian Pu). The royal couple invite the fairies Tiger Balm (Hannah Yahan Bai), Hong Hua You (Sophia Xuanqi Shen), and Pi Pa Gao (Alisa Chanhou Yang) to a party, except the evil fairy Misty (Kiki Ziqi Zhou), who casts a curse on the Princess. Pi Pa Gao counters the curse, but it still gets activated on the sixteenth birthday of Briar Rose. The reluctant hero Handsome Young Prince (Joey Yi Qiao) lifts it, making everyone in the kingdom happy.
The Communications Team caught up with the cast on their last rehearsal day—during a pizza party. Some of the children were sketching additional props for the set, while others were acting out their roles.
At the backstage, we noticed Simba (Grandpa) and Unique (Hansel) exchanging some lines. Both boys seemed to carry the vigor of their characters even during the break, so we wondered if they chose these roles themselves.
“Yes,” they shouted.
“Grandpa has the most lines,” Simba added. “His lines are a bit difficult and confusing. But I like the role!”
Unique said he fits in the role of Hansel. “He is very curious. My teachers tell me joyful and excited about everything just like Hansel,” Unique said.
The cast, together with and Humanities teacher and props design Young Sil Park, prepare backstage
Meanwhile, Helena (The Witch) and Shell (Oven) were on the casts’ chair. Not so far away, Sophie (Princess Briar Rose) was whirling with eyes closed, making her Sleeping Beauty dress inflate like a hot air balloon. Helena was very much in character when we talked to her: silent but cunning. Shell was laughing almost all the time.
Of all the roles, Shell chose to be the Oven because of its punchlines. “We can choose anyone, but the Oven is quite funny. The teachers asked us to say a few lines to see if we fit. I got the role!”
Bestest Bedtime Stories was Helena’s first foray into the world of acting, and playing a villain was something new to her. She warned the audience to love the show, or else…
“I will turn you into broccoli,” she said, with a mischievous grin.
The cast ate too much pizza and cake on their last rehearsal day
How to Channel Emotions
One of the first challenges that directors De Anne Dubin and Elizabeth Steck worked out was letting kids to experiment with their characters. In the Drama classes, the teachers used different approaches such as games or acting out using adjectives as prompts. That allowed students to learn English in a non-traditional way and use language and body movements to release emotions and feelings.
“It has helped them feel what they’re doing is fun and not just, ‘Let’s do it perfectly or right,’” Steck added. “A lot of trial and error happens in acting. It’s about having the confidence to do something not correct and try again and keep working on that. That’s a big thing for the students to learn and it’s an important lesson when it comes to theater.”
Many of the cast members met each other for the first time when the preparations began in September. Dubin said the youngsters eventually formed a “cohesive group,” and noticed their growth has been “soooo much.”
“For example, the King and Queen balance each other so well,” Dubin said, enthusiastically. “The King understands sarcasm so well. And just being in a rehearsal with him, the other students had started to understand sarcasm better. The ability of the cast members to perform as an ensemble and express and understand humor has definitely increased.”
The student actors conveyed their confidence so naturally that the audience grinned from the start to the end of the show.
“It’s a feel-good performance,” parent Franco Dionco said. “They’re really great and reacting to the audience. The punchlines were there!”
“It’s quite astonishing to see such a group of students to perform so well. Congratulations to everyone. It showed how well you learn at Keystone. Well done,” said Roland Wang, one of the many parents who attended the premiere.
Hearts Get in Sync
Bestest Bedtime Stories premiered after Thanksgiving Day this year. Dubin and Steck, both from America, said they are thankful for the opportunity to express their passion for the arts at Keystone.
They also recognized the contributions of various people, including members of the Sinfonia Strings; Makeup and Hair Design KAP (Keystone Activities Program); the Student Media Services (SMS); and the many students, parents, and teachers who helped with the production design.
“There are people who are giving up their time above and beyond what their responsibilities are. I’m extremely grateful for them because there’s no way I could do this without their help. It always impresses me that people put so much into this the way I love theater,” Dubin said.
Teacher and student volunteers also held a charity bake sale before and after the show. The whole event raised RMB 4,135 for the benefit of Dew Drops Little Flower, an organization that provides medical assistance and other services to orphans and children from disadvantaged families.
To Dubin, the PS performance highlighted the collaboration within the community.
“When it comes to the relationship of actors with the audience, I feel we all share a community,” Dubin shared. “Even if audience members sit in the dark and watch the play, their hearts get in sync with the actors. Just being there means we share experiences together and build a community at Keystone,” she said.