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US director's dream continues in China


09:37, February 18, 2013

American stage director Ann James makes her mark on Shanghai's theater scene. (CNTV)

During the Spring Festival, we've been delving into the lives of some foreigners working in Shanghai's arts and entertainment industry. Today, we meet an American stage director who just moved to Shanghai a year ago, but has already established an English-speaking drama community in town.

This is a normal Monday night, and for many professionals, that means it’s time to head home after a day at the office. But for American Ann James and her 15-member performing cast, their night has just begun. They are rehearsing "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" which debuted on Broadway 50 years ago. The preparation is for the drama’s public performance at a downtown art zone near Suzhou Creek in March. Although all the foreign performers are amateurs, James says they share a passion for acting.

James said, “There are actors here in town who I’ve met through being in other productions. So I’ve got a pool of actors now.”

Actor Mark Edwards said, “Actually this is my first collaboration with Ann. She’s really a professional director. So it means we know pretty much where we are on the stage.”

James earned her bachelor’s degree in drama at a college in Texas. After graduation, she moved to New York and Chicago to devote herself to acting and directing dramas for a while. Then she ran a live theater company in Amsterdam before she moved to Shanghai last February. She says she didn’t intend to be involved in the performing industry in Shanghai. She originally came here to work as an English teacher. However, her life here changed just three days after she arrived in the city, meeting a producer of English theater in town. And she soon had an opporunity to continue her theater career in Shanghai, while still teaching.

James said, “I did a lot of different things, but education and theater have always been very important to me, so they’ve always kind of been a dual. They have a duality in my life. So either I’m teaching, or I’m doing theater.”

Kate Robards said, “She knows how to be serious, and she also knows how to have fun, something that you especially need when you are doing a one woman show or when you are doing something that is a serious dramatic piece.”

And now James says she has bigger ambitions.

James said, “Well, it’s an interesting situation. Because there have been many theaters that have come and gone through the Shanghai curtain, use the same actors, use the same designers, so that we have more of a community.”

Theater is surely the most important part of James’ life, but it is of course not all her life. Travelling around the world marks another dream for her. So far, she has visited 37 countries.

James said, “When I was very young, I just got the travel book, so I immediately after college decided that I was going to see the world and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve also lived in Sudan, in Africa. I taught there for two years. That was right in the middle of the Sahara Desert, so we were in 52 degree weather, boiling hot weather, but I loved it.”

James now lives at downtown Xuhui District. She says she spend at least half of her time working. Sometimes she is obsessive in emailing on work issues, sometimes she tries to find new inspiration by watching films at home, and sometimes she has what she call strange habits.

James said, “I love watching people do their daily tasks. It really informs my directing, and it informs my ability to help actors to deliver and discover new things about their charactors. I believe that life is for the living, and I don’t have a lot of idol time, but I’m never bored. So it’s a good trade, I love what I do.”

Now James has a new hobby, cooking. She says Chinese food has already changed some of her eating habits. And as a person who always takes an interest in new things, she is trying hard to learn to cook Chinese food.

James said, “I love Chinese food, and I’m actually really getting interested in finding more recipes, so I have my assistant, lovely office manager for the company helping me learn about that.”

Reporter: “James says the city provides her enough freedom to show off her personality. She says she will bring five shows to local theaters this year. In 2012, Shanghai staged more than 300 drama performances. Although many of them had English subtitles, less than ten percent of them were English-speaking shows. James says the city needs more foreign residents to perform their own shows, and some expats like she herself are trying to be pioneers in the field.”

Different faces, same Chinese Dream[Special]

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