The troupes that make up EdTA China are proof that there are similarities and differences depending on who and where a performance takes place. Maybe, though, it’s more accurate if we call any combination of similarities and differences a theatre-making “uniqueness!” That uniqueness is what makes this Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) China troupe’s creation and performance so delightful. Read on and discover how this innovative troupe is putting theatre into the world.

EdTA China’s Devised Theatre Making

Kelley McKinnon is the national director of EdTA China. She told us, “We approach our festivals here in China slightly differently than the EdTA does in the United States. This is primarily because student and parent expectations are far different in China than they are in the USA. The biggest goal in our EdTA competitions is to promote group dynamic, creative thinking, and collaboration.

“Because of this, and because of my prior training in Anne Bogart’s viewpoints, we include devised work* in our group scene competitions. I believe it’s important for students that have the desire to do the extensive work required to devise their own pieces in accordance with industry standards, that they should be allowed to compete. Being able to compete shows their desire to learn and offers them a new and creative way to explore theatre.

This group competed in our Shenzhen regional competition with this production called The Assimilation of Minorities. They did such a beautiful job that I created a new award: ‘The National Director’s Award’ to showcase their exemplary work and dedication. As in the USA, China EdTA features regional and national competitions in monologue, duologue, group scenes, as well as improvisation, and is hoping to add in a group musical theater category soon.

Five young Asian male students rehearing a play

The EdTA China troupe at BASIS International School Guangzhou devised and performed “The Assimilation of Minorities.” Their efforts won them the newly created National Director’s Award! Students involved with the performance (though not all are pictured here: Claire He, Crystal Zhang, Johnny Tong, Richie Cao, Alan Li, Ken Lu, Nathan Zhang, and Dora Cai. Photo courtesy of EdTA China.

Theatre Making with a Cultural Twist

Gyendra Sooriah, Dean of Boarding at BASIS International School Guangzhou, works with the Edta China thespian troupe and explained their process to us this way, “We followed a workshopping style whereby the process was more important than the actual script at first. The plot was inspired by a tragic story of a traditional Chinese marriage, which beautifully cooperated with the main idea of the piece: the assimilation of the minority. We created a timeline and had a rough idea of what we wanted the piece to look like. We then selected the music. Once we understood the demands of the music and the message we wanted to portray, we split the piece into three parts. We then created images and linked them with stylized movement which was inspired by physical theatre. Lastly, it was all about the timing and getting the movement to link with the pace and rhythm of the music.

Gyendra explained that the troupe was inspired by Butoh. Butoh (舞踏, Butō) is a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques, and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. Following World War II, Butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.

Universal Theatre Making

Beyond the process of Butoh, and the music infused with Chinese cultural elements, Gyendra said he believes the performance has a universal appeal. “Our ideas came from Chinese ideologies and culture,” he explained, “but it has a global meaning. Movement is a language that anyone can grasp and feel, regardless of race, culture, language, or ethnicity. That is what made us create this piece. Regardless of any language barrier, the movement finds a way to speak to the masses.”

Gyendra went on to say, “Movement is a universal language. It can speak to anyone. It doesn’t need words and the smallest movement could have the biggest impact on someone’s life. We all have emotions, and therefore we believe by portraying abstract movement we can get any member in the audience to tap into their emotions and feel an open-ended sense of realization.

“It is extremely hard to guarantee the existence of both risky movement and cooperation with music. The team got an adrenaline rush from living on the edge and pushing our bodies to the limits. However, this involved a great deal of trust. We trusted each other and that’s why we will continue to do such pieces over and over again. We are not afraid to take those risks.” 

*Devising is loosely defined as the process of collaboratively creating a new work without a pre-existing script wherein the collaborators are also the performers.

Patty Craft is content manager for 

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