EighthDay Theatre debuts an original English adaptation of Chinese legend ‘The Butterfly Lovers’

Jenna Wang, Reporter


EighthDay Theatre Club, Northwestern’s only Chinese theatre club, debuted an original play called “The Butterfly Lovers” this weekend. The show, the second since the club’s founding, took place Friday and Saturday in the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts and was inspired by Chinese folklore.

The play is split into two parts, with the first set in the ancient world and the second set in the modern world. The ancient half is based on the Chinese legend “The Butterfly Lovers,” a tragic story of two lovers unable to be together because of societal barriers of class and gender. The modern half depicts a society-approved couple that runs into conflicts over values and passions.

Communication junior Jonyca Jiao, the play’s director and one of four writers, said both stories invite the audience to question conflicts surrounding love and whether marriage serves as the ultimate solution.

Unlike the club’s first performance, the play will be performed in English. Because the legend is well-known in China, Jiao said the club wanted to attract a larger audience of non-Chinese speakers.

“Our community is very familiar with the story of ‘Butterfly Lovers’ — it’s what we grew up listening (to) and learning from,” Jiao said. “It would be interesting to see how non-Chinese students or faculty come in and feel the contrast between the two worlds we’ve created.”

Weinberg junior Vicky Wei, who plays Zhu Yingtai in the play, said though the decision to perform in English was made to expand audience reach, it presented unique challenges.

As a non-theatre major and an international student from China, she said acting in her non-native language added an additional layer of difficulty.

“I felt very stressed because my character has a very sad story, so I found it difficult performing on stage, especially because I don’t have many gestures or movements on stage,” Wei said. “Sometimes when I sit there and recite my lines, I find it difficult not to use the tones up and down to express my emotion.”

Weinberg junior Annie Chen, who plays Lin Yanfei, expressed similar concerns. Although she co-wrote several plays in high school, she never performed in a lead role.

However, as a co-writer, she said she hopes writing dialogue helped develop her acting and character interpretation on stage.

“Acting itself is challenging, whether it’s in Chinese or English,” Chen said. “You have to be in a character that is not necessarily yourself and get familiar with all the dynamics and relationships she has with other characters.”

As the only theatre major in the club, Jiao took a step back from acting to direct and co-write her first adaptation. She said she and the other writers struggled to write the ancient half in formal English.

Because the other three writers also acted in the play, she helped them differentiate their roles as actors and as playwrights. However, being involved in a crew and cast of similar backgrounds united by a passion for theatre allowed the entire club to bond, Chen said.

“We’re a smaller team than a professional theatre production, but I think they’re all very talented people,” Chen said. “I get inspired by them, and I’m amazed by how much work we can get done in six weeks because we have fewer people, but the same amount of responsibility.”

Jiao said she noticed the growth her cast and crew underwent, which she said exemplified the reason she initially founded the EighthDay Theatre Club. She said she wanted to create a space where international Chinese students who are not theatre majors could find a comfortable place to express their passions.

“I always see theatre as a place of inclusivity, so it should form a sense of community and belonging,” Jiao said. “We only have seven days a week, so we’ve created this imaginative day so that people can actually free their mind of anxiety and stress and come into this community to purely share their passions about theatre, acting and be together with one another.”

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Twitter: @jennajwang

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