Reflections of Leanne Tallis, "American Reflections" Cast Member

I am Leanne Tallis and I am one of the performers fortunate enough to have been chosen for the trip to China with the Santa Monica College theatre department. As of now we are about three weeks away from the show opening and things are getting quite hectic. This particular show is very demanding in many ways.

Firstly, our show is a montage of the different numbers chosen to represent the colorful range and depth of the American musical theatre. Each of us has many different characters, many different songs and dances all in different styles that we need to perfect.  We also have a dual directing team and each day we are working with one of the two directors who each have their own styles and demands. This makes it so that each and every cast member has a large responsibility of material and is integral to the well being of the show.

Our cast is a well chosen group of 18 people who each could easily hold their own on a stage, and together we are able to tackle some of the harder repertoire. I love this cast very much. We each help each other and work hard and when we’re all “on” I feel we create a strong sound and presence.

Spending 25 hrs + a week with each other we have all become close. Generally our 25 hours a week together are spent in rehearsals. We start at 5pm each weekday and we generally end around 10 or 10:30pm. Recently we have been working on staging the material and then tweaking placement and other issues. However, it has been a lot of work to even get it to this point.
The first order of business was to learn the music, the lyrics and the harmonies. At the very beginning of rehearsals, which started Aug 13, we just gathered with our pianist and went through our sheet music. Then we gradually put the music we had learned with movement and dance and characters and slowly came to the staged numbers we have today. 

On top of our rehearsals each day we are also in a tandem academic class that meets on Fridays. This class is designed to help us understand the culture and lifestyle of China.  Even as I write this, I actually find it hard to believe that I am going to be flying across the world to a completely foreign nation to share musical theatre.

I feel very blessed for this opportunity. I truly have a deep love for the art of musical theatre and its one of the few art forms that America can sincerely call its own. To be able to use it as a tool for travel and learning is something that I think every artist hopes to do in their lifetime. As an artist it will be invaluable to learn and see the theatrical art of China. Whilst we are still early in the process I believe this is going to be a truly life changing experience and I am looking forward to the challenges and joys to come ahead.

Reflections of Nancy Grass Hemmert, Speech Professor

As Jonathan’s post of Week One reminds us, everyday concerns can suddenly be made inconsequential in the face of more global occupations. Although Corn Pops were not my mundane concern (I am much more prone to be consumed with “what can I make for dinner” on any given day), I, too, was jolted from complacency and day dreaming when I was invited to escort our student contingent to Jinan, China this fall.

I received an invitation during spring break to meet with SMC President Dr. Tsang and other faculty to discuss “a significant cultural event” to which SMC students had been invited. Shandong University of the Arts would be celebrating its 50th Anniversary and they wanted Santa Monica College to send 20 of our best and brightest to perform that uniquely American art form of musical theater!

As students are not likely to travel alone on such a program (we couldn’t have that, now could we?), Dr. Tsang was inviting several faculty and staff members (Joe Wu, Perviz Sawoski, Terrin Adair-Lynch, Charlie Yen, Judy Neveau, Alice Meyering, and me) to participate in this incredible adventure! Surprised, honored, excited, overwhelmed—I was speechless (which, if you know me, is a rare occurrence).

As the excitement of the invitation transformed into the reality of the responsibility (enter heart thumping anxiety), the other faculty, staff, and I began planning for our journey. The DETAILS! You would be amazed at the number of details (dare I say, ingredients?) involved in arranging transportation, tours, and visas; in organizing and preparing students, faculty, and staff; in coordinating classes, rehearsals, and work schedules; and managing luggage, props, and musical accompaniment. Our team has worked all summer sorting the details and planning for contingencies. My own hopes and insecurities aside, we now find ourselves in the heat of preparation. We are just about ready to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

I am proud of our work. I am proud of our college. I am proud of my colleagues, but most of all (as is usual for, perhaps, the biggest SMC fan) I am proud of our students. Their well-seasoned talent, commitment, and hard work can only turn the heads of our Chinese hosts. I am certain they will be as impressed with them as we are here at Santa Monica College.

It is so easy to forget what is important in our day-to-day. Opportunities, such as this educational exchange with such a prestigious Chinese university, allow us to stew on what is important: teaching, learning, growing, becoming better students, teachers, and citizens. The United States and the world face incredible challenges in this still-new millennium - challenges that will call upon all of us to work with and understand the people next door and across the earth. We can no longer be complacent and dream of the day when “someone else will fix it.” The recipe for change requires that we get up, get out, broaden our horizons, and make connections. We have to become citizens of not just a country, but of the world. This educational exchange opportunity with China gives us a chance to answer that call.

Now, I need to get started making dinner . . . I wonder what’s in the fridge?