The concept of a musical was completely new on the Jiujiang University campus, but as the cast members came to better understand the scope of the project, they took on a variety of roles in helping the production come together. With a staff of only two through most of the production process, the energy and initiative of the students was essential. Students juggled rehearsals – held five days a week in various locations around campus – with both day and evening classes, mandatory meetings, weekend exams and training sessions. A committee of students immediately began work translating and back-translating sections of the play from English into Mandarin Chinese.
Almost all new to the stage, cast members quickly identified with their roles as villagers in the early 20th century Russian village of Anatevka: Tevye the milkman, his wife and five daughters, and the other citizens of the small town.
Our production of Fiddler on the Roof began at Jiujiang University in late September of 2007. Jiujiang is the second largest city in the mostly rural Jiangxi province in southeastern China. The city center is immediately surrounded by small farming communities which stretch up into the mountains. Students at Jiujiang University come from all over China, with many from Jiangxi province and the neighboring Guangdong province. Most pursue 3-year, some 4-year degrees.
Over 150 students auditioned for and approixmately 50 were cast in our production. Although the production was based at Jiujiang University, cast members also came from the neighboring Jiujiang Vocational and Technical College. Students from both universities represented a wide range of majors and came from hometowns across China. Closer to performance time, a group of elementary school childen from Jiujiang joined the cast to play the younger children in the village of Anatevka, as well as the role of the fiddler.
The specific rules of the Jewish community and the on-going conflict with the Russians that forms the context for the musical were foreign to them, but we found great relevance to China in the generational struggle between loving parents, wanting the best for their daughters but grounded in a strong sense of tradition, and children reaching adulthood, grateful to their parents but drawn by their hearts to lives outside of the framework into which they were born.
The show opened to a packed house of over 900 in the University Hall and ran a second night with similar attendance. Shortly afterward, cast members formed a new drama association at the university to continue their theatrical work.