As a recipient of a 2009 -10 China Institute Faculty Development Grant, I was able to take advantage of a most exciting opportunity to join CSUN Theatre students, faculty, and staff on a twelve day visit to Shanghai and their collaboration with our long time friends from Shanghai Normal University in a performance sponsored by the USA Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo. The project was over a year in the making, and just a few weeks before the group left CSUN, they were told that we might be performing for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a hush-hush private gala event for the donors to the USA Pavilion. Since I was currently on sabbatical living in Taipei, Taiwan's Capitol, where my spouse, Annie O. Cleveland, was teaching as a Fulbright Scholar at National Taiwan University, I was not involved with rehearsing and staging the project – that was conducted by Theatre Department Chair, Peter Grego. Theatre Manager William Taylor, however, insured that I received all of the technical information regarding the Expo's performing venues where the students would be performing. Given that the Expo had opened only on May 1, and we would begin performing on May 24th, we were in essence opening brand new facilities.
The CSUN contingent left May 19, and I joined them in Shanghai on the evening of their arrival on the 20th. I saw a few of the students when I checked into the hotel, and despite their jet lag from the 14 hour trip, they were already starting to feel the "Shanghai vibe." Bright and early the next day, the group walked to Shanghai Normal to meet their Chinese counterparts and to begin rehearsing the truncated version of the Expo show for Secretary Clinton's event. Grego, assisted by Professor Garry Lennon, began integrating the Chinese and American performers into what was to be a totally new fifteen minute show. We had to be done by 4:00 pm, because that night was the final audition for the organizers from the U.S. State Department. The showcase went well, but as it happens, the American performers stumbled on their English lyrics and the Chinese did the same in their native tongue. The only comment by the organizers was, "Is that all?" They wanted twice as much! Both groups of students put their heads together, and each performed another set of impromptu material without accompaniment, and the deal was sealed. Saturday was spent rehearsing the new material which was now expanded from 15 to 22 minutes. One of the biggest challenges for the performers was the need to work with microphones, stands, and cables. Grego had to refine all of their choreography and staging to make sure that performers were always singing into the mics. We stopped in the early afternoon to give all a break before heading for the Expo that night. The USA Pavilion was closed for the special event and security was tight. The show went off without a hitch, and Grego noted that during the finale when the entire ensemble sang Jackie Chan's "City," the Expo's them song, ". . . even the waiter's stopped pouring – all focus was on the performers." Sunday was not a day of rest – we now needed to restage the original show which was to be performed outdoors on the huge America's Stage. Now the full cast of sixteen was busy handling four more microphones and expanding their choreography to fill the much larger stage. To avoid rush hour traffic on Monday, the company left the hotel at 6:00 am to catch the metro to the Expo for the final spacing and rehearsal for the opening performance at 11:00 am. Not only did they now have four more traditional microphones on stands, but the venue also unexpectedly provided four wireless microphones. Grego and the cast made some last minute adjustments to integrate the welcome addition. By 11:00 am a small crowd of visitors had gathered for the performance, but once the show started with CSUN students performing their "California Suite," all seats were filled and it was SRO. The company continued to perform two shows daily through Thursday, May 27.
Since the company was performing the four days at the Expo, most CSUN travelers focused on visiting as many of the pavilions as possible. Luckily, since we were performers, we were all issued VIP badges which helped to get us to the front of many of the long lines of expo visitors, some with as much as a six hour wait. The list of amazing sights is far too long to share here, but the China Pavilion was truly the showcase of the fair. Other personal favorites were Italy, with a 10' Prada shoe; Switzerland, with a ski lift over the Alpine meadow planted on the building's roof, and Sweden, where thrilled visitors could make and throw snowballs. Although not as opulent as the major pavilions, it was also interesting to visit some of the smaller countries as well, especially North Korea and Iran. Once our performing obligations were over at the Expo, then the sightseeing, and of course shopping, began in earnest. Shopping with seasoned Shanghai traveler Peter Grego is something none of the travelers will ever forget. He is a man who can bargain. Other excursions included a walking tour of Yu Yuan Gardens, a dinner on the roof overlooking the Bund, a trip to the top of the Pearl Tower in Pudong, and the Shanghai Art Museum. A highlight of the trip for me was when Annie Cleveland was able to fly in from Taipei to join us for the last few days of the exchange. In addition to the traditional sights of Shanghai, she spent one whirlwind day at the Expo taking in as much as possible in a very short time. The company's final day was filled with a trip to Lu Zhi, one the "water villages" just outside of Shanghai. We were joined by students and colleagues from Shanghai normal for this final day of sightseeing, shopping, and dining. Our final evening was spent at an elegant banquet on a floating restaurant to thank our host, Dean Zhao and the faculty, staff, and students from Shanghai Normal University for the opportunity share an exciting collaborative project and a truly memorable experience in Shanghai.