Monkey’s journey to the West begins at CWU
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An adaptation of Wu Chengen’s 16th century novel “Journey to the West” is the final theatre winter quarter production for the CWU department. “Monkey: His Magic Journey to the West” follows the character Monkey on his spiritual and humorous journey from India to China.
The adventure of “Monkey” at CWU began several months ago and started with the construction of the set early this year.
“There’s a verticality and that played into how I was going to construct other props,” said Props Master Derik Radcliffe, junior theatre arts BFA specializing in scenic design.
At the top of the vertical steps leading to the top platform there is a seat for the narrator, Quan Yen, to sit and read a prop book that introduces the story. The prop storybook with pages that fold upward also coincides with the structure of the set as well.
“It’s a lot of being in collaboration with the faculty and the design set,” Radcliffe said.
Since “Monkey’s Journey to the West” is from Chinese literature, the cast list is comprised mostly of Asian characters. However, due to lack of Asian actors at CWU, there has been speculations of controversy surrounding the show.
So the cast and crew are taking lots of precautions to avoid perpetuating stereotypes of white actors playing Asian roles.
“Each of these characters have a life on their own, and we are trying to pay respect on that side of the world,” Radcliffe said.
Director George Bellah is a valuable resource for understanding the culture behind the show, since he traveled throughout Asia and experienced various Asian art forms and theatre during his time abroad.
The original story “Journey to the West” is a story that is included in the collection “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature.
The story was adapted for the stage by Australian playwright Bryan Nason. Bellah is working with Nason for CWU’s rendition of the show to make sure that any changes made to the script are approved by Nason.
“Monkey” has a large cast of students who play a variety of characters from pigs and tigers to demons. Annie Jankovic, a performance BFA, plays a tiger demon and is also a part of the ensemble.
“We do a lot of drumming and musical work in the background,” Jankovic said.
The actors in the ensemble learn many new tricks during their time as a part of “Monkey.” Several of the actors learned how to juggle and some learned how to operate puppets.
Most of the characters in “Monkey: His Magic Journey to the West” are mystical creatures, which requires that the actors have a good understanding of the background information of their roles.
Quan Yen, is a Buddhist goddess. Easton Benson, an undeclared freshman who plays Quan Yen, said, “the goddess is a symbol of compassion and kindness, hoping to end all the suffering in the world.”