The Texas Shakespeare Festival has hosted a group from Chongqing and Shanghai, China for the past 11 years, and this year the group had the opportunity to tour Kilgore Middle School as part of their visit.

Meaghan Simpson, associate artistic director of TSF, said the group met Raymond Caldwell, the founder and artistic director, when he was judging a competition in China, and that's how the relationship between the festival and the Chinese theater company began.

"The purpose of them coming to Kilgore is two-fold," Simpson said. "One is there's two leaders of their group, Angelina and Steve, and they're actors and directors themselves. They recruit a bunch of young people who are either teachers or students, and they come to Kilgore to learn more about American culture, about the art of teaching theater, about English-speaking, all of that. So they're all in the arts in some way, and they're coming to learn more about the culture of America and English and theater."

Yaxiaozi Gao, who's chosen American name is Angelina, said that coming back to Kilgore for the eleventh year feels like coming home. This year she asked Simpson if it would be possible to visit a local school during the trip, and so it was coordinated for their group to come visit the middle school on Wednesday. Gao said the middle school is stunning.

"The education system is very, very important because when you are very little you have that kind of arts education, you have a theater education, and then you understand what is what. Then, later, you could become theater people or you could become good audience, and for both of them that is very important for the theater business," Gao said. "So this (is) gonna be a very important step for us to learn where the story begins. So that's why this year I asked Meaghan, I said would it be possible for us to visit some local school because we need to see, we need to have a lot of pictures, and we need to know these people, and then we understand, this is true, this is what (is) really happening in this country, in this city.

“And then we go out, we go back to tell the stories of what happened here to our Chinese friends, to let them know 'oh, this how the U.S. people do it,' and maybe we can learn something from it."

The visiting group is made up of an assortment of individuals.

"We have some professional Chinese tradition drama actors involved, and some teachers, both from the private training school and from the public primary school, and then we have some students – they're gonna do their Master degrees for the next semester," Gao said. "It's a combined team, just like the past every year."

The group will put on a free performance at 7:30 p.m. July 23 during ‘Chinese Theater Night.’

"Every year it's different," Simpson said. "It began with them actually doing Shakespeare in English, which is amazing, because their native language is Chinese and the fact that they can speak Shakespeare intelligibly is unbelievable – many Americans can't do that. So they started by doing short adaptations of Shakespeare, and they still do that sometimes, but now they often will kind of put together their own piece or their own translation or something like that."

Admission to the performance is free, but reservations are required and can be made by calling the TSF box office at (903) 983-8601.

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