JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

JSU Professors' Stint
at China's Wuhan University

Jamie M. Eubanks
JSU News Bureau

JACKSONVILLE -- July 16, 2001 -- China may be one of the world's most populated and technologically advanced countries, but it has not advanced in the arts, according to JSU's David Keefer. Recently, Keefer -- technical director of Jacksonville State University's drama department -- traveled to Wuhan University in China.

"The people are still so focused on Chinese opera," says Keefer. "Even their television reflects the old ways of theatre." He says soap operas dominate daytime television in China. Other programs include game shows and talk shows.

But Wuhan's Arts Department is interested in starting a theatre and a drama program. And who better to shed some technical light on the drama scene than JSU's very own lighting and sound director.

"None of their professors had any working knowledge of Western theatre and how it works," comments Keefer. "And most students spoke English, while most professors did not." Most of these professors attended college during a time when relations between the U.S. and China were not at their best. So they were taught Russian, German or French.

So Keefer used an interpreter. He taught three classes in this manner. The first was on JSU's drama programs and how they work. Second, he taught a class in American Theatre. This dealt with professional, amateur and college level theatre.

"[China] has some new theatre, but it is mostly avant-garde -- really strange theatre. They are fixated on the past."

The third class Keefer taught was a class he teaches at JSU, Lighting Design. Here is where he ran into the most problems with interpretation.

"I had to word things very carefully because no one knew much about theatre and its technical aspects." In essence Keefer had to describe things to an interpreter who had almost no idea of what he was talking about.

When he wasn't teaching, Keefer and his fellow traveler, Fred Kelley, assistant professor of computer science at JSU, stayed in the guest house on campus, learned the bus system and sampled local cuisine.

"Everyone lived on campus," says Keefer. "Some 50,000 students lived there, along with faculty and staff and their families. Our guest house was quite rundown and the power went out frequently."

He also notes that the university was much like U.S. military bases. "It was a walled compound that was complete with restaurants, hotels and stores." So everything students and faculty needed, they could basically find at Wuhan.

Because Keefer and Kelley arrived May 1, they had nothing to do. May 1 through May 7 is May Days. It is treated much like spring break in the U.S. The campus was virtually shut down. For those eight days, they had nothing to do. So they decided to see the sites.

"The bus system was very difficult to learn at first," says Keefer. "But eventually we knew it better than the students. It all amounted to remembering the number of the first bus you got on."

Through the bus system Keefer and Kelley set out to see the less charted parts of Wuhan. "We would turn down streets that I wouldn't travel in America without a gun. But China is a very safe place. I was never afraid."

After they had seen all there was to see and May Days were still not over, they were taken in by local residents, professors and a graduate student. This is where they saw the true side of the Chinese people. Keefer and Kelley were invited into homes and family restaurants to see how the local people eat together.

Some of the people who invited Keefer into their homes will soon come to the U.S. to teach for a semester. During that time, Keefer will return their favor.

Keefer also hopes to travel back to Wuhan for a semester to help get its drama program off the ground.


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