By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Actress Katie Bradley jumped at the chance to portray a character that offered her pride and empowerment as a teenager. Bradley portrays Mulan, Jr., the legendary teen princess and Chinese hero in the Children’s Theatre Company musical that runs through June 13, 2010.
The play, directed by David Mann, is based on the 1998 Disney feature film and the story Fa Mulan by Robert D. San Souci, Mulan, Jr. The story dates to 7th century poems about a princess warrior, Mulan, and if she existed it was probably during the Northern Wei Dynasty of the 4th and 5th Century A.D.
There have been many twists on the story and Bradley recalls reading Maxine Hong Kingston who talked about Mulan as an empowering figure in her work, The Women Warriors. Bradley said Mulan works well to contrast the dynamic between father as head of family and men as rulers and women in the background.
“For Mulan to be a strong female character in a predominantly patriarchal society is pretty cool,” said Bradley.
When Chinese families are called into military service to repel an invasion, Mulan would not be allowed to join the battle as a young girl, but she risks everything to honor her family and her father – and leads a grateful nation to triumph.
Bradley recalls that as a teenager Mulan was the first film she saw that depicted a strong Asian woman.
“I Remember feeling really, really proud as I was leaving the theater to be an Asian American woman,” Bradley said.
Working with a cast of 29, mostly young actors in a children’s theater performance has brought back those feelings in depicting this character to kids. She also keeps this in mind in her portrayal as a person of color and said the interaction brings energy and an enthusiastic approach to the performance.
“What they stress here at CTC is to just be a role model, and someone that these teenage actors can really look up to – and that has been great for me too,” she said.
Connecting with a young audience means giving a “bigger” performance every time, she added. Kids are intense viewers that can see the difference between a sincere performance and when they are being pandered to – and will be blunt about it when you don’t, she said.
“You can’t fool them and it’s nice because it keeps you on your toes,” she added. “I have performed for kids in the past but not to this magnitude, and to hear the kids laugh just makes my heart melt. It’s just awesome and it makes me want to work a lot harder just because I want to please them.”
The role has special meaning for Bradley as well. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and adopted as an infant. She was raised in Roseville, and recently lived in Seoul for six months in part to better understand the dual identities of not being Korean in America and American in Korea.
“A lot of what the Mulan character is going through is about ‘who am I? Why can’t I be the person I want to be because I am stifled by societal norms?” she said. “Growing up in Minnesota, I looked a certain way and strangers perceived me in a certain way – and I am not that way.
“My parents are White; I don’t speak Korean; and I don’t speak another language,” she added. “I think that the Mulan character and my prepping for it really is about identity and the struggle to show people who you are – even though you might not look a certain way is a constant battle.”
This is Bradley’s first CTC production and she said it is a great experience working with a direction team that has raised the bar on her own expectations – in a role that requires her to act, sing and dance.
“Everybody is so respectful of one another and the cast is just awesome,” she said. “The company members are just amazing to work with.”
Bradley said the direction team stressed the importance accuracy with a few theatrical tweaks for the stage, but they were very careful to be sure they were respectful of the culture and wanted to know the ins-and-outs of how a father and daughter would react with each other, and who the ancestors are, and what kind of role they play in Chinese culture today, as well as in the past.
The feel of Chinese theatre was made possible with scenery designer Joseph Stanley, costume designer Rich Hamson, the choreography of Linda Talcott Lee, and a music score with new songs from composer Victor Zupanc and Bryan Louiselle.
Bradley has worked with Mu Performing Arts since 2006, when she appeared as Hermia in ‘A Mid Summers Nights Dream’. She was finishing up at Gustavus Adolphus and has worked in many Mu shows since then. She is pleased that so many of her Mu colleagues are in Mulan.
Rose Le Tran plays Grandmother Fa; Dean Holt is Mushu, the dragon; and Joshua James Campbell is Captain Shang; and Brian McCormick portrays her father. Other cast include Ki Seung Rhee, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil; Sheena Janson, Jon Andrew Hegge and Reed Sigmund.
She said the Mu members are like a family and that it carried over to this production. The group brings an aesthetic of Asian American theater to the rehearsals. She said their input was invited and with it came an awareness for what Mu Performing Arts is trying to do with showcasing APIA productions and talent in the Twin Cities.
“Obviously they are not the only API actors the Twin Cities, but its nice to draw attention and say, ‘we are here’, and its wonderful to be able to work with them,” she added.
Bradley is looking to work next with Walking Shadow Theater Company in a performance of “After the Quake”, a play created from the short stories of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.
Mulan tickets range $26-40 for adults and $16-25 for students, seniors and children under 17. Call 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org. o