Happy New Year! It is the Year of the Horse for those who may not know the Lunar New Year traditions. Usually, the Lunar New Year is just another day for me, but I think I'm more aware of the event because I have been working on Asian-themed shows this year (The Song of the Nightingale, Mulan Jr., and now Where the Mountain Meets the Moon). In preparation for writing Mountain, I did my best to research various aspects of Chinese culture. In discussions with Mina Morita and Oona Hatton (the director and dramaturg, respectively), we decided that just as Grace Lin had taken Chinese folklore and re-contextualized them to tell Minli's story, we would bring aspects of Chinese and other Asian cultures and re-contextualize them for our stage version.
This meant a variety of research in many forms. Web searches and YouTube videos were a great place to start - reading Wikipedia articles and watching footage of the Dragon and Lion dances. On one occasion, Mina and I walked through Chinatown, San Francisco in order to see if objects and musical instruments might inspire the sound and look of the show. I had the joy to sit in on a Chinese orchestra rehearsal in order to take cues on what Chinese instruments sounded like. Now there is an erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument, included in our show. We also learned about Grace Lin and her artistic process as she wrote and illustrated Mountain. It seems she too dove into research of all kinds to create the book.
The fruit of our research labor is evident in our rehearsals. I believe we have an understanding of the world we're trying to create with Mountain. We know the boundaries of reality and fantasy as they apply to this show. We have a particular aesthetic and style in mind that borrows from Chinese and other Asian cultures. We aren't grasping at straws to make stylistic choices, because those discussions were had long before. I see more clearly now how doing good research will lead to good writing and good theatre. Even if the audience doesn't pick up on it, I think they will sense that something about this show feels firmly supported with a sturdy foundation.