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November 8, 2011

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Musical about a material girl 'Christmas Carol'

AMERICAN Apphia Campbell used to go to Broadway musicals and Off-Broadway shows every week while she lived in New York and one of the things she really misses in Shanghai is good musical theater.

For the past two years Campell has been teaching drama in Shanghai and working as a full-time singer. At the end of the month her first musical "Josephina's Soulful Holiday," a modern-day "Christmas Carol," will be staged, realizing her dream of creating a Broadway-type musical in Shanghai.

"I thought there have to be other people here who miss that as well, and who want to be involved in that art here," says the energetic 27-year-old, wearing a leather jacket and speaking with enthusiasm in an interview with Shanghai Daily.

Campbell decided to establish a musical theater group half a year ago.

The show, with plenty of soul music, will be staged from November 25-27 and from December 2-4; six shows will be given.

It's about a young woman named Josephina who has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas; she has neglected her friends, family and boyfriend, and is concerned only with the material aspects of Christmas and life in general.

She meets her conscience, Joe 2, who shows Josephina her past, present and future. She then faces a choice: change or give up on happiness. She goes for change and a brighter future.

Campbell's company has eight members, some of them professional actors and musicians. In addition to Campbell, there's one Colombia, one African, three Americans and two Shanghainese.

"I want to use local performers from all over the world to bring exciting musical theater stories to life," says Campbell. She targets expat singles, families and locals.

The show features Christmas music of Motown classic groups such as the Jackson 5, the Supremes and Temptations. There are also songs from Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey and Baby face.

"I believe the easiest and most exciting way to communicate with people from so many cultures is through music," says Campbell. The show is the first for small troupe, but she hopes it will be one of many.

Born and raised in Florida, Campbell grew up singing, dancing and acting. Throughout her adolescence, she attended a performing arts school and worked hard with her mentor to develop her skills.

After high school she continued to work with her mentor to form the first, and to this day the only African-American theater company in her hometown of Sarasota - The Westcoast Black Theater Troupe. The company has been performing for 10 years and is recognized as an asset to the Sarasota community.

Campbell attended Florida International University where she received a bachelor's degree in fine arts, specializing in theater performance. Then she moved to New York and performed in several regional theaters and in Off-Broadway shows.

She also taught theater to elementary and high school students.

"As you can see, I have always had a passion for theater," she says. "I really enjoyed sharing that passion with other young people and helping them to develop those skills."

After four years in New York, Campbell decided it was time for a change. She received an offer to teach theater at a performing arts school in Shanghai.

"I decided to take on that adventure," she says. She has been in Shanghai for two years and says "I love this city!"

Teaching theater in several local schools, singing in restaurants and bars, and working on musical theater makes for a busy life.

"I am alone here and I miss my family in my hometown, but I make friends here and I'm doing what I like," she says.

Every Thursday and Friday Campbell performs at the Big Bamboo; on Wednesday nights she sings at the Cotton Club.

She teaches primary, middle, high school and college students, both international students and locals.

"Chinese students are very shy but if you keep active and energetic in the big group activity and make them feel comfortable, they will enjoy the class and give you more active feedback and interactions.

"No matter what language we are using, music and dance are the best way to communicate," she says.

Campbell says she's happy to see students enjoying their classes, but the biggest issue is the unrealistic expectations of parents.

"Parents usually expect to see their children's progress immediately, but it does take time," says Campbell.

To people like Campbell, the growing theater market in Shanghai is attractive and there are an increasing number of good theaters and performance venues.

Campbell has spoken with many Chinese theatergoers and finds they enjoy lavish stage sets, dramatic lighting, special effects and elaborate costumes more than Western audiences.

"Maybe it's one of the differences between two groups. The 'picture' of the drama is very important to Chinese audiences," Campbell adds.

Campbell travels a lot to other cities. She especially enjoys spicy Wuhan-style cooking (Wuhan is the capital city of central China's Hubei Province).

'Josephina's Soulful Holiday'

Date: November 25-27 and December 2-4 (Friday and Saturday, 7pm; Sunday 3pm)

Address: 601 Jiaozhou Rd (near Changping Rd)

Apphia Campbell

Nationality: American

Profession: Drama instructor and singer

Age: 27



Spontaneous, adventure- and challenge-seeking junkie.

Favorite place:

Di Shui Dong restaurant.

Strangest sight:

Baby being potty trained wearing the special outfit (with slit pants).

Motto for life: Don't be afraid to do what you love, people can only say no.

Worst experience: Being hit by a taxi.

How to improve Shanghai: Less pollution.

Advice to newcomers: Accept the differences of the country, and you will enjoy it sooner.


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