Telling a tale

Ohlone students perform 'The Monkey King,' a Chinese fable, to mark first year of Mandarin language immersion program

The Jade Empress, wearing a sea-green headdress and holding an oversized fan, is about to take her place on stage. She has 22 lines, which she doesn't think she'll forget.

It's the Tuesday dress-rehearsal of Ohlone Elementary School's production of "The Monkey King." The young actor is playing the same role her brother played a few years ago, but this year the show is a little different.

Parents still buzz around applying make-up, and Ohlone students work the light-system control board as they have in years' past. But this year, the production is marking the first year of Ohlone's once-controversial Mandarin Immersion program.

Ohlone has performed "The Monkey King" twice before, but Principal Susan Charles thought that mounting the Chinese fable this year would be a good way to welcome the new language-immersion program. Students will sing in Mandarin as part of the play's opening number, amidst a vibrant cast garbed in traditional Chinese dress, intricate masks and headdresses. Fans and lanterns will decorate the colorful set.

On Tuesday, Otak Jump, an Ohlone teacher and the play's director, stood among dozens of kneeling youngsters. In his pep talk, Jump encouraged his actors to play with the story.

"Even more than you play with it, let your character play with you, every moment you're on stage," he said.

"If you're a monkey, be a monkey; if you're a fairy, be a fairy; if you're a spider, be a spider," he said, transforming his body into each character he described. "A character never forgets its lines."

The Ohlone students grinned and nodded their heads.

Jump adapted a classical Chinese "Journey to the West" tale and is directing 110 young actors, who form two casts.

The story was originally written about 400 years ago during the Ming dynasty, and with the addition of the pivotal role of Monkey, the allegory took on a supernatural element. The Monkey King is to East Asia what Mickey Mouse and Superman are to the West.

"Monkey King beats it by half in Asia. Everyone knows Monkey King," Jump said. "He is a superhero; he can fly on a cloud. Monkey is impervious to being injured."

Jump's re-write of "The Monkey King" includes allegorical episodes telling of when Monkey is born, when he becomes the guardian of the immortal peaches, when he goes up to heaven and when he steals the clothes of seven spider spirits.

"When we did 'The Monkey King' before we never sang in Mandarin, but now we have a Mandarin class," Charles said.

The immersion program has 40 kindergarten and first-graders, one-third of whom come from Mandarin-speaking families. Eighty percent of the school week, the children are taught in Mandarin and the other 20 percent in English.

"We're taking the Immersion program and blending it in the Ohlone developmental model of teaching. It's quite a stretch, but it's a stretch I think we can do it," said Charles, who added that the students are doing well.

"The Monkey King" will be performed on Thursday (school-only performance at 1 p.m.), Friday (school performance at 1 p.m. and public performance at 7 p.m.) and Saturday (public performances at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m) at Ohlone Elementary School's multipurpose room, 950 Amarillo Ave., Palo Alto.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I saw that up in Frisco years ago. It was delightful.

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Posted by C's parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 26, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Great job guys! Pretty impressive!

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Posted by Language for all, or go to private school
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:20 am

It is impossible to enjoy the results of this class when it all started with Grace Mah's bullying behavior last year. The MI program was voted out by a democratic process, and then Grace sent a letter to the school board saying that if they do not vote MI in, she will start a charter school in Palo Alto. So they took a second vote and here it is. Many parents wanted all the elementary students to have an equal opportunity to learn a second language. And they were right- but Grace's actions were wrong. And no little play can make it right.

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Posted by Non-Ohlone Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:28 am

I believe that this is not the first time Ohlone has staged this play. I seem to remember a few years ago my child going to see this play at Ohlone as a friend was taking part in it.

Perhaps calling it a celebration of MI is not a good idea - whether this is the school or the PA Weekly doing so - it is enough to rub salt in the wounds for many.

When the schools put on a performance they tend to choose plays that fit in with the different cultures that are contained in Palo Alto and do not tend to have political motives.

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Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:54 pm

This is the annual school play, sponsored by the Ohlone PTA, not a special new thing because we now have Mandarin Immersion. The MI classes are participating by singing at the beginning of the play, which is a nice addition. The Monkey King was last performed at Ohlone 3 years ago.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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