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Class I Presents the Classic Folktale, The Great Race, in Annual Play

January 12, 2023—Class I students debuted their much-anticipated performance of The Great Race on Thursday to students, faculty, and staff during Thursday morning’s assembly and to parents in the afternoon. A culmination of the performing arts curriculum for Class I students in the fall, the Class I Play is a beloved annual tradition at Winsor. 

Set many years ago in China, The Great Race is a new, original adaptation of the classic story about the creation of the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The show, created by Winsor Performing Arts faculty, was written by Jeremy Johnson with music by Andrew Marshall, set design by Andres Puigbo, choreography by Carey McKinley, and costumes by Jessica Pribble, under the leadership of Felicia Brady-Lopez in the Performing Arts Department.

The stage was set with a backdrop of green with cherry blossoms, foliage, and painted animals, when thirteen pairs of animals took the stage. Arriving to the sound of beating drums and Chinese strings, actors were dressed in a traditional Chinese jacket with ears and tails to identify them as a particular animal. A narrator, dressed in the clothing of a Chinese scholar, presented the story to the audience between scenes. 

The Jade Emperor called all the animals together and announced that a calendar would be created to track time. A great race across the river would determine the order of the years. The first animals to finish the race would be the first to have a year of the calendar named after them. 

As the other animals scurry, hop, run, slither, or fly away to prepare for the race the following day, the rats and cats, who are good friends, stay behind to strategize. Neither can swim well and the rats devise a plan to ride on the back of the strong oxen to cross the river. But — tension builds as the audience learns the rats have a sneaky plan to come in first. 

Over the course of the race, we see the animals’ strengths and weaknesses come out in different ways as they compete to the finish. The dogs, playing in the river and having fun, take second to last place. The goats, monkeys, and roosters, who help each other cross on a raft, are collaborative and gracious. The dragons, who could have finished first, aid the rabbits by helping them over the finish line. The rats tricked the cats, pushing them into the water in order to come in first. Soaking wet and furious at the rats, the cats arrive too late to be assigned a year in the calendar’s 12-year cycle.

The students delivered their lines with comedy and finesse, with the goats bleating and the snakes drawing out the long S sound. The action was interspersed with the original music of Performing Arts Faculty Andrew Marshall, who accompanied the students on the piano.

“Win or lose, don’t change who you are,” sang the cast, closing out the show.

Mr. Johnson offered some words on the origin of the show: “After seeing AsIAm (Asians in America) share the classic story about the Chinese Zodiacs in Assembly last year, the theater department decided it would be a great plot for the annual Class I play,” said Mr. Johnson. “Over the years, most of the stories we’ve told on stage have been from the Western European tradition, and we are super excited to expand our storytelling.”

World Languages faculty Baoying Qiu and Ariel Tu, who offered suggestions for the development of the script, the songs, the Mandarin pronunciations, and the backdrop picture, had the following to say about the play: “I am beyond proud of this amazing production! This production makes history at Winsor, being the first Asian-themed play ever staged at Winsor, and it means a lot to all the people of color in this community.” Ms. Qiu went on to add, “I especially love the message of the whole play being ‘don't cheat to win, win with dignity, and keep your head high.’ You can't win every race, and it's ok to lose. Help each other on the way to the end of the race.” Ms. Tu added, “I was truly amazed by how Mr. Johnson transformed the classic Chinese folktale into a compelling stage performance. The colorful costumes, enchanting music, and stunning scenic design all came together in a way that made it a captivating theater performance.”

Shout outs to Ms. Qiu, Ms. Tu, and to the Class I students who also assisted with the Mandarin pronunciations during rehearsals. Thanks to Performing Arts Faculty Mr. Johnson, Ms. Brady-Lopez, Mr. Puigbo, Ms. Pribble, Mr. Marshall, and Ms. McKinley, for bringing this story to life for the student performers and bringing it to Winsor’s audience!