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Alison Qu ‘20: International Perspectives and Embracing the Unknowable

Alison Qu portrait
Alison Qu ’20. Courtesy photo

Welcome to Emersonian International, a brand new spotlight series featuring career stories of Emerson’s international students and alumni. Whether in the U.S., in their home countries, or somewhere in between, international Emersonians are finding internships, engaged in their communities, and creating opportunities for themselves to develop their skills and move forward in their careers.

For our first spotlight, meet Alison Qu, Class of 2020! Alison majored in Performing Arts and is co-founder of CHUANG Stage, the first Mandarin Chinese theater community of Emerson College.

This interview was reposted from Careerbuzz.

Alison Qu ’20: International Perspectives and Shaping Change

What kinds of professional projects (whether internship-related or other) are you working on this summer?

Qu: I spent the first couple of weeks since quarantine putting together an online series at CHUANG Stage (CHUANG at Home) and I am directing/assistant directing a few Zoom readings with TC Squared Theater Company!

To be completely honest, I’ve been really anxious about not being able to work in the theater this summer, and possibly in the fall too, so I’ve been on a constant lookout for opportunities and saying yes to everything that comes … my way. I want to take every opportunity to fully learn what it means not having the collegiate connections you had in school, not taking every work opportunity for granted, and to start small.

Initially, it feels very weird to be directing a large production in college, and a week later assisting a Zoom reading [and] muting people’s mics, but this is where we are now. Developing professional skills at this time is to contribute small, because not everyone ha[s] the capacity to do six rehearsals a week, and we have to hear that. I also think this is a great time to introduce yourself to people you won’t normally come into contact with. Your favorite artist/writer might be hosting a virtual Q&A and left their email address for people with further questions. Email them and say that you love their work! Register your name with them and make their day better with some kind words.

Have you applied any skills you’ve learned in the classroom to these initiatives? If so, what were they?

Qu: When my Advanced Directing class moved to Zoom, we pivoted our energy to discover what it means to be directing these littles squares of people, becoming really comfortable with the platform. It turns out that we will be directing on Zoom for quite a while, and I am really happy to be able to go into virtual rehearsal rooms and let people know that I really trust this medium instead of complaining about the limitations.

Being a young person in the industry right now really has its perks. I get to assist virtual productions because I am very familiar with Zoom and I would suggest what to explore: How can we play with cameras? What do entrances and exits mean? How can we use the space we are in?

More even: If this is a Zoom play, what’s the character’s Zoom personality? Technology has been a “young person thing,” and now it’s time to show the world what we can do. I thank my Zoom directing class endlessly (and that goes to Annie Levy!) for putting this tool in my hand.

What have been the biggest “perks” of having an international perspective while studying and working with others in the U.S.?

Qu: I am still on the way to discover my answer to this question. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve started writing about my experiences growing up across borders in my cover letters.

For many years, I’ve been feeling being international is not an advantage, and I think a part of it is that American people don’t like being international, especially in theatre. Unlike in many other countries, foreign language musicals cannot become hits. (Can we talk about how many Chinese teens can recite the entire Hamilton cast album in order? How long Phantom has been running in Japan?)

At the same time, I firmly believe our generation will grow up and become global citizens, finding interests in different cultures and becoming critical of our own. I think many institutions are starting to see that. Being international means you are more likely to have an open heart; my stir-fry wok (O.K., I hate this word, they are all pans) does both fried rice and slow-cooking Bolognese.

But more important than what you have in your kitchen. Do you actually know what’s going on outside of the States? At this moment of the world when we are all combating the same virus wherever we are, can we sympathize with [an]other country’s pain? What are ways for us to learn from them? I am learning what it means to bring my international perspective into daily conversations, shaping changes to the spaces that I work with.

Do you have any advice for students who are looking to develop professionally, whether through doing an internship or starting their own projects?

Qu: For the past weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, despite receiving more words of empathy from relatives and ranting with your friends: What does it mean to be graduating in a pandemic?

Back in March, I was writing grant applications and interviewing for apprenticeships, hoping that I will “jumpstart” my career the minute I walk out of [commencement]. When you can’t jumpstart the rest of your life, are we just gonna not live it at all? I, too, feel like trash when I binge Netflix and boba a week into summer. I don’t deserve the rest. All I wanna do is to sit in a cold-as-fuck black box theater in the East Village, maybe taking notes or getting coffee for the entire cast, meeting people I’ve only heard the names of.

I’ve learned to embrace that I feel like trash, and will occasionally feel like trash throughout 2020, and to think beyond 2020. If your plan was to become the artistic director of something in 2030, what happened in 2020 probably won’t stop you from getting there. Do what you need to do. If you need to work for a real estate agent for a little bit, or to sell your art on Etsy so that you can feed yourself, do it.

Don’t feel like you need to be writing the next King Lear during the pandemic. You don’t have to create when the circumstance doesn’t allow. There’s no shame in going back to your hometown for a while and teaching theatre at your middle school (maybe you’ll find you are happy there – again, no shame in that!) This is a great time to think outside of the circle that you have (I have) drawn for yourself. Do I have to be making theatre?

This is a great time to learn, to reflect, to sort of demolish our beautiful dream. Does the industry really need me like I think it does? I will use the time to reconnect with as many [family] and friends as possible and think about it together, and maybe some creative ideas can flow out of that. Or maybe we can feel like trash together, but all of that will pass. Do what you need to do now and we’ll be striving soon having learned something new.

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