Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) is taking a fresh — and local — look at a classic Chinese folktale.
The historic tale, “The Monkey King: Journey to the West,” is an epic Chinese novel published in the 16th century. It is considered to be one of the four great classical novels of China, a group of books which form the foundation of Chinese literature. In addition to being an exciting narrative, Journey to the West is also a storehouse of knowledge on ancient Chinese culture, mixing folktales, history and religious teachings.
YTN is a Mercer Island-based school and theatre for children and families. At YTN, children and young adults explore the depths of their creativity and experience the thrill of live performance.
Directed by Mimi Katano, YTN’s “The Monkey King: Journey Westbound” updates the classic tale with a Northwest twist.
Audiences will follow four teenaged versions of a monkey, a pig, a Buddhist monk and a general through familiar neighborhoods in their quest to better themselves. Their quest will begin on Mercer Island and the characters will take Metro buses westbound to Seattle.
Katano commissioned the original adaptation by Seattle-based playwright, Maggie Lee. Lee is also the author of 2018’s YTN production, “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”
Katano said she was inspired to commission the play after last year’s YTN’s production of “The Lion King” in Newcastle.
“I learned that there’s a large Chinese community here,” Katano said. “I wanted to do a show that would appeal to the audience demographics here. YTN has done a few shows of ‘The Monkey King’ in the past, but we wanted to do something different.”
Katano said she hopes the name recognition of the production will draw more Newcastle residents to come and see the show, as well as bring their children. The show will be held at Risdon Middle School in Newcastle.
Unlike previous YTN productions, this show incorporates acrobatics. TYN and School of Acrobatics and New Circus Art (SANCA).
SANCA is recognized nationally as a leader in youth circus arts education, safety and instructor training. The school is located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. The hope for the production was to have SANCA students and YTN actors play in the show. However, due to scheduling conflicts, the show will be choreographed by SANCA clown Mick Holsbeke. The actors will be trained in acrobatics for the show.
One of the perks to having a play commissioned, Katano said, is that the characters in the script are tailored to the actors portraying them.
Nora Jorgensen, 11, plays one of the key roles in the production. For Jorgensen, she said she really enjoys being a part of YTN.
“I’m really excited for this show,” she said. “I love being a part of the theater community. It’s great how everyone is doing something and working together, but doing it because they like it… It’s like being a part of science cub or another club where you all just want to be there.”
While only a few days into rehearsal, she said some of the challenges so far have been memorizing her lines.
“I’m not very patient, and sometimes I just want to get through a scene and get it over with,” she said.
For Zoya Firasta, 12, this is her second production with YTN. She plays a game store owner in the show.
Firasta, a student at the French-American School on Mercer Island, said she’s really enjoyed being a part of YTN.
“Everyone works together well and helps each other,” she said.
Firasta said she is excited for the production because it’s based on an ancient folktale.
“I like that it’s based on something true — meaning it’s an old legend that people have been listening to for so long,” she said. “We’re modernizing it to allow current audiences to understand it more. It’s been cool to work together to tell this story.”
“The Monkey King: Journey Westbound” will be held at Risdon Middle School from Aug. 2-18. For more information visit YTN’s website (https://bit.ly/2GBhgrJ).