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Crossing USA: Another Show in Another Town

Ran Xia reflects on the states she's visited and the theater she's seen. logo

Illustration of Spring Awakening
(© Ran Xia)
In a print shop called Hammer Press in downtown Kansas City, I bought a post card for each state I've visited in my 3.5 years in America. I counted: 15 states plus Washington DC.

I've always longed to see this country. With the uncertainty of how much time I'll spend here, my lack of attachment or family, and an almost foolish fearless attitude towards unfamiliarity, I made up my mind to explore. When it comes to choosing a route, there's always the "fundamental" question: am I catching an interesting show there? Theatre never fails to make trips more memorable.

East Coast is my preferred territory. Garage Theatre Company rents space on our campus in New Jersey, and periodically offers free tickets to FDU students. I saw their intimate and haunting production of Lee Blessing's A Body of Water. There's also The University Players where I worked on Bullshot Crummond, Rumors, The Elephant Man, and The Vagina Monologues. I also discovered the lovely town of New Brunswick where I saw The Last Five Years, and explored the gorgeous campus of Princeton University thanks to Sleeping Beauty Wakes run at McCarter.

Philadelphia, PA is a city of vibrant colours. That's quite proper as the show I relate it to is Hair. A few hours' bus ride, a complete different atmosphere: those lovely houses on South Street with elaborate murals always give me joy. Barnes Foundation, the prettiest art museum I've ever been to, also has a special place in my heart. In Boston, MA I saw Blue Man Group with mum in summer of 2010. It was a show of much content and can be understood without the interference of language, just like the laidback city with delightful New England architecture, breathing history and knowledge. Connecticut, in my mental map, consists of Amazing Grace in Chester, Spring Awakening in Ridgefield, and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder in Hartford, and trees; lots and lots of trees surrounding each of my theatre memories.

I also reached Maine; Baltimore, Maryland and Washington DC (if I count it separately). Those trips are theatre-less, but Smithsonian museums and Poe's residence made every last inch of them fulfilling.

West Coast for me -- forgive me if this sounds geographically ignorant -- is a chunk of California surrounded by blobs of everything else. Down in the bay American Idiot (which I saw on Broadway, and Raleigh, NC) ignited my rage and love for San Francisco: rage for its threatening tenderloin area; love for its salty ocean wind and beautiful view from the hills. To the south I've been Waiting for Godot in Los Angeles, where the Corner Book Store caught my heart and kept a piece of it there. Nearby, San Diego, home of La Jolla Playhouse, I hope one day I will visit…

This summer I had an intense 10-day-7-city heartland tour: Omaha, NE; Memphis, Nashville and St Louis, TN; Kansas City, MO; Manhattan and Topeka, KS. Why Midwest you ask? Initially, it's the romantic, nostalgic notions of Meet Me in St Louis, the footsteps of Dorothy, the "fantastical" homeland of country music and jazz I've heard so much about. The motivations eventually were, again, theatres: The Sound of Music in St. Louis, Aida in Kansas City and The Nutty Professor in Nashville, which I unfortunately didn't end up seeing. I witnessed, with admiration, the landmarks of each city and the amazing creations of people through the history---it was the most memorable trip I've ever had.

And right now as I'm typing away, I'm finally seeing Chicago, IL, with all her beauty and thrilling charms. I've been longing to see its architecture, as the cool autumn wind whistle across the skyline. Kinky Boots literally kicked me up this time.

The only state I didn't get much out of visiting was Nevada besides its vast and beautiful desert, bejeweled with cactus and occasionally shells from centuries ago. Of course it was only a transitional stop, and I didn't have time to explore. I'd love to see the mountains in Colorado and the steaming red soil in Texas; and Florida, the sunny dreamland so frequently saluted. I kept imagining: what if theatres can be the vanishing cabinets in Harry Potter's world? Then we'll be able to step in one, and KA-BOOM, you get to a completely different place! The stories unraveled, the melodies played in those black boxes make our life surreal and the world we live in infinitely small.

I went to see the world through many a stage, and got the most invaluable gifts there can be, traveling back inside of my heart.


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