Andrew Harris teaches acting to Chinese students in Guangzhou. | Courtesy of Andrew Harris

partnership between JCPS performing arts magnet Lincoln Elementary and StageOne Family Theatre has sent students and artists in both directions up and down Main Street. Lincoln students head to the Kentucky Center to see plays by StageOne, and teaching artists head over to Lincoln to help offer programing and encourage artistic development in students.

Andrew Harris, associate artistic director of StageOne, talks about that partnership with Insider, describing how it landed him and Lincoln Elementary teacher Jordan Price in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, located in the Guangdong province.

“The partnership goes back before they were a magnet school, when they were a neighborhood school,” says Harris. “They had a history of not only going to shows at StageOne, but also bringing in our educational programming.”

Jordan Price and Andrew Harris with a Guangzhou student | Courtesy of Andrew Harris

When the school was turned into a performing arts magnet, Harris sat on the board that helped oversee and execute that change. He then provided content for the initial training of the Lincoln staff.

Harris must be pretty confident of his work there, because he has a child that’s about to go into fifth grade at Lincoln.

Additionally, StageOne currently runs their summer camp programs out of Lincoln, paying rent by offering $14,000 in scholarships to Lincoln students. StageOne has other partnerships with the school as well, including several that focus on the technical aspects of theater.

“So you could say we’ve done a few things together,” says Harris.

In addition to StageOne, Lincoln has other relationships and partners — some near, some far.

“Lincoln has a sister school in China who has come to visit Lincoln — they brought some students over and visited,” he explains. “And earlier in the year, Assistant Principal Michael Ice and Counselor Nanette Jones went over to China.”

With two successful exchanges in the relationship, the Chinese school asked if Lincoln could send over some teachers, and Ice reached out to Harris to be one of them.

“It happened relatively quickly, and by the time this came up, we looked at our schedules and we had this one week we could do it … very quickly we were flying off to China,” he says.

Harris, who had never been out of the country before, admits it was a bit of a whirlwind. He barely got his passport in time. Then, when a storm caused a connecting flight to be cancelled, he and Price spent an unexpected day and night exploring Shanghai.

But when they finally arrived in Guangzhou the next day, they were greeted by a familiar sight.

“We walked out of the terminal, and the first thing we see? KFC. Like, really? KFC? We saw a lot of KFC and Pizza Hut,” he recalls.

Harris and Price also taught set design. | Courtesy of Andrew Harris

Harris describes the program in which he and Price taught as a “mini Governor’s School.” The students and teachers all stayed in a hotel, eating meals together and training in theater. Harris and Price taught about six hours a day, covering everything from acting and directing to playwriting and design.

“I’m not sure what I expected … I either expected it to be vastly different from life over here, or very similar. Instead it was both,” says Harris. “There where aspects where you were like, ‘Oh look, all of the teenagers have their phones out.’ We had to tell our students, ‘Hey, why don’t you put your phone down and talk to us?’ The same conversations I have with my own son. Kids are kids. But the pace is different. Guangzhou is a massive city — population somewhere around 12 million.”

Despite the magnitude of the population, Harris says there was still a cultural focus on slowing down, especially at meal times.

“It was nice to slow down and sit and talk and bond and communicate with all of our students.”

The students also received help with English. | Courtesy of Andrew Harris

In addition to teaching theater, Price and Harris helped the students study another subject.

“We were specifically asked to teach in English, because they look for opportunities to practice English,” says Harris. “The students were great. The students had varying levels, and they’d help us and translate and teach us.”

Just one week after Harris and Price arrived in China, they came home, but there is already talk of a return engagement.

Harris had additional stories about China — teaching, driving and exploring. But he was clear that he came home thinking about one thing.

“It was a nice reminder that the work we do as artists crosses all barriers, it crosses all boundaries,” he says. “We always talk about how the theater we do is appropriate for everyone. That everyone could and should have access to this kind of work, and it was a nice reminder that, truly, it is universal.”

StageOne’s 2018-19 season starts Oct. 19 with “Frankenstein” and continues with student matinees and public performances. They have ongoing camps during the summer, so if you’re still looking for ways to entertain and educate your kids, find out more online.