Through COVID-19, through feelings of inferiority, through four long years of college, the show must go on.
That seems to be what drives Fuyuan, or Freya Zheng, a Theatre major from Tianjin, China. In her four years at Wake Forest, she has directed and stage-managed productions; won research awards and founded a club and excelled academically.
Zheng was first drawn to theatre through a First Year Seminar on communication in the fine arts.
“We got to read poems and look at sculptures, pictures, paintings and other artwork,” Zheng said of the class. “We also went to the Theatre Department production. I think it was ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ that they did that semester.”
She continued: “That was my first real involvement with the Theatre and Dance Department. And I just found it interesting. I have always been a theatre lover, but I didn’t really expect myself to do theatre as a job or as a major. But that semester, I actually kind of felt like ‘oh, it’s really fun to do theatre.’ I think also that semester that there was a theater or musical wave in China, and everyone kind of like get interested in theater and those kind of things.”
Now officially interested in being a theatre major, Zheng took THE 150 — an intro class — for her art divisional. It ended up being one of her favorite classes from her time at Wake Forest.
“It’s kind of a huge workload, but it’s really interesting, and it actually gives you a great insight of what theatre looks like,” Zheng said.
Zheng said because her two majors, theatre and anthropology, are not popular among Chinese students, she sometimes felt isolated. However, she also said that she has had no problems finding other communities.
“Most of my days were spent in Scales, and everybody was really nice in the lobby during the day,” Zheng said. “Also, you can literally see all the art students, like either from studio arts or theatre just hanging out in that lobby talking with each other.”
Zheng also began to get involved with productions. In the spring of her junior year, she stage-managed “The Gentleman From Verona”, a Shakespeare comedy that the Theatre Department staged outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also stage-managed “The Normal Heart” last fall.
“It was just a lot for everybody involved,” Zheng said of “The Normal Heart”. “Not only for the actors and directors, but also for the people working backstage. I remember like when I was in the rehearsals because I was the stage manager, I had to be there every night, and there were so many nights that I ended up having tears in my eyes.”
Zheng’s involvement in theatre is not limited to the department, however. She also founded the BiMoo Theatre Group, which produces Mandarin plays, and directed the group’s most recent production, ”Same Caged”. Zheng praised BiMoo’s adviser and theatre professor Dr. Brook Davis for her help.
“She helped me so much along the way in just giving me suggestions and networks and helping me to put everything together,” Zheng said.
Davis, who also taught Zheng in one of her classes, praised Zheng’s efforts to create a space for Chinese theatre on campus.
“ She has worked tirelessly to foster a creative space for students who are interested in delving into Chinese theatre,” Davis said. “She directed a lovely production of “Kinderszenen” in the fall — both English and non-English speakers were excited by her work. Freya will leave big shoes to fill when she graduates in May, and we will miss her in our department.”
Zheng will begin classes at Columbia this fall to obtain a Master’s of Fine Arts in Stage Management degree.