China with alum Brittany Coriaci ‘16
By Madison Kobe ‘18
Even after you graduate from Carthage, you are met with multiple opportunities based on your connections formed at Carthage. This is especially true for Brittany Coriaci ’16, as she is spending the summer working at a children’s musical theatre in China. She has been working Shanghai since November 2016, and plans on returning to the United States this November.
What did you study at Carthage?
Have you always wanted to travel for work?
Absolutely. When you’re about to graduate, the question you hear over and over is: “What’s your plan after college?” At the time, I didn’t know where I was going to be but my response was always, “I want to be traveling and working in Entertainment.” That will continue to be my goal.
What are your responsibilities while in China?
Primarily, I was hired to choreograph and teach Music Theatre (i.e. singing, dancing, and acting) at iMusical, a children’s music theatre school in Shanghai. However, upon arriving, I’ve had the opportunity to do so much more. I have been involved at every end of the spectrum from directing to cutting music to writing to costume designing to running performances. I also teach private dance classes for smaller groups of students. I’ve been keeping busy, that’s for sure.
How did you find out about this opportunity?
It all happened very fast. Siyi Tao, a Carthage Music Theatre exchange student from Shanghai, and I were talking one day before rehearsal for our senior production of Urinetown, The Musical (’16) which I was choreographing. I mentioned I would love to go back to China one day to live and work there for a while. A few days after graduation, and the night before I left for a different job for the summer, Siyi contacted me asking if I was interested in going to Shanghai in November of that year to work for iMusical. I sent in my headshot, resume, and performance/choreography videos. Then I interviewed the next morning and got the job. That’s how it is in China though—things go from 0 to 100 very quickly.
What were your expectations for your time in China before you arrived?
Considering previous trips to China, not to mention how I got the job at iMusical, I knew China was going to be a wild ride. If anything, being in China is a perfect exercise in being flexible and thinking on your feet. Things change in an instant. Meetings you thought were at 2:00 can soon turn into 2:30 or 3:00 because that’s the way here. Classes can be added to your schedule or cancelled without your knowledge because someone forgot to say or translate the note into English. The list goes on, but I knew I was going to get lots of tests in patience and being ready for anything.
Describing what China is like to someone who has never been there is, well, impossible. You can try, but you don’t really get it until you experience it for yourself. It is unlike any place I’ve ever gone. Compared to other cities in China, Shanghai shares many attributes of western culture, even with its Chinese flair. There is a completely different set of rules and a different way of thinking, which is what makes China one of my favorite places to travel to.
Was there anything in particular you were looking forward to before arriving in Shanghai?
Chinese food! While I do love a good burger or pizza, I find that I prefer eastern food to western. I’ve tried a lot of strange food to say the least, some of which I love, and some which I definitely don’t care for such as pigs’ feet and dried duck blood.
I’ve absolutely loved getting to meet some amazing people and share cultural differences and similarities with each other. I’ve also had a really great time attempting to pick up what I can of the Chinese language. Chinese is tonal, which means you can be saying the correct word but with the wrong inflection and nobody will understand what you’re saying. One time I was in a restaurant asking for green tea and later found out I was really asking for a green goat. Right word, wrong tone. Oops!
Were there any aspects of the experience that you were nervous about?
I think we all get that little voice in our head that tries to tell us we can’t do something – we’re not good enough, smart enough, etc. Despite that, I knew from the very beginning this was the right decision for me. It just felt right. Of course, it’s intimidating to move away from friends, family, and a culture/language you’re used to. However, I am so lucky to have a great support system at home. They have seriously picked me up during some hard times. It can be difficult adapting to the customs of a new place, especially one on the other side of the world. Plus, nobody says “bless you” when you sneeze, so that’s been really emotionally taxing.
How do you hope the experience will benefit you professionally?
I’ve recently been updating some resume material and it is amazing to look back at old choreography and see how much I have grown since then. Working with kids, especially with this many and at this fast pace, has made me much more organized overall. I have three different groups of classes: ages 5-7, 7-10, and 10-14. Within those groups are multiple classes of an average of 16 students each. Within each class, the students have anywhere from 3-10 songs to learn (or Act 1 of ‘Into the Woods’ for the 10-14 year olds). That’s a lot of material to prepare and a lot of material for any kid to learn, not to mention a kid whose first language isn’t English. I’ve been working to find the balance of keeping kids engaged and reasonably challenged without giving them too much. While teaching isn’t the end goal for me, getting to share what I love on the other side of the world has been eye opening in so many ways.
How do you feel your time at Carthage has prepared you for this type of experience?
I’ve put to use something that Carthage Music Theatre teaches from freshman year: “the importance of all three components, i.e. singing, dancing, and acting, being tied together to support the story.” I’m in a cultural environment where western Music Theatre is very new and not everybody speaks and understands the language that is being performed. Therefore, in order for the audience, the kids performing, and my coworkers to understand the story, all of the singing, dancing, and acting choices need to work together.
Did you participate in J-term trips or travel a lot during your time at Carthage?
I did! I am very blessed to have a mother who works as a flight attendant which makes it much easier for us to travel. I try not to take that for granted. I also participated in three J-Term trips while at Carthage: first to Huairou, China (near Beijing) to teach English with Ed Montanaro; next, touring China with the Carthage Music Theatre Department, where we performed “Seussical” and “Next to Normal” all over China; and finally, I went on the Nicaragua trip with Dr. Pfaffle and Dr. Zorn.