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Soviet, Chinese and American Students Work Together on Play

August 2, 1989

FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ In a tranquil, tree-lined park near the prairie, teen-agers from China, the Soviet Union and the United States have been writing a play they hope will help make their dreams of peace come true.

The script developed over the past two weeks opens with characters from each country on a stage behind a mountain topped with a star. Discord among them is represented by fog as they struggle musically, occasionally striking a note of harmony.

At the end of the play, the star on the mountain comes to the characters, and pieces of the mountain form a bridge to the audience.

″Our goal must be to show peace and friendship,″ said Shan Jian, one of two 16-year-olds from Beijing who joined two others from the Soviet Union and the United States in writing the script.

The Chinese participants are leaving Thursday, but next summer, 15 students from China and the Soviet Union are expected to arrive in Fargo to work with young American artists on the performance. The play, financed through an assortment of private and public sources, then is scheduled to tour the United States, the Soviet Union and China.

″It’s really a process to create a link between the people of these nations,″ says Vicki Chepulis, director of the ″Imagine″ program at the Trollwood Performing Arts School.

Set on a 44-acre park in this city of 100,000, Trollwood was created in 1978 following the model of Washington’s Wolf Trap, to offer young people a chance to study the performing arts. More than 300 students come each summer.

The involvement of the Soviet and Chinese students, who arrived last month, began with a visit by Trollwood founder John Marks to China in 1986. He proposed an exchange, about the same time Chepulis was proposing an exchange with students from the Soviet Union.

″In our own naive way, we said, ’Why don’t we do both?‴ Chepulis recalled. Officials in China and the Soviet Union supported the idea.

″What we really strive for is creativity and confidence,″ Marks said, ″with the attitude that you need to be friends before you can write a play.

″To me, the whole way this project started was a dream. Everybody wants to have a peaceful world. What better way to show that than through the arts?″

The play, with a working title ″Imagine,″ aims to be a celebration of the three cultures and a challenge to others to imagine what it would be like if people of all countries could work together.

It is designed as a rock opera with the story conveyed through music and movement instead of words.

One of the Chinese student advisers is Ding Zhen Chun, 49, whose performance as the ″Monkey King″ is a highlight of the Beijing Opera. Ding said he was not worried that the recent violence that followed student demonstrations in China would threaten the program, even though it did delay the students’ arrival in Fargo. But they preferred not to talk about it.

″What it really made me realize is that it was just people to people, and that’s all we were interested in. I think ... they just wanted to focus the project,″ Chepulis said.

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