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Bringing King's message to China
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When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his "I Have a Dream" speech, it's doubtful he thought his words would be performed in Mandarin Chinese.

Jessica Phillips, a 2006 Eastside High School graduate and student of Stanford University, witnessed this in June as a member of the chorus of the play "Passages of Martin Luther King" by Clayborne Carson performed by the National Theatre Company of China.

The play debuted at Stanford in 1993. Before the Chinese performances, churches and universities hosted readings of it - one with Danny Glover as King.

Carson knew King and his family, according to Phillips, and is an official documentarian of the civil rights leader's life and work.

"When Coretta Scott King died, he was the one who was invited into the King home to collect all his documents and writings from the home office, basement, everything," Phillips said.

Phillips met Carson through her studies at Stanford in California. As an international studies and Spanish major, she excitedly accepted the opportunity to audition for a part in the cast.

She explained how the play was a ground-breaking event in the realm of theatre.

"It was the first time in China we had Chinese actors and American actors on the same stage," Phillips said.

Carson and Executive Producer Caitrin McKiernan had to submit the play to a rigorous censorship process, which could have seen the play rejected.

Phillips said at first she was skeptical of a Chinese language play about Martin Luther aKing, but the Chinese actors worked diligently to make sure their delivery and understanding was accurate.

She also said she felt proud to help create the music for the show which included old slave spirituals, freedom songs and traditional gospel pieces.

"The music was so key, in that, it brought a spirit to the play," Phillips said.

Phillips believes the 20th Century story of blacks in the United States striving to gain equal rights, transcended racial lines.

"Audience members were emotional because they understood the struggle of the times despite the language barrier," Phillips said. "People laughed - people cried when he was in jail.

"I could really feel the emotions from the audience."

Acceptance of the history did not worry Phillips as much as the play's heavy religious components.

"You're talking about a country that's not red communist anymore," Phillips said. "but they are communist, and they don't accept God as King did."

However, the play was well received during its five performances in Beijing.

Phillips said after a performance, audience members would tell her they had learned basic facts about King in primary school, but never experienced his story in such emotional detail.

Phillips said Carson would like to take the play back to China during the Olympics this winter as well as to Europe and on a tour of the United States.

Once a shy, little girl, Phillips is now boldly expressive and wants to travel extensively while earning her degree in international studies. She said she probably would not have thought to visit China - since her passions lie in Latin America and Africa - if it was not for Carson's play.

"I've always been a big proponent of experiential learning," Phillips said, "and this experiential learning can unveil truths that textbooks can't give a human feeling to."