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2021 Huili Arts Festival: Behind the curtain

04 May 2021

When we visit the theatre, traditionally a red velvet curtain/drape hides the world of the performance from the audience. There is usually great anticipation and excitement regarding what world we will temporarily become a part of when the curtain draws back, and the performance begins.


What happens behind the curtain is more mysterious compared with what shows on stage. Taking this as inspiration, the arts team wished to pose to our young artists and community the question: how does that happen? And, thus, this year's focus became how the 'magic' of certain performative arts happen. This made pupils aware the performance on stage is inseparable from studious preparation behind the curtain.



Exploring how art is produced behind the curtain

Ms. Isabelle Charrot-Grinsdale

Head of Arts


During this year's arts festival, we offered opportunities for all during this special week to discuss, question, wonder and discover how particular arts work.


Grades 1-4 focused on puppetry in the theatre – cue great excitement as stick puppets, sock puppets and professional puppets were made or used. Then, pupils experimented with solo and ensemble puppetry skills! It was impressive to see groups of pupils, for example, breathing life into giant puppets made of paper, or grade 2 pupils trying to mimic the graceful movements of our visiting professional puppeteers with their own stick puppets.


Meanwhile, in grade 5, pupils focused on the writing and performance of the spoken word/rap inspired by Shanghainese rappers. Grade 6 pupils, meanwhile, created abstract masks exploring ideas of duality, whilst grade 7 experimented with loops in music technology, using new apps to generate original compositions.


Finally, in grade 8, pupils expressed ideas of ‘self’ using their own faces and theatrical make-up techniques to externalise the internal. Others composed/engineered sound design to accompany peers realising sections/ideas from ‘Antigone’ by Greek tragedian, Sophocles, in drama workshops.


We wanted to inundate this festival week with opportunities to be playful, curious and expressive within the arts. Assisting us throughout and leading the way with their own passionate curiosity were our excellent Arts Captains. I was proud to hear back from staff how these young leaders have coached or supported throughout the week.



Since the theatre curtain blocks everything behind it, it's left for us – the audience and the artist - to explore what might be behind it. This gives lots of scope for creativity. Moreover, when a show is about to start, performers and technical/production crew that are behind the curtain are usually chaotic during preparation and yet they have to maintain silence so that the audience don't notice them. I think this contradiction is very interesting.

Georgia, grade 8 Hui house


In my opinion, 'behind the curtain' connects with the backstage worker that does not perform on the stage but who helps before, during and after the performance. Our visiting artist, Kathryn, taught us how to bring design and theatrical make-up together – we ‘designed’ our face! These production skills were really interesting.

Vivian Guo, grade 8 Li House


This arts festival, we hosted our friends from the Pudong Special Olympic School who visited our school as part of the festival to take part in a puppetry workshop and see/hear some beautiful music played by professional, traditional Chinese instrumentalists. My duties included helping Ms. CG to translate questions and to help our visiting performers throughout their workshops. I think that my highlight was helping one girl from P.S.O.S. who was a bit nervous at the start of the puppet workshop, but she calmed down during the activities as we stood together and we made friends at last. It was an amazing experiment with the Pudong Special Olympic School.

Cindy, grade 8 Hui house


As an Arts Captain, it was a busy but also fun week for me during the Huili Arts Festival. I helped lower primary pupils in some of their arts sessions, and that was the best thing for me during the festival. I was really happy to help our younger pupils with their projects. I taught them to make puppets and perform with them. They had such an enthusiasm and jolly feeling in their sessions.

Minnie, grade 8 Li house



The connection between what is on stage and behind the curtain


The exploration of stories ‘behind the curtain’ allowed pupils to rethink the relation between on the stage and behind the curtain, gain new experience and skills and be inspired to become more creative in arts.  


In the theatrical face paint workshops, pupils looked at theatrical makeup/stage makeup techniques that they could find useful in the future, for art projects, their drama studies and of course theatre productions at the school. revealing something about themselves through the execution of their creations. This could encourage them to be a little bit more daring and self-assured and find the connection between theatrical makeup and theatre productions.  

Kathryn Robbins

Body artist for ‘face as a canvas’


Every pupil can sink into the workshop and experience the wonderful world brought to us by traditional art through watching the performance of the puppet show, listening to its music and imitating the actions of actors.  I hope that pupils can see from the puppet performers their passion for our inherited Chinese history, culture and art. This Chinese puppet show is a novel experience based on the performance of Chinese opera and brought in modern dance and other elements.

Alex Dai

Puppeteer/performance expert



Teachers experimented, explored and expressed together with pupils at the arts festival which was a precious experience for them. Pupils' excitement in watching the puppet shows and their enthusiasm in exploring musical techniques will surely leave them with long-lasting memories.

From choosing the theme to arrangement of activities, the festival gave pupils a unique experience and made them think about what happens behind the curtain and on the stage. Then they can confidently and courageously stand on the stage to express themselves and accomplish it well .