Little Falls native is her ‘visiting scholar contact’
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Professor Don Boros of Binghamton University in New York, who grew up in Little Falls, is the theater arts department director there and has directed more than 30 drama productions. He has acted in more than 50, and has also been a sound designer, scenic designer, lighting designer and playwright.
In the course of a varied and active career, Boros has presented papers and lectured in countries on five continents. In 2003, he was the co-creator and director of a study abroad program called the Total Art of Chinese Theatre, helping to establish ties with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing.
He was studying abroad in summer 2012, when he received an e-mail that Jia Yang of Shanghai, China was coming to study at Binghamton. Upon his return to New York, they were introduced and he discovered he was to be her “visiting scholar contact.”
“It was serendipity, really,” he said.
Yang studied for about 10 years in Beijing. Since 2006, she has been teaching theater to students ages 16-22 at the Shanghai Musical Theater Academy. She has played the equivalent of Broadway in Osaka and Tokyo in Japan and in Beijing and Shanghei.
“Jia is very modest,” Boros said, “but she played the leading role in ‘The Lion King’ for three years and 550 performances in Japan.”
Her parents are now retired, but her father was a musician and her mother a teacher who enjoys singing and dancing.
Her brother is a singer who also plays the saxophone, and her sister has a PhD in the history of theater.
While Yang lived and performed in Japan, she learned Japanese and became fluent in six months. She did not speak English when she stepped off the plane July 25, 2012, but can follow most of a conversation in English.
“I have a good friend with me — my translator,” she said. The translation app on her iPad helps with most words — but it doesn’t work with all of them.
“I heard that there were many ‘tomatoes’ and thought, that is a good thing,” Yang said. “Then I learned about tornadoes.”
During her time in the United States, she has lectured and performed at Binghamton. She travelled with Boros by bus to New York City.
“Someone heard her sing and I didn’t see her for a while,” he said. “They kept her there singing, at ever larger venues.”
Yang served on the admissions board at Julliard during that time and performed at New York University. She was invited by the Chinese Embassy to speak at the United Nations. Her parents, sister and brother-in-law came from China to attend. She also has relatives in Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Travels during her time in the United States have taken her to Boston, Savannah and Tallahassee. She and Boros carved out a two-week period of time before she returns to China later this month to visit Chicago.
While in Chicago, it occurred to Boros that he hadn’t been home in two years, and maybe Yang would like to come with.
“We rented a car and drove to Little Falls,” he said.
“I have been most happy, taking this trip and seeing American culture and family,” she said.
Experiencing local culture and landmarks included family gatherings at the home of Boros’ sister and brother-in-law, Annette and Jerry Fedor, as well as lunch at The Royal Cafe, eating her first bite of “hotdish.”
“I’ve never seen her order the same thing twice,” Boros said. “She always wants to try new things.”
Yang commented that the liver and onions Boros ordered are served the same way in China.
Yang has written three books about various aspects of Chinese musical theater, and has begun writing a fourth.
One of the most positive cultural differences Yang has observed is Americans’ ability to relax when the workday is done.
“I saw many people busy, but they take more time to relax with family,” she said. “In China most people are busy too and very serious; most people don’t smile and they are very tired. People here enjoy life and have fun.”