Weird white Chinese girl

By Zhang Qian, Shanghai Star. 2001-07-19

Up-and-coming US actress draws inspiration from childhood in Nangjing
Charlotte MacInnis as Julia in Dario Fo's "An Ordinary Day."A graduate of the Department of Theatre at Columbia University, MacInnis performs in both Chinese and English versions.

CHARLOTTE MacInnis has the dramatic ability to be able to transform herself from a naive 20-year-old schoolgirl to a middle-aged and depressed woman on the brink of suicide.

As Julia in Dario Fo's "An Ordinary Day," MacInnis, a graduate of the Department of Theatre at Columbia University, performs in both the Chinese and English versions.

To her, there exists no language barrier. Raised in Nanjing, she speaks Chinese nearly as fluently as her native English.

Moving with her parents in 1988 to China at the age of 7, Charlotte regarded this country as her home.

She recalled the first day of school in Nanjing when she only understood a little Chinese. "I was so shy and helpless that I stayed away from the Chinese pupils," she recalled. "Then a boy came over with a comic book, inviting me to read it together with him. Suddenly my feeling of alienation disappeared and a familiarity with the Chinese arose."

With parents who loved the country, Charlotte had a fancy for Chinese culture even in childhood, when she learned the Chinese version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

In Connecticut, where she was born, her family appeared strange to local residents because Chinese traditions were kept in the family - like the use of chopsticks, celebration of the Chinese Spring Festival, and preparation of dumplings.

But to the family these practices were natural because the father Peter MacInnis, was born in China in 1948 - his parents were teachers of English.

"My father loved China so much that he married my mother, who learned the Chinese language and culture at university," she said.

Perhaps that is why her father moved the family to Nanjing in middle age.

From 1988 to 1995, she lived in Nanjing, attended the local school with the Chinese children and merged into Chinese society.

In 1995, she moved to Beijing with her parents and lived there for three years.

Naturally she had many Chinese friends and travelled to many places of interest in China. Nevertheless, she almost forgot how to speak English, although both English and Chinese were in use at home.

With the purpose of improving her English, MacInnis was sent to the International School of Beijing, where she studied with English-speaking children.

"At first, I experienced difficulties writing English," she recalled. "But after several months, I got used to English. But I still liked to speak Chinese."

In 1998, Charlotte was admitted to the Theatre Department of Columbia University, where she had an identity crisis at first and got the nickname "weird white Chinese girl."

"That's because I may appear a little bit reserved in the eyes of Americans," she said.

What attracts Charlotte most is the idea of community. "While Americans focus on individuality, Chinese are more concerned with the community," she said.

She recalled one thing in her childhood. Once, many classmates in her class got flu. So the teacher in charge of the class visited the home of every student.

"It shows that Chinese are careful about the people around them," she said.

Actually this is not the first time she has appeared on stage in Chinese. Since 1991, she has been active in stage performances and television programmes in China such as CCTV's "Outlook English Magazine" and "Laughing Teahouse."

In 1998 she was chosen to play a supporting role in Beijing TV's television series "Jia He Wan Shi Xing," and in 2000 she landed a leading role in the forthcoming television series "Lethal Premonition."

She learned Chinese musical instruments like xun and xiao in her childhood and performed on stage and TV.

Every summer she returns to China to spend her vacation.

"To me, China is my hometown because my name is ai hua, which means love of China," she said.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.