A TV star in
China, Charlotte MacInnis '02 hopes to work there and in the U.S.
after completing her theater degree
By Laura Butchy
Charlotte MacInnis '02 may seem like a typical young actress:
She has worked in both television and theater, she moved to New
York to major in theater, and in the fall she completed her acting
thesis, Checkov's Three Sisters. But a closer look at her
résumé reveals what sets MacInnis apart from other New
York actresses (in addition to the fact that she's only months away
from receiving an Ivy League degree) — most of her experience
has been in Chinese television and theater.
in Michigan, MacInnis moved to China with her family when she was
7, when her father returned there to take a new job. While
MacInnis' mother grew up just seconds from Alma Mater on 113th
Street and Riverside Drive, her father was born in Fuzhou, the
capital of the Chinese Fujian Province. His parents, primarily of
Scottish and Norwegian descent, had moved there after growing up in
the United States. Though MacInnis's parents planned to stay abroad
for only a few years, seven years later the family had moved from
China to Taiwan and finally settled in Beijing. "I associate myself
more with China," MacInnis says of her international upbringing.
"It was hard coming back here and having class in
Charlotte (right) and
her sister, Mika, in costume for a music video they filmed to
promote the Chinese opera Dream of the Red Mansion in
Home-schooled until they were 14, Charlotte and her older
sister, Mika, took classes in Chinese and were bilingual by the
time they entered the International Chinese High School in Beijing.
Government-run, the school caters to international students but
offers a Chinese curriculum and Chinese instructors. For her senior
year, MacInnis transferred to the International School of Beijing,
where the American Embassy-run classes were in English.
coincidence led the MacInnis sisters to begin performing in 1991,
when Charlotte was 10 and Mika was 12. Their father's international
business conferences frequently included opening and closing
variety shows, and bilingual children often served as announcers.
In 1991, the girls' father, who met their mother while both were
attending Harvard Divinity School, volunteered his daughters, and
soon the sisters were popular stage announcers.
Working as an announcer, MacInnis got to know the participating
performing arts troupe and enrolled in singing lessons. Through
connections at the provincial television station, MacInnis' teacher
arranged for the girls to get an invitation to participate in a
weekly variety show. Together, they sang Chinese opera and then
moved on to folk, pop and rap. They also performed comic dialogues,
called "xiang-sheng," on provincial shows, and then nationally on
Central China Television.
April 1999, theater major Charlotte MacInnis '02 returned to make a
special appearance in the anniversary episode of Laughing Tea
the family moved to Beijing, MacInnis was approached by a weekly
educational game show to host a segment. By this time, her sister
had shifted her focus to studying traditional Chinese music, but
MacInnis pursued performing. She accepted the spot on Zheng Da Zong
Yi, or Laughing Tea House, and went on to film more than 100
episodes in three years.
After a family debate about whether she should stay in China
for university, MacInnis left Laughing Tea House and returned to
the United States to attend the school where her grandparents met.
"I knew I needed to be in a larger city, and my grandmother earned
her psychology Ph.D. from Columbia," MacInnis said of her decision
to attend the College. "It was a combination of needing diversity
and open-mindedness as well as the Core — my background in
the canon of Western Civilization was not good."
theater major, MacInnis also cited New York as an attraction. While
at Columbia, she has appeared in at least one production every
semester, and in November she acted in Three Sisters for two
weekends to complete her thesis requirement.
"It's a small theater department, but it's nice because there's
a lot of individual attention," MacInnis said. "I like that this
department is open to what you have to bring. That got me
interested in how Chinese performing arts can enhance American
performing arts and vice versa."
MacInnis has returned to China during her summer vacations to
gain further acting experience. Two summers ago, she filmed a
mini-series for national Chinese television that was about 80
percent in Chinese and 20 percent in English. "I played a
half-Chinese, half-Caucasian girl named Sophia," MacInnis said with
a laugh. "I got to die.
experience in China last summer when she played Julia in Dario Fo's
An Ordinary Day at the Shaing Hai Dramatic Arts
"Last summer I finally got involved in theater [in China]," she
added. At the Shaing Hai Dramatic Arts Center, one of two national
theaters in Shaing Hai, MacInnis performed Dario Fo's Ordinary
Day in both languages.
she looks toward graduation in May, MacInnis hopes to incorporate
her varied experience to create a unique niche in the competitive
world of acting. "If I stay in America, I'll stay in New York," she
said of her career plans. "I would love to do television and
theater here and there, aiming for cross-cultural
About the Author: Laura Butchy is
a staff writer and editor for Columbia College Today as well
as a student at Columbia's School of the Arts completing her M.F.A.