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A French Lady’s Stage in China
Foreigners in China
By Li Dan

She comes from overseas, yet is quite a know-all of Chinese traditional culture.

She has been in China for seven years, growing from an visiting student to a beloved cross-talk performer.

Honored as a foreign comic star, she speaks fluent Beijing dialect and operates her body language in a lively manner to perform Chinese-style humor perfectly.

She works for the Chinese Coal Mining Cultural Work Group (Zhongguo Meikuang Wengongtuan) and is one of the founders of the “Three Orange Drama Troupe”. She loves her acting career and is willing to devote her intelligence and energy to her beloved audience and stage.

For her, love supports her life and dream steers her way ahead. She is always in pursuit of her true self and meaning of life, meanwhile transmitting her understandings to her audience and people around.

She is the French actor – Laetitia ZEPPELLINI.

On a night of late spring in Beijing, it breezed slightly after a light drizzle. I met Laetitia and her husband in the Shangdao Coffee House in the Maples International Shopping Centre.
After a whole day’s work, Laetitia seemed a little tired, but once our talk started, she regained her energy and tell me stories about her childhood, her experiences in China and her acting, leading me to her colorful world and tracing her life’s course with me.

Childhood dream – to become a painter

Laetitia was born in a single-parent family. Though she never met her father and cared by him, her mother’s love and care give her a warm family and a happy childhood. It is also her mother’s love that teaches Laetitia what love is and how to love others.

Due to frequent changes of residence, Laetitia had to transfer schools from one to another. Laetitia was a smart girl who always gained high mark from exams and she was also a typical optimist. Not only the school transfer didn’t affect her studies, but she found “fun” during those years. Laetitia recalled: “Every time I was transferred to a new school, I would first get to know conditions there. A group of students are sure to have a leader. If a leader has lost respect from other fellows and if you see the hope for revolution, you can start a revolution to replace the leader.”

Laetitia dreamt to become a painter since she was young. In order not to bring more economic burden on her mother’s shoulder, she drew paintings or made festival cards and then sold them. With money earned by selling her works, Laetitia could afford to buy paining books and color pens. She held her new painting books and told her mother proudly “I earned money for it”, and her mother replied joyfully “Well done, go on”.

Though Laetitia was still young at that time, her mother talked with her equally rather than treated her as a know-nothing little child. Thanks to her mother’s education, Laetitia picked up her personality of independence and self-autonomy. “You shouldn’t depend on anyone else even me. You should depend on yourself and live for your own. The most important thing you should bear in mind is the pursuit of freedom,” Laetitia recalled what her mother told her.
First touch with China

Laetitia’s knowledge of China began with her contacts with Chinese people in France. Her first Chinese friend is a girl from Hong Kong who serves in a bar. Laetitia said she was a 15-year-old girl and could speak no Chinese at all. The Hong Kong girl spoke no French either. Interestingly, they didn’t find it too difficult to communicate with each other. They two understood each other by making some gestures or speaking out broken simple words as if they communicated from heart to heart. For them, language itself was no longer that powerful.

Once, Laetitia was invited to have dinner at the girl’s home. Having saw Laetitia held the far end of the chopsticks while holding them, she friend said with the joking tone: “Holding the far end of chopsticks indicates you will get married to a man from far.” Laetitia smiled lovely: “All right, I’ll find one in China.” Many years later, it is true that Laetitia find her Mr. Right in China.

Laetitia learnt lectures like Chinese classical writings, methodology of teaching foreigners French and etc. in college. At her age of 21, when Laetitia was still a college student, she met a very important person in her life – her nominal brother from Wenzhou, China. Laetitia said, her nominal brother came to Europe to “find back his self”, yet after his arrival at Paris, he found a great number of Chinese people were very upset when looking for a proper language school for French training.

Language training schools at that time mostly employed Chinese teachers for teaching and their training methods were out of date. For these reasons, Laetitia’s nominal brother came up with the idea of opening a language training school. Shortly after then, he got acquainted with Laetitia and ideas of the both tow matched. Though Laetitia was then only a college student without any qualifications, her nominal brother recognized her capabilities and held trust in her. Preparations for the new school soon got started. Laetitia said she felt she saw the new sky and they can make it big.

With Laetitia’s ideas of teaching and the management experience of her nominal brother, their language training school was opened three months later. When standing before a packed classroom of students, Laetitia felt particularly exited, “At eight o’clock that morning, it was my first class. The classroom was all seated and I was so happy then.” Drawn from that period of French teaching, Laetitia’s Chinese level was greatly raised and as she knew more and more Chinese, her knowledge of China and Chinese people was increased.
Earn money to go to China

Laetitia had been always thinking of seeking an opportunity to travel China. In order to realize this dream, she took up three part-time jobs including baby sitting, phone operating and Pizza Hut delivering. She even roller skated back home instead of taking metros. Though Paris is not very safe at night, in order to earn more money for her journey to China, she sometimes took the night shift for pizza delivering and worked until mid-night. Through her efforts and hard work, Laetitia finally came to Shanghai, China in a summer vocation. It was in Shanghai, Laetitia first get was impressed by the performance of cross talk.

Once, Laetitia was invited to a friend’s home in Shanghai. Her friend’s family was watching a dual-people performance on television and was shaking their sides with laughter. Laetitia was very curious and she asked her friend what show it was. Her friend told her it was Chinese traditional cross talk “Wu Song Beats Tiger” an expert from the classic tale Tale of Water Margin performed by Li Jindou and Chen Yongquan. Laetitia had ever read the French version of Tale of Water Margin in France and when she saw Mr. Li and Mr. Chen’s excellent performance, Laetitia thought it was so perfect. “It’ll be so great if one day I can do what they do,” Laetitia thought at that time.

Laetitia told me France had cross talk as well and she knew a lot about it. When she saw the same type of performance in China, she fell in love with it immediately. Laetitia asked her friend: “Can I learn it?”

Her friend replied: “You come late, we have Da Shan already.”

“Who is Da Shan?”

“A Canadian.”

“A man or woman?”

“A man.”

“Well, it doesn't matter. I still have the opportunity. You have Da Shan but have no Xiao Shan,” Laetitia said happily.

When Laetitia returned France, her kindhearted friend sent her quite a number of tapes of cross talk. Laetitia gradually became a big fan of Chinese cross talk and sometimes intimated the performance following tapes.

Step into the hall of cross talk

In September, 2001, Laetitia came to China with a full scholarship to do her field survey in China as to complete her senior thesis on an investigation of one national minority in China. Laetitia chose to stay in Sichuan University for her thesis writing. In Sichuan Laetitia made a friend who was a reporter and he thought Laetitia was talented for her humor and language skills, so advised her to learn cross talk.
Laetitia: the third one on the right hand

Under her friend’s help, Laetitia got the phone number of Mr. Ding Guangquan and made a call to him immediately: “I’m Laetitia from France. I’m much interested in Chinese cross talk. I don’t know whether you are still recruiting students from overseas?” Mr. Ding said: “Sure…” “Will I get the chance to be your student?” Mr. Ding said: “I’ll see after we meet.” On hearing that, Laetitia was overjoyed: “That’ll be great, I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

Without any delay, Laetitia began packing after put down the phone. On November 11, Laetitia arrived at the home of Mr. Ding in Beijing. Having gone through a small test by Mr. and Mrs. Ding, Laetitia was praised for her influent Chinese, agile response and proper use of body language. Mr. Ding said with a smile: “Today is Monday and we’ll hold a formal ceremony for accepting students Friday. You are in luck and I decide to teach you.” Laetitia said excitingly: “Really? It was unbelievable.” Laetitia told me a number of foreign students had been waiting for several years, but she just came at the right time for her good luck.

When the Spring Festival of 2002 was around the corner, most Ding’s foreign students went back home, but it’s just the boom season for performance. Though Laetitia was still a rookie for the performance of cross talk who lacks acting experience, she was “pushed” on the stage by her teacher. It also offered a precious chance for Laetitia to practice indeed. In a contest for foreigners in January, 2002, Laetitia put on a cross talk named “Ba and Fa” with Morris from Benin and they won the award in it. Since then, Chinese audience began to talk about a “Female Da Shan” in the circle of Chinese cross talk.

Laetitia said that at time Mr. Ding had taught her cross talk for no more than three months and no one can tell whether a girl who has never performed on stage could make no mistakes. But Mr. Ding trusted her, “Laetitia, come on, you can do it.” “OK, I’ll try.” Even today, Laetitia still appreciate Mr. Ding’s trust in her. Mr. Ding always told his students that they shouldn’t be fearful of failures. No matter what the result will be, at least you’ve tried and no pity will be left then.

Laetitia loves acting in hope that she can bring laughs to her audience. She thinks that the precondition of becoming a good actor is to learn how to be a person with dignity, integrity and responsibility. When she pursued her studies in the Central Academy of Drama, she found some students “just wanted to be a star rather than an actor”. In her mind, “You can be loved by the audience only when you love them first.”

Laetitia joined the Chinese Coal Mining Cultural Work Group after she finished her courses in the Central Academy of Drama. It was painstaking to follow the Group to go all over China and put on performances for miners. Not to mention the bitterness of long-journey, actors in the Group must go down the mine to visit miners and put on performance face to face with them. Besides, the conditions for accommodation are far from satisfactory. Quite of a number of female actors are unwilling to travel afar and cannot bear the bitterness during the performance. However, Laetitia never complained and she even found the process interesting because she is always curious about the variety of cultures in different places.

In Laetitia's mind, acting for miners is not only a pure job, it’s a mission rather. Miners are faced with risks of losing lives if accidents happen in the mine. So, all actors in our Group are supposed be devoted to the performance and responsible for the audience, for the miners seated watching their performance might “watch their performance for the first time as well as the last.”
Be yourself. Do what you love.

Many Chinese directors have invited Laetitia to shoot TV series or movies. But Laetitia thinks shooting TV series or movies lack sense of reality during which she cannot interact and communicate with audience directly on the stage like performing cross talks. Moreover, most directors look for foreign actors only because they are in need of an identity of “foreigner” in their series or pictures. In Laetitia’s view, to be a good actor, you have to first take off the hat “being a foreigner”. She said only when people behave without pretence and do what they really love, they can have passion for it.

In the second half of 2003, Laetitia along with her friends established “Three Orange Drama Troupe”. So far, the “Three Orange” has put on scores of dramas like Wild Grass, Madman, My wife’s Mustache, to name but a few which are highly praised by audience. Especially My wife’s mustache was performed seven rounds on seven days. Its script was carefully revised from the original French drama script and all actors put a lot of efforts in the rehearsal. Most members in “Three Orange” have to take the role of being actors, play writers and even run about to attract auspices. Today’s achievement of “Three Orange” results from the combination of actors’ persistence and passion for acting career.

Due to the painstaking work in “Three Orange”, the troupe only has three female employees including Laetitia, a female costume and prop designer and a female stage supervisor. Once, after one successful performance, a male actor said: “I’d like to extend our thanks and respect for the three “ladies” in our troupe.” The three ladies said jokingly: “Don’t be kidding.”

Laetitia told me dramas “Three Orange” put on are intended to be thought-provoking involving audience in dramas. At the end, audience won’t tell actors from audience themselves, just like we all actors on the stage.

“To become a real actor, one is supposed to act like a teacher whose work not only entertains the audience also provokes them to think more,” Laetitia said.

She found her love in China

In the autumn of 2006, Laetitia got married to Mr. Ding’s nephew, a dancer with the Chinese Coal Mining Cultural Work Group. She finally found her love in China and is now settled in Beijing.

Laetitia said, someone ever asked her about her acquirements for husband seeking and is houses and cars necessary? She answered without thinking, “I want love not cars.”

Laetitia and her husband are both actors with the Chinese Coal Mining Cultural Work Group. Laetitia told me with sweet smile: “In company with him, I feel very comfortable as if I’m with myself.”

Laetitia’s husband gives her huge support in different aspects. Laetitia said: “Sometimes I feel depressed, but it is at that time my husband supports me and cheer me up. Without him, I won’t do so well today.”

Laetitia is always a person with tight schedule. Apart from the acting work for “Three Orange” and the Chinese Coal Mining Cultural Work Group, she is also a broadcaster for CRI.

In this April, Laetitia took part in a TV contest show “Dancing Wonders” held by Hunan TV. Though Laetitia was a total outsider in the field of dancing, in her eyes, nothing is impossible. Under the instructions of professional dancing teachers, Laetitia put a lot of hard work into it and made amazing progress. In the contest, Laetitia presented professional postures, her confidence and charming expressive force and won high marks from judges. Though in the fourth rounds, Laetitia was out, she felt taking part in this contest was still very precious experience, “Being kicked out is no big deal. As long as I have the support from “Three Orange” and love from my husband, I’m always the happy Laetitia.”

When it comes to her next planning, Laetitia told me she planned to down south to seek her audience. She found in the South of China, a lot of fans for cross talk, local operas and traditional dramas often gather in acting bars. “Where my audience is, where I’ll go,” Laetitia said, “I’ll further understand my audience as well as myself. And to keep your own acting style is the priority.”

Laetitia’s career of acting has just set sail and she said there were more to learn. I’d like to give my best wishes whole-heartedly to her that her stage in China will be broader and broader and she can put on more wonderful performance for her audience in the near future.

For more information, please visit Laetitia's blog:














打工挣钱去中国 结缘相声






















甜蜜爱情 演艺初露锋芒


    霁霞说,曾经有人问过她找老公要什么标准,是不是要有车有房,她爽快的回答, “我要爱,我不要车”。








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