Engineering News

October 6, 2006 Vol. 77, no. 8F

THE ACTOR: EECS senior Jeff Chou is a producer and cast member of Theatre Rice, an Asian American student theater group. RACHEL SHAFER PHOTO

Great performances
Engineers in Theatre Rice discover the joys of being onstage

The first time EECS senior Jeff Chou performed improv comedy in front of a live audience, he was a sophomore. “Five minutes before going on, I was really nervous,” he recalls. “But when it was my turn, I forgot everything else and just went out there. When you say something and the audience laughs, it’s thrilling. Being onstage definitely changed me.”

Chou is a producer of Theatre Rice, an Asian American theater group run entirely by Berkeley students that performs improv, sketch comedy, plays and monologues, among other modern pieces. It began in 1998 as a way to promote Asian Americans in theater, though you don’t have to be Asian American to join. Students from a variety of majors are represented, including EECS, ME, BioE and IEOR. “We’re not really for people who have a lot of performing experience or natural talent,” Chou explains. “Theatre Rice is about giving people an opportunity to see what it’s like in a safe, supportive environment.”

Each semester, the group holds auditions and solicits student material to perform. Directors and producers strive to ensure that each of the 40 members performs at least once a semester. When they’re not cast, members write their own material or help with props, costumes and technical work. Their twice-a-semester shows are entirely self-produced.

During a recent rehearsal, the group crammed into a Wheeler Hall classroom to run through a scene from the play “The Odd Couple.” ME junior Allen Chang played Oscar, channeling a bachelor who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, including dust, dirt and an overcooked meal. The audience laughed appreciatively, even jumping in to cue a doorbell. After the scene concluded, everyone gathered to share friendly feedback.

Fun and camaraderie are important in Theatre Rice, where members spend extra time getting to know each other by attending barbeques, sharing personal stories about themselves and other get-togethers. Good relationships are key, says Chou, because acting requires emotion and emotion requires trust.

Because Theatre Rice is so different from engineering, Chou says he’s tapping a different side of himself he never knew existed. “I love the ability to let myself go,” he says. “It’s about breaking down external walls and finding out what makes you, you.”

Chou first discovered acting as a senior in high school but didn’t pursue it seriously until he heard about Theatre Rice as a sophomore at Berkeley. He successfully auditioned and fell in love with improv. It’s something he’d like to continue after graduation, he says, perhaps performing with an improv troupe at night.

The entire theater experience has been transformative, Chou says, and he encourages fellow engineering students to tap their wild and goofy side. “In engineering, we’re trained that failure is bad, but in Theatre Rice it’s okay to take risks and make mistakes. It’s good to fail because we learn about ourselves and grow as people.”

Don’t miss Theatre Rice’s mid-semester show October 13 and 14! For more information, go to


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