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Long Pot Tea Pouring in Take Me There: China

By Matt Anderson, Lead Actor, Interpretation

Take Me There: China is a pretty amazing gallery, so before it opened, there were plans for us Children’s Museum actors to learn some pretty amazing programs related to its content—programs about kung fu, programs about shadow puppetry, and yes, even a program about long pot tea pouring.

Now, if you’re anything like I was back then, you probably have no clue what long pot tea pouring even is. (I mean, what on earth is a “long pot”?) So, I did some research and watched some videos, and I was immediately blown away. It’s an incredible Chinese performance that takes traditional tea pouring—itself an ancient art dating back thousands of years in China—and adds sharp movements, intense choreography, and replaces the standard tea pot with a metal one bearing a spout over three feet long. The pourers don’t simply come out, say hi, and serve you a cup of tea; they spin the pot, flip it around, balance it upside-down, toss it into the air… all while somehow managing to keep the liquid inside the pot until, indeed, they stop for a moment to fill a cup.

Truly incredible!  But, wait… we humble Museum staff members are supposed to learn how to do that??

Luckily, we had more than just YouTube videos to assist with this daunting assignment; a professional Chinese long pot tea pourer, who’d been practicing the art for fifteen years, came to the Museum to teach us some of his moves.  The training—basically a tea pouring boot camp—took place over the course of two work days, and was a very unique, bizarre, hilarious experience.  The pourer, Li Min, spoke no English… and though he did have a translator with him, ultimately it was easier to work from a purely visual standpoint: Li Min showing off individual motions, slowing them down, handing the pots over to the staff, and simply having us try to repeat what he’d done over and over again.  Progress and improvement was slow-going… but it was there!  The fact that this master was sharing his beautiful, ancient art with us was truly an incredible honor (and one that I vainly tried to put into words via the translator).

I mentioned earlier that the professional pourer somehow keeps the liquid inside the pot until the moments that it’s poured.  Well, this was the most difficult—and most hilarious—aspect of the training, because as we attempted flipping and spinning the pots like our mentor, that liquid seemed to go everywhere but where we intended!  It spilled, splashed, and sprayed the staff and the stage (Li Min appeared to take the occasional dousing with a smile), and often we’d have to stop and mop up the floor before continuing.  Luckily, we were using only water and not actual tea.

Twenty to thirty hours of practice later and maybe a dozen public performances under my belt, I’m finally feeling more confident with my pouring skills… but, as you’ll see from the accompanying video, my moves are still not without their occasional unintended splashes.  But that’s okay, as it is when we perform for the public and invite kids to grab practice tea pots and try some of the moves themselves; water inevitably goes everywhere, and it’s all part of the fun.

Check the museum's calendar for opportunities to join in the long pot tea pouring program this summer!

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Categories: Exhibits, This Week’s WOW
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