Friday, November 16, 2007

Final Presentation Day Afghanistan!

In a public ceremony on November 15th, we presented a demonstration of the techniques and skills learned in the workshops, and gave Certificates to each of the Mediothek Theatre students.

The presentation was the first time such a diverse display of theatrical techniques was ever seen in Kunduz, and it made quite an interesting performance and an amazing impression on the audience! The group did very well and we were proud of them. But there were a few surprises...

As the audience of invited guests, primarily male, arrived and took their seats, many of the girls' confidence slowly began to falter. It is profoundly difficult to be a female and present yourself publicly on stage in an environment where women are completely hidden. Although the girls were all eager and willing to display their new skills, when confronted with a live audience of men, many of whom they knew or were young men that they might marry, suddenly the situation became tough to face. We had made masks in previous workshops that were used in some parts of the show but, suddenly, all of the girls wanted to wear their masks! Many of the girls had performed several times before at the International Theatre Festivals in Kabul in front of far more critical audiences, but even seasoned performers can find an audience of family or friends a bit daunting.

I should add, the Mediothek staff were careful to invite only those people who have an active interest in theatre and its revitalization, and a willingness to accept women on the stage. And Bibimah, the Director, gave a fine talk prior to the show addressing the relevance of theatre in Afghan culture and why women's presence on the stage was not unIslamic.

In the end, the girls did perform with as much fervor as they could manage, and the response of the audience was superlative! They were very impressed to see the girls so competent on the stage, the quality of their acting, the beautiful mask work, maneuvering on the stilts, the range of techniques the young women and men had learned. If they noticed the girls' sudden timidity, they didn't mention it. And in the end, both girls and boys were very excited at what they had achieved and the wonderful response from the audience.

Our next challenge as teachers is to consider the best way to approach the issue. Can we encourage more women to join the audiences, and would that help? Most of these young women have aspirations to join the government, to become lawyers and politicians -- public roles indeed. Are there smaller steps we can take to empower the girls and, even more important, educate the audiences? Most of their sudden shyness was the fear of exposure, but the many of the physical techniques of stagecraft, such as martial arts and dance, are radical departures from accepted women's behavior in general.

Considering the obstacles, it is all the more remarkable that these young women have decided, completely on their own, to create theatre! We have a deeper appreciation for the very daring and outstanding choices they have made for themselves against all odds. Although these girls may not become actors in their adult lives, we know that the theatre training will give the girls poise, confidence and inspiration as they pursue their future careers.

We are really going to miss this energetic and fun loving group and we wish them luck as they continue in their work. We also hope to find funding to return and work again with the group: our plan is to create a piece together and to bring them to the US.

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