Sunday, March 09, 2008

Week One: Delhi (click here for photos)



I will begin by introducing myself. My name is Sarah Peters and I am finishing my graduate degree from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in California. I came to New York to intern with Bond Street because like many, many people, I was impressed and inspired by their work in social humanitarian theater.

This is both my first tour with Bond Street and my first visit to India, so as you can imagine, my excitement level is pretty much through the roof.

This final installment of the International Arts Exchange (the culmination of this three-year project) began in the city of Delhi. This is where we would both rehearse our show and teach theater workshops.
The team includes me along with Artistic Director Joanna Sherman and Managing Director Michael McGuigan from Bond Street of the US. Then there is Jamil Royesh, Shafiq Hakimi, and Ahmad Ali Fakhr (he goes by Ali!) from Exile Theater in Kabul, Afghanistan. And finally, there is Reena Mishra and Founding Artistic Director Subash Rawat and from Purvabhyas Theater of Delhi, India.

We have all come together to collaborate artistically, to train teachers and other trainers in “social theatre” techniques, and to provide theatre-based programs to disadvantaged children and youth, as Joanna says, to “encourage self-expression, creative thinking, and teamwork.”
I am particularly proud to be a part of this international collaboration because it is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State. Art exchange has the greatest potential of bringing people together. Art is an act of love and it is with great joy that people share music, theater and educational practices. This funding of a creative exchange is an important counterbalance to more violent actions my government is taking elsewhere. So my job here is to perform and teach, but always with an eye toward building friendship and understanding between our three countries – US, Afghanistan, and India.

We leapt right into it with rehearsals and workshops. We did three days of workshops for a group that included young women from Janki Devi Memorial College and young men from Jamia Millia Islamia University. Our host at Janki Devi, Deepali Bhanot was very enthusiastic about what we taught the students, which ranged from physical expression to stilt-walking to image-based theater techniques. The students were even more enthusiastic with their enjoyment and appreciation. We also did four days of training with young girls at an amazing organization called Project HOPE which aids children and families in the Nizamuddin neighborhood– a very poor Muslim community in Delhi.

As explained by Director Selvi Roy, many of the girls in this program are not allowed by their families to attend school outside the neighborhood, so HOPE has created education within the neighborhood. The program began as only a few hours of study a day which expanded to educate children and adults all day and even into the night. At night, HOPE provides food, shelter and education to young children who come to the Delhi to work and have no families. HOPE has even helped the children organize banking among themselves since normal banks won’t allow minors to open accounts.

The girls of HOPE were bright, smart, playful girls who over the course of four days bravely tried things they’d never done before.

Simultaneously, in the mornings, we rehearsed and updated our play “A Kite’s Tale” which was originally created with Exile Theater in 2005. Our Afghan collaborators had unexpected trouble getting a flight to Delhi and were not able to arrive until Wednesday night! But there was plenty to work on until they arrived as both Reena and I were new to the show.
“A Kite’s Tale” is designed to bring laughs to children and families and it includes music, stilts and silliness to tell the story of 4 children trying to reclaim their playground from an underhanded developer. The message may be more about the idea of actors from three countries working together as much as it’s about the children teaming up to achieve their goal.

Our first performance was a great success! About 300 people from the Nizamuddin neighborhood showed up to watch and laugh and be totally amazed that something so interesting and new should come to their part of Delhi.It was especially exciting to get the show on its feet, since our short rehearsal time was unexpectedly cut even shorter. The Afghans, after struggling to get to Delhi, had to go register the morning of the performance with the foreign registry office. Turns out people from the US and Great Britain are the only visitors who don’t have to do this. I must applaud Ali, the newest member of the Afghan team, who did not have the comparative luxury of rehearsals that Reena and I did. He’s a pro for jumping right into a new show with virtually no rehearsal.

What I have learned this week is that Bond Street Theatre has admirable comfort with a complete change in plans, a sense of ease in chaos, and lots of patience. These qualities are shared by everyone on the team, which means that no matter what, we get through the day with grace.

Other Bits: A girl from HOPE introducing me to her mother. A goat wearing a sweater. Seeing Reena perform for the first time! She was pretty great. My teammates laughing at the big pillow butt I added to my “teacher” costume. Eating a meal as a whole team together for the first time on Thursday. Throwing lentils all over myself and the wall and the floor when I tried to do a plate flip with a plate of actual food. The sound of Ali’s voice singing so sweetly. Joanna and Michael telling tales of the Odin Theatre Anniversary. And tales of fiascoes from previous tours - with only one key for the eight of us, of course someone got locked out just once during the week. The gigantic crowd of laughing kids. The college students from Jamia Islamia being equally excited about who I thought should be president and our show. Being able to call it “our” show.

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