Thursday, March 29, 2012

Leogan, The Mountains and Aaron Funk: Haiti Update 4

Josh just returned from Haiti.  This is a post about his experience in Jacmel.

     Whizzing on the tips of mountains, sandwiched together on a moto, Morlon sings to us a range of songs. From spirituals to just absurd sounds to tease Christina, he is our soundtrack on this ride that causes locals to raise their eyebrows at the idea of it being accomplished on a moto (motorcycle). We may have joined him in his enthusiasm, but we’re a little tired from our trip to Leogan and are storing energy for our late workshop in Jacmel.

     Earlier, we were with the ladies of Favilek, traveling on an “Obama bus,” a large white bus that would be regular here but, in a land of tap-taps, motos, and cars that break down on the regular thus making every person who owns one a mechanic, the bus named after our president was really nice. We rode together in seats that were not terribly pleasing to those of us who are a little taller. With every stop of the bus, I felt as if my legs were going to fuse with the seat ahead of mine, only further annoying its occupant who’d look back at me every time we’d hit a bump. After making it through traffic and live, on-board infomercials (salesmen would try to peddle vitamins and basic over-the-counter medications that we would take for granted, as if they were on TV), we were in Leogan. This is one of the locations where Morlon resides and has greatly helped the community. Here he has created an activity group for children named Complexe Club de Arts (CCA). The group teaches children arts and crafts and helps to send them to school, which is generally not free. While we waited to perform, the ladies of Favilek had lunch in the main area of the CCA, which is basically a house (or hut) with a makeshift picnic table, a makeshift hammock, and a makeshift swing. After meeting the children, the entire group, Favilek and the CCA, joined together for our pre-show stretch and then the show commenced. It was very well received by the audience. In exchange for Favilek’s good work, the children of CCA performed their own demonstration. They basically performed a military-like march (something that I heard a lot of Haitian children learn), which presents order simply by nature of marching and styling it in the form of little dance moves interwoven into the movements. As the ladies of Favilek watched, you could see their appreciation for the lovely gesture. The day up until that point was a fun, exciting and exhausting experience all around. But, with a workshop impending across the other side of the mountains, Morlon, Christina and I had to say goodbye to everyone and immediately commence our journey.

Favilek Leogan

Favilek at the CCA

      The trip over the mountains to Jacmel is exciting and beautiful. It feels like beginning on a flight in the fact that you seamlessly go from sea level to well above in a very short period of time. Once you’re high up, you can see all of Haiti and it is breathtaking. At that height you forget about all the dust and smog of the cities and can take a deep breath without coughing. In a weird way, it is less scary to travel this curvy, sometimes extremely steep road on a moto than in a four-door vehicle because you can feel it hug the road. Whereas you see people in and on top of buses that would slightly tip away from the mountain as it took the same curves. We pass by small towns, markets and people that look as if they’ve been walking for miles. We hit the peak of our ride (of course we’re underdressed for this chilly level) and then begin our descent towards Jacmel.

     We reach the outskirts of Jacmel and, with the help of the locals, reach our destination. Standing out front of a nice building, hair freshly braided, is our host, Aaron Funk. The last time we worked with him, we had to use cell phones and candles to see each other during the night workshop. This time he has a completely different location that has plenty of light, several rooms for learning, art on the walls, and more people than the 25-30 students we worked with the year before. It is fantastic to see how well things for his group are coming along. He admits that things are going so well in this small complex he’s running and that it’s becoming difficult to facilitate so many people, but he is trying. Here the children and young adults that attend learn various aspects of theatre, from performances to lighting and scenic design. At this point he doesn’t teach nearly as much as he used to. Instead he puts the work into the hands of the Haitian students he had from the year before and now he facilitates the overall learning and management process. He also tries to expand the students’ knowledge of the different approaches to theatre by inviting guest artists to teach.

People of Leogane

      After giving us a brief tour of the building and explaining the work they are doing, he leads us to the roof of the building. Though, ironically, we are teaching this class with only one light source, the roof proves to be the best space for so many students. The three of us take a very brief moment to discuss the plan for the evening and wake each other up from the long day. Aaron introduces us to the group and then we begin. Once again, we lead a group stretch to become grounded as an ensemble. Then we do an energy-building shake out, where we shake out each limb for a count. From there, we take the students through a sort of follow the leader of emotions and movements that we’ve deemed Michael’s exercise (after Michael McGuigan of Bond Street), to give them an idea of how to perform larger without limitations. Soon after, we lead them through passing the impulse, an exercise in which a performer mimes a movement and sends it across the space, through gesture, toward another performer who then accepts it by allowing it to affect them physically and then changes the expression to their own before passing it on. From there we have to balance the space. They must walk throughout the space making sure there is an even distribution of people in every area. From there we take them through our understanding of Jacques Lecoq’s 7 energies (which has been our main workshop tool for this trip). They are: 1) Exhaustion 2) Relaxation/Casual 3) Economy of Motion 4) Alert/Attentive/Curious 5) Determination 6) Paranoia and 7) Extreme Panic. While still balancing the space we call out the number, the energy, then we demonstrate, and then we all do the action together. After going through all these, now sweaty and tired, we lead through one of our song games, which are all call and response with voice and movement, and call it a night. The students look more tired than us but we can tell they learned a lot. They were very receptive and, from Aaron’s account, certain students that were having trouble feeling free to let loose opened up immensely. Mr. Funk is very pleased by the way things went and now is ready to show us our reward for this long day’s work: some food, a shower, and a place to sleep. The sleep is much needed because we have to rest up for an early ride back to Port-au-Prince for a morning show with Favilek.

Aaron Funk & Christina

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Haiti Photos

Here are photos from our work with the women of Favilek: workshops, rehearsals and performances!  And just sharing a great experience!

Click on the following link:



Monday, March 12, 2012

Inviting Others to Join the Good Fight: Haiti Update 3

Christina and Josh are finishing up the last week of our second project in Port-au-Prince.  Christina writes from Haiti...

Bon Swa tout moun!
Nou se fatigue mais exsitan! 

The first performance of Fanm Yo Di Ase!
Its been a crazy week here in Port au Prince but everything is full speed ahead. FAVILEK had their first performance of Fanm Yo Di Ase! (Women Say Enough!) at the Heartland Alliance space as part of their International Women's Day celebration. 

We had a good crowd that was very supportive and they responded well to the material. What's interesting is that it was a mix of women's groups and gay/lesbian groups. However in Haiti, its not really safe to be out, so the gay groups couldn't really say what they were there for.

The company had a few bobs and some spacing issues, but the content is strong. We hammered out spacing today in our last rehearsal, so we are hopeful it will stick. They were so proud of themselves and excited by the reaction of the crowd. Its a fun, but potent show. I bill it as a celebration of their fight against sexual violence because while it tackles heavy material, the overall feeling is upbeat and inviting other to join the good fight. Much more accessible than the militant material they first presented- even though the words are the same. Amazing!

Rehearsing a scene about sexual violence in the tent camps.
So we have our next show tomorrow thanks to Solidarites setting up a community group in Christ Roi to host us. We will see how the rubber hits the road as the space is a big gravel football field in the middle of nowhere and we have no idea how many or who will show up. 

Sunday is a big day because FAVILEK will be performing at the Haitian National TV station and then participate in a workshop with Haitian TV actors who are pupils of legendary Haitian comedian Petoma (thank you Morlon for that connection). We are so excited about the opportunity for our ladies to get exposed to some real talent. We got to see them in action last Sunday when we went to their weekly class and did a work demonstration of Le Coq's 7 energies of man. Plus the exposure and artistic exchange among almost 100 actors is very, very cool. 

Next week is looking to be a doozy. We don't really have a break except for tomorrow morning before the show, but even that might be taken up with phone calls confirming shows, though I have always wanted to a booking agent, so its pretty fun work! 

We are taking the women on tour to Leogane on a big bus called the Obama bus, then we will send them back to Port-au-Prince on the bus and zip over the mountain to teach a group of young actors that we met last year working with Aaron Funk. He called and begged us to come back when he saw on FB that we were in Haiti. He offered us his house to crash, so we couldn't say no. The Jakmel Ekspresyon Community Art Center has grown exponentially since we were there and it will be good to see how the kids have developed over the last year. Maybe we'll get to walk on the beach for a minute too. 

This morning was huge, as we got meeting with the Director of the Haitian Red Cross. It's good timing because there is an international conference March 13-16th of all the Red Crosses, over 35 nations meeting at the Indigo Club in Port Au Prince. They have invited FAVILEK to give a performance at their closing ceremonies on the 16th. Josh and I will be on a plane unfortunately, but FAVILEK is game and Morlon agreed to stay on and escort them there. We also discussed a partnership with the Red Cross to help them develop a show to recruit people to donate blood. They have a huge new facility, lots of resources and of course a huge presence in more rural areas. We are thinking of discussing this opportunity with Petoma and Antony to select some of their students to get involved with creating the show. HRC is having a big even in June, so it would be nice to set up the connection for the Haitians to work together. Or maybe HRC will bring us back over to create something. . . we shall see?! 

Lots of things, all good! 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Fierce, Fabulous Women of FAVILEK: Haiti Update 2

Anna Zastrow is back from Haiti!

It's been an intense and amazing ten days. It's a challenge to create an effective and entertaining show accessible to all audiences addressing the serious issue of rape. In ten days. But we are doing it. Together with the fierce women of FAVILEK. 

Here's me and Sylvie. Mwen manke Ayiti deja! 

Anna, Christina, and the fierce fabulous women of FAVILEK.

Christina Pinnell and Joshua Wynter with Morlon Ley Bellerice continue on in Port-au-Prince to facilitate the performances! Stay tuned!  

The rest of the team returns March 16.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Women Say Enough!: Haiti Update 1

Anna, Christina, and Josh are in Port-au-Prince with FAVILEK to create a new show about the earthquake, the aftermath, and the reality for Haitian women.

Bon soir de Ayiti!  La tout se yon bon bagay!  N'ap fe bel travay avek fanm Favilek!  And as you can see my Kreyol is coming along nicely.  And good thing since the women tell me "you must learn to speak Kreyol" and are excited when I do.  Both Christina and I can handle basic conversation.  One word we have learned is 'kadejak.' It means rape. This word may not normally be considered part of daily basic conversation, but sadly, for women in Haiti it is. We are working with the group Favilek to create a show about gender violence which is rampant in this country.

These women have such a strong spirit. It is hard to imagine them as victims. (Favilek -- Women Victims Get Up Stand Up -- is an organization of women who are all survivors of sexual violence). But as they expressed in their own words: they may bend us, but they cannot break us; we stumble, but we will not fall. As an assignment after our first meeting and discussion, we told them to come up with something related to the themes we had explored: justice, change, improving life for women.  A piece of text, a song, a movement. The poems they came up with are fierce and their energy passionate, indeed militant: Women say enough!  For a long time we have been walking with our hands hanging. We demand justice! And then they break into song, a rhythmic catchy tune: Men have sowed the seed of violence, but we ask that violence be replaced with love!  We are Favilek: Fanm Viktim Leve Kanpe!

We've been working intensively and things are starting to take shape.  The first days we really focused on building performing skills through workshops -- presence on stage, exploring different levels of energy, grounding the body, character and expression.  And then exploring the theme for the show through movement and storytelling exercises.  We are now sculpting the show.  This is drawn from the various things the women have come up with during the exercises of the week, including their very first assignment.  Our team then brainstorms on all the elements and we make suggestions, inspired by what the women have given us, to shape a composition.

The past week and a half has been amazing.  We have such a wonderful connection with the women of Favilek.  Our return was received with great enthusiasm and joy and we are enjoying a truly lovely camaraderie and mutual appreciation for each other and the work.

We're also going about town and meeting all kinds of interesting people.  While at the street food night market feasting on barbecued chicken, plaintains and spaghetti juice (don't ask), we ran into the legendary Haitian actor Pe Toma.  All thanks to Morlon, our Haitian artist collaborator-translator-social butterfly and great connector, who knows everybody and if he doesn't he soon will.  Petoma came to visit our rehearsals and all the women were very excited because he is very famous.  Today we paid a visit to him and appeared on National Haitian Television!   So soon we will be famous too.

That's all for now.  My time here is coming to an end, I return Tuesday.  It's been a short and sweet and intense journey for me. The rest of the team is staying through March 16 to facilitate the performances the Favilek women will do around Port-au-Prince.  Stay tuned!

Na we tale!