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

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