Thursday, June 28, 2012

Change Begins with You and with Me: Guatemala Update 4

Olivia's final update from Guatemala- or more precisely, the Honduras airport- on June 17.

Well, the girls have performed for the very first time!  The performance this afternoon was really lovely.  We spent the first hour warming up, rehearsing trouble spots, and losing girls who ran away to the bathroom or to find their friends.  We did manage to start on time, though, even after the girls changed our “pasa la toca” exercise.  We close each rehearsal by standing in a circle, holding hands, with our eyes closed.  One person squeezes the hand of the person next to them, who passes the squeeze on to the person on the other side.  So it goes around the circle.  Today, the girls took the end of the activity to tell us how thankful they are and how much the program meant to them.  It was stunning.  We are thankful too, and we expressed our pride and love for all they have accomplished. 

One of our actresses gets ready for the spotlight.
Ida made a headshots poster for the girls to display! As part of this process, Ida took photos of each girl who is performing with her portrait lens, and we printed them out as 8 x 10s, attached the girls’ names, and put it on a big board for them.  The Board also has the name of the troupe, El Grupo Juvenil Transformando Vidas Con Fe (Young Women Changing Lives with Faith), and the name of the show, El Cambio Empieza Por Ti y Por Mi  (Change Begins with You and with Me).  The girls are going to bring it to the cultural and religious retreat in July for their second performance.  They loved it; it made them feel like the professionals they are.

Ida also made a video of our rehearsal process, which we showed after the performance.  It ended up being over 8 minutes long to incorporate everything we have done here.  The soundtrack was awesome- "Waka Waka," "Send Me on My Way," and "Jai Ho."  I introduced "Jai Ho" a week and a half ago, and the girls fell in love.  They made up their own dance to "Jai Ho," or as they call it, “Hai Ho.” (tee hee hee)
The show went really well.  The girls spoke out clearly, took their time, and hit all their marks. The staff and residents at Oasis loved it!  Beatrice, one of the Directors, came up to tell us how wonderful it was and how proud she was of these twelve girls.

As I have said, it takes a long time to get to Oasis.  We have had several drivers from a local taxi service, but one of the most common ones is a lovely man who often brings his wife and two children.  He has two little boys, Christian and Robin.  Christian is 2, and Robin is only a few months old.  We call Christina “Senor Serioso” because he always looks so contemplative.  Today, the most beautiful family in Guatemala (as we call them) drove us to Oasis- and they came in to see the show!  We had an invited audience, but it was so nice to see these little kids enjoying the hard work that our girls have put in.

After the show, we had a party with a big pink piƱata.  These girls seem so demure and composed until you put a broom handle at them and point them at something keeping them from candy!  It was really impressive to watch them swing madly, and dive immediately for the fallen candy with no fear.  Christian even got to take a swing, with some assistance.

So next steps; Oasis has an Arts Director for the first time!  She arrived in early June, and she is excited to continue the work with the theatre ensemble.  We left her with a bunch of printed and online resources, as well as our contact information so she can reach out whenever she needs to.  (Christina, Ilanna and I also may Skype into some of the rehearsals for the July show).  We also identified three of the older girls who are responsible and dedicated members of the group to serve as leaders.  These are the wonderful young women who would get the group to pay attention, who encouraged their peers to strive for perfection in the physical work, and many of whom wrote for the final play.  They are wonderful and will do a wonderful job to keeping this ensemble together!

It’s so hard to say goodbye, but I know we will be back to Guatemala.  We have made amazing contacts here, and now we know how to better serve the larger community.  We will visit Oasis again, if only for a short workshop session, and I know these young women will surprise us once again with their passion and talent.  I can’t wait for what they do next!

The Acting for Peace Team!
from left: Christina, Olivia, Ilanna, Turid, and Ida.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Speed bumps: Guatemala Update 3

Another update from Olivia in Antigua, Guatemala, from June 13.

Everywhere we go in Guatemala, we encounter one thing.  Whether traveling the 40 minutes to Oasis, over an hour into Guatemala City, or just around Antigua, we are consistently jostled by a multitude of speed bumps. 

It's alarming at first. They have been installed everywhere- on cobblestones, on dirt roads, highways, and even the sidewalks tend to have them (not intentionally, but from erosion and long steps down to the street).

This seems a somewhat apt metaphor for the work here, and for getting things done in general. We do get things done, indeed the girls have walked through the entire show!, but it is bumpy. Our progress is often checked by 'Guatemalan time' (read: 5 minutes means 10-15 at least), by unforeseen details, by distracted/hyper/hungry/tired students, and by the sheer time it takes to get places.  Antigua is a perfect base, but it still takes travel time to get around.

I hope you aren't reading that this makes work slow and plodding.  On the contrary, between the minor bumps are beautiful patches of incredible creativity and productivity. The girls have an entire show, complete with musical transitions and a spoken-word style coda, and they are proud of what they have accomplished.   We are, too.  

These young women have a lot to say, and are saying it clearly with physical theatre, song, dance, rhythm, and physical images.  Each story has a message (not a massage, which was a minor mistranslation) that the ensemble chants together at the end of the parable.  The message are not, though, simplistic sentences of common sense advice.  These are complex messages, really calls to action for the community: to work together, to replace love with violence, to find their answers in the community using what they already have, and that unity is a crucial source of power.  Hearing the young women identify these messages, and shout them out together is an unbelievably powerful experience.

Rather, the minor bumps realign my own perception of the work. I cannot (despite my nature) sprint forward, but must be slow to anticipate the bumps.  The speed bumps ensure that I am taking care or myself and the others on the road with me. And in Guatemala, many of the roads definitely require that.

The philosophy students of Integral Heart Foundation in San Mateo.
Ok, I think I've beaten that metaphor to death. A quick update:

  • This week we led workshops for 76 4-6 year olds in a village outside Antigua. We played follow the leader- and all the little girls loved being bunnies and kittens, while the little boys focused on being snakes, bears, and monsters.  Ah, gender.
  • We also met some AWESOME artists at Caja Ludica (Pandora's Box) in Guate, who are running a physical theatre program for street kids.  This is a truly inspiring program (apparently that's the word of the day!)
  • Tomorrow we have a workshop with teenaged philosophy students!

Friday is the final performance for the girls at Oasis, and then Saturday we return to the States. I cant believe how time has flown.

See you soon!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Four Parables: Guatemala Update 2

Check out Olivia's second Guatemala update from June 4.

Hello all!

Greetings from Antigua. This week and next will be a bit mad- we have a show to create with the girls, Guatemalan artists to meet, and some volunteer work here in Antigua. This morning we worked with malnourished babies- the kids today were up to 7, but none looked older than  4.  Sunday we are serving dinner at a local homeless shelter.  Ida (of Ida's Hjelpefond) always provides at least two hot meals at the shelter when she is here, and I am fortunate to overlap with one.

A wonderful moment in rehearsal.
But....drumroll...the big news is about the play! The girls at Oasis had homework to come up with a short piece about lack of love, and we got some great stuff.  Yesterday, the girls workshopped the four parables they made about 'la falta de amor', turning them into fairy tales with strong messages.  

Tale 1: A little girl lives with her mother in the mountains. They are a very poor family, so she goes out to beg for food and to forage in the basura (the trash dump). Underneath old clothes, wrappers, and other discarded items she finds a broken doll. She sees that although it is broken, it can be made better.  So she picks it up (after a little game of Dead and Alive) and takes it home. Her mother is appalled, but the girl convinces her and they fix it up, clean it off, and sell it for more money. This becomes their lucrative business- selling remade dolls to local children.

Tale 2: There are four animals in the forest- a proud and fierce lion, a big strong bear, a small ant who does not think well of himself or anyone else, and a wise worm. The ant, lion and bear are fighting about a beautiful flower, each speaking too loud to hear the others. The worm comes upon this ruckus, and asks what they are doing. When he hears, he notes that the flowers are common in the forest and that each animal could have more than one flower if they work at it. After pondering that, the animals all agree t
hat they should all enjoy the flower and dedicate themselves to cultivating even more.

Tale 3: There is a town in the mountains where everyone fights and nobody cares about one another.  Gangs fight for power, and the town is a mess. Three friends come to town, see the situation, and know that they can do something about it. They go to each person individually, offering love and friendship instead of fighting. Eventually they convince the whole town that it is better to meet together in faith than fight.

Tale 4: There is one tree in the forest who stands alone. It is proud of itself, thinking itself the strongest and best tree around. One day, a woodcutter comes along and cuts it down easily.  Then the woodcutter goes to a grove nearby, where all the trees have grown together.  He tries and he tries to cut the trees down, but he can't - the trees are united!

The trees.

The girls have started blocking these stories.  We have four directors/authors who have some distinct ideas about what they want to say and how they want to say it.  Christina and I found a framing device: two sisters reading each other these stories from a book of parables to calm one another down.  

I am so proud of these girls for their focus, for these incredible thoughts, and their strength. I wish you could all hear the conversation we had yesterday about the messages and themes of these stories. I was blown away.

More to come!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lions, Tigers, Clowns, and a Cricket: Guatemala Update

From May 20-June 16, Bond Street Theatre artists Christina, Ilanna, and Olivia were in Guatemala to work with girls in Oasis Orphanage, thanks to Ida's Hjelpefond and the Davis Projects for Peace.  Olivia writes from the field in San Lucas and Antigua.

Hello all!
I made it to Guatemala- and am already entranced by the country.  Guatemala is wonderful, and the work is wonderful too.

The masks.
First thing when I arrived, the 17 girls who participated in the first two weeks of workshops with Ilanna and Christina performed what they had learned for all the Oasis staff and residents. Thee 5 youngest ones are not continuing to devise the final show due to scheduling. so they all put together a presentation of what they had been learning - Commedia stands, Dead or Alive, silly handshakes, and a dance with animal masks made with balloons and papier mache. The ladies made lions, tigers, a lizard, an elephant, and a cow.  They danced to "Send Me On My Way," which caused all the girls to shout out, "MATILDA!" It was a lot of fun, and certainly a community affair!

Ilanna, Christina, and Marlita (the cricket puppet).

After the girls' performance, Ilanna and Christina performed the Spanish language show they devised in Guatemala.  It is the story of a cricket, Marlita, who finds the clowns to ask them to bring her to the sea and fulfill her life-long dream.  When they make it to the sea, there is a dangerous storm that threatens to destroy the cricket's home town!  She and the clowns must rush back to her pueblo to warn the community about the incoming storm- and they make it just in time.  It is loosely based on a Mayan folktale about a singing cricket, and Ilanna and Christina have turned it into a fun, interactive, and very funny show appropriate for all ages.  The Oasis ladies loved it.

The problem tree.

Then we got right to work with the12 older girls. We made a problem tree to examine the issues in the community, and I simply could not believe how wise these young ladies are. Most are actually not orphans, but have been removed from their biological homes due to sexual abuse.  Instead of delving into self destructive behavior they have found an incredible positivity.

They identified "la falta de amor"'- lack of love- as the main problem in the community. They noted how the roots of the problem and its manifestations are cyclical, and it is so easy to get trapped in that cycle from an early age. The way out from such abuse and oppression must begin with the individual, and then move outward to the family and to the world. These girls blow my mind.

We gave them a little homework: come up with a 1 or 2 minute piece about lack of love. We see their work on Wednesday, and start to turn it into a show. I know they will bring in great material to mine for the final piece.

One more quick fun fact- we are staying at a home stay called La Familia in Antigua, which has a bunch of rooms. The current La Familia residents include: the Guatemalan couple who owns and runs it, their youngest son, 2 Norwegians (Ida, our project partner, and a social worker named Turid), 3 BST actor-educators, and 3 Seminary students from Virginia. We are certainly a motley bunch!

More soon,