The first thing I hear at Nget Awe San Children’s Training School are young male militaristic call and response voices. It is only after our show for some 450 boys, almost all in identical blue t-shirts that I clearly understand the nature of the voices. The boys have assembled into orderly groups, one boy heading each group, calling out to them as they respond in unison before leaving the large open-air pavilion in orderly rows, arms either swinging, or crossed across their chest. They leave behind a generous heaping of echoes of laughter as indeed they have a great time during our performance. It’s extremely hot in this rather arid section of the country where the main activity I am told is harvesting bamboo, though I do see, as we travel the last half hour over a dusty red earth road, quite a few rubber tree expanses.
One thing is for sure, during the last 3 days, the children have been laughing a lot. We have done six shows now, in 4 training schools, a woman’s vocational school, and a foster home that houses former street children. The kids are having a great time, loving the injection of humor into these institutions I have been working with five artists from Thukhuma Khayeethe (Arts Travelers), the local theater group who have been collaborating with the French and Swedish Clowns Without Borders groups. We have been working hard, though we joke about it being soft work, as indeed it is compared to the normal livelihoods in Burma, but there certainly hasn’t been any lack of effort, dedication and results.
We started with four days of workshops and creation focusing mainly on clown technique and developing one’s personal clown. Working with 6 paper shopping bags (courtesy of rainbow grocery and whole foods), some elementary mime, a hint of acrobatics, juggling and magic, we have concocted an hour-long show that is quite full of the funny, and the children have been loving our offerings.
The situation in some of the schools is better than others. In a few of them, there is certainly a sense of daily difficulty, and in others, the children seem better off. A couple of times, there has been a need to break through an invisible wall to reach the children’s funny bones, but once it opens, a lot of delight is in the air.
The trip out to the Nget Awe San training school was particularly memorable. Not only is it our biggest show (450 boys), but also the school is located in the election district where Aung San Suu Kyi is running for parliament so we there were NLD stands and posters along the way. It is such a contrast to when I was here two years ago, and no one would even dare say her name out loud for fear of being thrown in jail.
My two weeks here is part of a longer 3-year project with the Swedish and French CWB’s to increase Thukhuma Khayeethe’s capacities in clown performance and teaching abilities. There has been great progress in the actor’s clowning abilities this past week. That I can give feedback after each show has allowed the actors to really develop, as the best teacher in clowning is the audience. The show includes quite a bit of group clowning as well as three duos: Than and May do a professor’s nightmare rope magic routine, SuSu and TheThe have developed a routine around some very simple acrobatics, and Soe Mya Thu and I with a juggling routine involving balls and rings. It is wonderful to witness the laughter in these schools where the children don’t necessarily get to have such a good time.
I am looking forward to the week ahead when we will return to all the schools to offer workshops to many of the children. I will again be training the Thukhama Khayeethe actors as we go along, this time in how to teach workshops, focusing especially on using clowning exercises to release pent up tensions, and emotional energies through humorous expression.