An airplane ride this afternoon will take me out of the dusty heat of Yangon into the polished aluminum modernity of the Singapore airport and onwards towards Europe and privileged ways of life. This last week, we returned to all the Yangon Children’s Training Schools to offer workshops. The children welcomed our return with grinning smiles, and dived into the exercises opening up a lot of fun, laughter, focused play and great times. Our plan, to bring artistic and creative activities into the Training Schools where there are none, proved to be a big success.
We worked with 30 children at a time, and with five of us teaching: Su Su, Thè Thè, May, Soe, from Thukhuma Khayeethe and myself. I was introducing workshop techniques that I have used frequently to the Burmese artists. Using the clowning to offer an opportunity to the children to open up personal expression, and to release a bit of their daily tensions. The workshops offered them moments to play important and powerful, as well as chance play frustration, and sometimes fear. I only wished that we could accommodate more children in a workshop as most schools have more children than we could fit into the time allotted. The children had a great time as they explored their creative zone. We often went over our hour-long plan.
Asking the children what they liked about the show, and if they like the idea of being funny was a nice way to invite them into the workshop activities. After a little warm-up, a few focus exercises we explored deep voice and the idea of doing something funny. We explored a bit of mime, starting with the venerable fixed point-your hand doesn’t move but your body does (hint: bend your elbow.) It was a great way to introduce elements of the show that the children said they want to try-the moment when we ran into the invisible wall, the tug of war with the invisible rope. There was a recurring focus on playing their funny where many children found their delight.. A lot of gleeful smiles went along with great moments of focus and concentration, and other moments where exploring their funny, the children came up with great imaginative improvisations.
Our last school visit, Kyeike Wine, was a little more difficult. We worked with older boys, and they clearly were not as interested in the funny as we were. As I started to witness a disconnect in the first session, I realized that we hadn’t quite thought out the workshop plan well enough. Adolescent boys, especially this tough crowd, were not interested in being funny. So I quickly switched gears, and started teaching them to juggle, improvising in the moment using small rocks as juggling balls. Now this was interesting, at least for about 7 minutes, and when I started to see signs of disconnect, I launched plan B, which was to have Su Su and Thè Thè, launch into several simple acrobatic duo holds. I was glad to see a number of children so interested in trying to juggle that they ignored the change of focus and continued their juggling.
Thukhuma Khayeethe will continue to visit the schools to offer workshops to the children. CWB-USA is funding the next two months of workshops, AND, if you feel so inclined to help support this effort, you can donate funds to CWB, and specify that you would like them to be used for the Burma Project.