Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A Final Day's Work

by Kelly Flynn and Penelope Spencer

Over another fabulous breakfast at Maggie’s Superb Homestay, we looked forward to our final day of NAS workshops. As we were working with older children today, who had a good command of the English language, we decided to focus on a short writing task, the aim being to empower these young minds to become leaders and vehicles for positive change in their own families, schools, communities, societies and the world. We began by asking them to list adjectives and characteristics they associated with good leadership, many students produced excellent and extensive lists in the strictly timed two-minute task. Following this activity, I prompted and probed the students to contribute to a discussion on why we needed leaders to have such qualities and characteristics. I used such prompts as what is it that we expect from them? What are the important tasks they have and the roles we need them to fulfill?  Some of the responses included that they would like leaders to end tribalism, corruption, discrimination, child marriage, sex trafficking of young girls, gender inequality and improve rights to education. Following this inspirational and considered discussion, each student was given time to write their list of adjectives and qualities, as well as a short passage about a problem or issue in society they felt passionate about, and, as a young empowered leader, would like to change.
Reading and grading these detailed and thoughtful responses, I recognized that there were indeed many strong, courageous young minds attending SUD Academy, who were well aware of, and felt passionate about global and social injustices. I commended them on their excellent work and took some time to draw their attention to their own positive qualities and their power within before we parted for a lunch break. Following this, Pennie got everyone out on the field and up and moving around playing some more of the excellent drama games she had delivered during the previous days and workshops. Pennie selected several of the written pieces and having prepared the students to deliver a short scene/drama performance well, by delivering her trust, mime, concentration, listening and voice projection exercises, each group acted out / mimed their allocated scenarios while the audience was faced with the task of observing and afterward narrating their interpretation of the social issue in each scene.
At the end of the day, we both reflected on the extraordinary accomplishments of the day and knew that we were both blessed to have had the opportunity to share our talents and expertise with this dynamic group of students.

Drama Works at JEHO

By Kelly Flynn and Penelope Spencer

Having arrived safely in Nairobi following our wonderful Kilifi experience, we awoke to a fabulous breakfast after some much-needed rest at Maggie’s Superb Homestay (Maggie Holidays). We set off to shop for some food, snacks, and donations that we would bring with us to JEHO orphanage, where we would deliver our fourth NAS workshop for July 2019 Reach the Unreachable program. On arrival at the orphanage, we were greeted warmly at the door by Pastor Miriam and were told that the children were expecting us and had been eagerly and excitedly awaiting our arrival. This was clearly apparent as we entered the assembly room and received a rapturous welcome.

We began the workshop with the ‘adjectives name game’ which was a lovely way to become acquainted with the children and the nature of their character. As this was going to be a shorter workshop, drama rather than language would be the main focus today, and so Pennie took the lead with a number of wonderful activities, thoroughly enjoyed by the children.

The overall aim of the afternoon was to build an understanding of the dynamics of the stage and we wanted the children to create a small production in small groups for performance. To prepare them for this, Pennie worked through a number of exercises to build trust, focus, and concentration. These were made fun and competitive by pitting the children against each other in small groups to ensure their full participation and engagement.

A seriousness and laughter exercise helped the children focus on the importance of being and staying in character despite distractions from the environment or others. The room roared with laughter as half the children tried their best to make their partners laugh, while their partners were faced with the task of remaining serious. This moved into another activity which focussed on reactions to different scenarios: walking in the road and being confronted by a snake, walking in the park when suddenly it begins to rain and finding a million dollars in the middle of a busy street were among some of the scenarios Pennie set for the children to practice believability in acting. Next, a voice projection exercise required the children to concentrate on vowels and repeat these in voice levels from one to ten. Pennie and I demonstrated the power of using our voices by acting out a short scene in which Pennie was timid and responded inaudibly to my cues and questions. Afterward, Pennie asked the group what their impression of that voice was before we did it again, this time she used her stage voice and the group noted the definite difference. The children then enjoyed having a go themselves. The aim here was to help them understand the importance of having and using their voices...not only for acting or the stage but in real life. Breathing exercises further assisted with the clarity of voice and pronunciation.

The large group was then divided into six teams. Pennie designated 5 leaders and had them pick children from the group to be on their team. Each team imagined a different scenario for a short performance in which they could put the activities of the day into practice.

After observing the performances and noting the learning the participants applied, we moved towards closing the day with a final activity during which I asked the children to think of role models and people they look up to and admire. Eleanor Roosevelt, Miriam, and our very own NAS founder Naima Thompson were a few of the names that made the list and the group discussed the reasons for their choices. Some of the children then requested that we record their personal messages of thanks, admiration, and gratitude for Naima and send them onto her with their best wishes.
Eleanor Ellen
Local Young Leader with drama students
To close the workshop, the children gave feedback on everything they had learned today. Some of their takeaways were trusting one another, having a voice, qualities of good leadership and the importance of gender equality.

The program proved to be an all-around success and as we shared out the snacks we had brought for the children and said our goodbyes, we felt privileged and full of gratitude as we reflected on another NAS goal accomplished with experiences that benefited all involved.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Tears of Pride and Joy on Day 3

By Kelly Flynn and Penelope Spencer

Filled with excitement, yet also a little nervous; we woke early on the final day of our outreach project with the Kilifi children, who would perform the product of their work with us for their friends and families later in the afternoon. We began the morning by letting the children know how extremely proud we were of them for how hard they had worked, how successful they had been and how much they had achieved over the passing days with us, and previous weeks with Furaha while learning the ‘Necessary Arts’ required to deliver ‘The Jungle Book’ play. This brought us to a group discussion on leadership skills, the importance of believing in and having confidence in themselves and being strong to carry on in the face of adversity. Reinforcing their success, we encouraged the children to recognise that they were already doing all of these things and already demonstrating all of these qualities in meeting, facing and overcoming the challenges set by NAS in language, acting, and drama, since the very beginning of their involvement with the NAS program - as much as four years ago for some of them.
The children spoke of their ambitions, dreams, and hopes for the future, and we reminded them that there is nothing they cannot do, and no reason they should feel held back in life. They shared their thoughts of the occupations they hoped to fulfill in their adult lives, many of them aspiring to one day be doctors or nurses, a dentist, an accountant, an engineer. We had a couple of aspiring pilots and an air hostess, who wants to ‘see the whole world’ on our list too!

After a short break, during which the children discussed and reflected upon the morning affirmations, they were ready, confident, keen and eager to go over their lines for the last time and do the final rehearsal. Later, peeking from behind the curtain of our tailor-made stage, they were excited as they watched friends and family members arrive to see them deliver the product of all their hard work. Before we knew it, 2pm had arrived and it was time for the show to begin. Directing from behind the scenes, Pennie and I looked on through eyes filled with tears and hearts bursting with pride as the children gave a wonderful performance, thoroughly enjoyed by the extremely appreciative audience, who clapped wholeheartedly following each individual scene, and overwhelmingly so at the end of the play.

Feeling accomplished, joyful and full of pride, we all enjoyed a hearty and delicious lunch together. There was such a remarkable, positively charged atmosphere as Furuha, Pennie and I met and chatted with parents, siblings, and families who expressed the deepest gratitude to NAS for choosing to reach out to their Bofa children. They complimented the work and expressed their hopes that it may always continue! They also shared some of the happy stories their children had told of their experiences with NAS in their homes. Many of them were so surprised to see their children ‘act’ as they did, and have such stage presence, as they were often perceived as very shy at home. All too soon it was time for everyone to leave and after the heartfelt goodbyes and many many exchanges of gratitude, Pennie and I hit the road to the airport again. Simultaneously exhausted and elated, we headed for Nairobi hopeful, to have the same successful outcome in the workshops at Jeho Orphanage and Sud Academy over the days to come.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Setting the Stage for Day 2

By Kelly Flynn and Penelope Spencer

Day 2 greeted us with much excitement as the children came in early for their snacks and to get the day started. Having worked on scenes 1 through 3 yesterday, following the language and drama activities, our main task today was to practice and refine scenes 4 through 8. We kicked off the morning teaching the children a dance choreographed by Pennie for the ‘Bare Necessities’ song. This was a really energetic, fun and enjoyable start to the day.

Next, we did a quick recap activity which involved naming all the beloved Jungle Book characters once again, and, as a group, delivering impressions of each character, and a list of adjectives to describe the character. We also did some recap work on the reaction of other characters to particular characters in each scene. The children were notably much more animated and competent with this today, approaching it in a playful yet skillful manner, which demonstrated clear progress and increased confidence following yesterday's work and activities.
During the morning break, Penny treated the children to some Trini delicacies of ‘Tambrand Balls’ (which they weren’t hugely fond of), followed by ‘Kurma’ and Fudge; these were a much bigger hit! Consequently, they were full of energy and life for the mirror activity which followed; the aims of which, were following a leader attentively, moving slowly, maintaining focus and developing concentration and eye contact.

We were now ready to run through scenes 4 - 8. To our pleasant surprise, we got through these scenes a little quicker than scenes 1- 3 the day before, which indicated that following the tightening and refining of the previous scenes yesterday, our young actors were prepared, and now understood our expectations with regards to the slowing down and injection of emotion into the delivery of their lines.

After a fun and successful afternoon, we headed to the beach. This trip to the beach afforded us some time to relax and bond with the children away from the workshops. While running around in play, some of the children collected seaweed and wrote ‘Necessary Arts’ in the sand. This turned the discussion to their experience with NAS over the years and how it has impacted their lives. Some of the boys very proudly announced; ‘We have been here since the very beginning, for four years now’. And do you enjoy it I asked, is it different from the activities you do in school? ‘We love it!’ they exclaimed; ‘It really helps us at school; now we will do better in our exams on adjectives, and we love to meet people from different places in the world, it is fun for us to hear stories about Trini and Ireland and Leprechauns’

Walking back from the beach we purchased some bottles of pop and fried potato from a local street vendor, who was, in fact, one of the student’s mothers. We gathered again in the workshop area under the sun talking and laughing about our experience over the last two days. The love and appreciation the children have for NAS became even more apparent at the end of our long and challenging day when we realized they did not want to go home, but instead ‘hang out’ as they put it, chatting with us and each other about previous fun and successful workshops they had enjoyed and they were keen to know when we would come back and what NAS might have in store for them next.

Friday, 5 July 2019

An Irish and a Trini Reach the Unreachable in Kenya!

by Kelly Flynn and Penelope Spencer

On the night of our arrival at the beautifully remote and relaxing Tulia, we had a quick chat with Furaha regarding the progress made while working with the children on ‘The Jungle Book’ script. It became apparent that although the children knew their lines, there was work to be done on their understanding of language, characters, emotions, and acting. Therefore, bringing the characters to life would be our main focus in the planning of the workshops.

We led the morning session with a simple name game asking the children to think of adjectives which describe their personality; when they shared their names and adjectives with the group, we requested that they ‘act’ to demonstrate the chosen adjective ‘jumping Jefferson’ for example JUMPED, excited Esther acted EXCITED and so on. We developed this further with a second EAL activity, this time the children worked in pairs and introduced their partner to the rest of the group by ‘acting’ and impersonating their partner, taking on mannerisms and characteristics of one another’s personalities. The third language game focused on the area in which the children live. Penny and I told the children mythical legends and stories of Leprechauns in Ireland and the Soucouyant in Trinidad, and in response, they told us a story of a beloved Kilifi magician and his amazing tricks, as well as other tales of their likes and dislikes regarding Kilifi. These activities and the sharing of cultural stories helped to build the children’s language skills and understanding of adjectives, emotions and descriptive narratives.

Following a short break of light refreshments, we were then ready to look at the Jungle Book script. While the children delivered their lines with clarity and articulation they were somewhat inanimate. We reflected on the morning activities and asked the children to think of adjectives to describe the jungle book characters; as they had described themselves and their partners earlier in the morning…. What kind of an animal is Shere-Khan? we asked, is he kind, friendly…? The children responded with ‘fierce’ frightening’ ‘intimidating’, ‘scary’, ‘cruel’, ‘angry’. We went through each of the characters in this way and the children applied the adjectives and descriptive narratives from the morning session to our discussion of the characters in The Jungle Book. In this way; we worked towards bringing the lines to life and injecting them with emotion, character, and personification. Showing the children some clips of scenes from The Jungle Book movie really helped with this character analysis and understanding. We worked through the first three scenes successfully. The resilience, enthusiasm, and speed with which the children learned and modified their delivery was an impressive joy to behold!

In the afternoon, Penny then moved towards closing the day with a focus on the importance of ‘reacting’ in acting and ‘stage presence’ explaining that this is demonstrated not only via individual roles but the reactions of everyone else in a particular scene to the presence of each of the characters. The children who played the monkeys practiced cowering with fear in response to Shere-Khan’s presence and responding in a happy, relaxed manner to Baloo’s cool and playful laid-back nature. Exercises on focus and trust demonstrated how actors must rely on, interact and collaborate with each other and avoid distractions from the audience and the surrounding environment to deliver the play successfully. These exercises were thoroughly enjoyed by the children and turned into a competitive and playful sport. As they lead one another blindly around the field, the children laughed with enjoyment while they built trust in us and each other.

Sometime in the day was devoted to learning the stage positions for flow and ease of direction, center, down-stage, stage-left and so on. The children enjoyed the challenge of being asked to position themselves in the correct place after learning the terms and again, they impressed us with the ease and speed at which they gathered this new information.
  Pennie’s passionate and energetic delivery style while teaching stage-craft; a variety of trust exercises and lessons in “reacting” to each other’s characters ensured that the children really enjoyed the learning process. She made it clear to them that ‘Theatre is Life’ and they could apply what they had earned today to real life and their school setting for example. She also did some work on posture with the children and suggested they be mindful of how they carry themselves and how people look at and perceive them. They were encouraged to be confident and have a voice.
During the debriefing activity, each child shared something new they had learned; the list was long and featured things like adjectives, how to trust, myths about Ireland and Trinidad, stage positions, how to display emotions, the need to act, and voice projection... to name but a few.

Overall, day one was a huge SUCCESS and we really did achieve a lot! The children have come on leaps and bounds and are without a doubt enthusiastic, encourageable, responsive and a joy to work with!

Monday, 29 April 2019

A Trini "Las-Lap" in Kenya

"Las-Lap" at the Tulia Mas-Camp

by Allyson Holder and Ray Mahabir

The sun greeted and kissed us on the final day of our mas-camp in Kilifi and we are filled with gratitude and the excitementThe day started with the decorating of drums using recycled materials with the early arrivals.
The young people used the art of paper-mâché to start the decorations. When the full complement was present we shifted gears and concentrated on the script, the area under the trees was cleared and set up as a theatre, one of the actors took a stick and marked an X In the mud to define the center of the stage. We then ran the play in three separate sections (Scene 1-3, Scene 4-6 and Scene 7-8) for evaluation on performance. The learning exercise was to emphasize staying in character throughout the performance.

 With the sun beaming down with a high of 34 degrees, we stopped for a short refreshment break.  We opened the next session with a talk by Ray on recycling and the impact of plastics on the environment. Ray brought out all the plastics that we had used over the last 3 days, plastic bottles, biscuit and sweet wrappers, and milk cartons and demonstrated how they could be used in the costumes. Ray wanted to ensure that certain parts of their costumes were finished by the end of the day and that the group would have enough methods and techniques to use in their costumes in the future.

At this point, the area was set up in the way that a traditional Trinidad mas-camp works, where everyone chips in and assists in different parts of costume making. The group moved between different tables and tasks which included, upcycled tee shirts to be used as ties, painting of drums, cutting neck pieces, making flowers with the biscuit wrappers, cleaning, and cutting of milk cartons for painting. All of this happened as the group sang various songs.

The next process was the set up of the decorating tables where the masks and music shakers were given their final touches. Ray explained that the final stage of their costume design would be the headdress and other accessories and this would be done under the guidance of Furaha during their weekly drama sessions.

In song and dance, the children formed a procession around the table that took us to a delicious lunch feast of Kenyan pilau, salad, juices and fruit that was prepared by Answari and his team.

To record our time in Kilifi we took group photographs and concluded with a summary of the last three days and similar to Trinidad carnival process, all parts for the costumes were put into individual bags. The children, of course, were reluctant to give up their bags for safe keeping.

Our experience in Bofa Kilifi was a great one. The group was lively, interactive and fun to work with. The Kilifi team of Answari, Furaha, Zwadi, Simon, and Kazungu were very supportive and we thank them. It was wonderful to be part of this project and we look forward to continued workshops in the future.

As the sun set on our "las-lap", we waved goodbye to our Uber tuk-tuk carrying our mas-camp tables which brought our four-day workshop to a close

Sunday, 28 April 2019

"Mas Camp" in Kilifi

Introduction to Mas Camp
by Allyson Holder and Ray Mahabir

Our start time today was 9AM but the enthusiastic group arrived at 8AM and were ready for the day’s programme.

Building on the concept of environmental carnival arts, Ray had the area arranged in the concept of a mini mas camp. 
Mas is a Trinidadian word that is a shortened version of Masquerade. Mas Camp brings communities together, it’s a melting pot of creative flair in a multitude of artistic crafts: wire bending; headdress building; and costume decoration.

The first activity for the morning was creating music makers out of recycled plastic bottles. This is where the tribal elements were incorporated into the design.

After a short refreshment break, the next session was a run through of Scenes 1-7 of Jungle Book with an audience of our additional volunteers for the day, Zwadi and Answari, again the focus was on the development of the character in terms of using face and body to show emotions, placement on the stage and understanding the presence of an audience.

We emphasized that performing is more than memorizing lines, indeed it is telling a story and to reach the audience the acting, body language, voice, emotions, and costume must work together for a great performance.

After lunch, we played a game which included a song about “mama making chapatis”. They sang in both English and Swahili and had all the corresponding movements.

The group was divided into two. The main actors continued with line reading and character development while the other group began to decorate their masks and music makers. The groups came together and were then all involved in decorating their pieces and stayed longer to ensure that they were finished.

The day was a beautiful creative one which ended with us getting to know each other better and we were delighted to discover that we had many siblings in the group.

We are thankful for another great day in Bofa village. We all are quite pumped and look forward to tomorrow’s continued mas-camp experience activities.