It would always be the case that transposing an English style of teaching, especially Drama teaching, into the system here, would throw up some cultural confusion. In Drama, one of the prime aims is to provide opportunities for imagination and creativity; in improvisation, each contribution is supposed to be original and different. In the Middle East, copying to the most precise degree is the usual model (though, to be fair, Jusoor’s approach is more child-centred and creative than most.) Even so, I have had to tailor much of my teaching to a watch and copy mode. Which at least gives me the opportunity to perform.
Other, more subtle, cultural banana skins: sitting on the floor (Val thinks this may be due of the lack of chairs in their homes in the refugee camps); touching the opposite gender; anything with a hint of suggestiveness. For example, we very nearly lost Asmaa, our lead performer in The Peddler’s Daughter. Towards the end of the play, she has to perform a dance for the king, but when this was explained to her, we were met with a blank refusal. Fortunately, the school’s headteacher was around at the time, and was able to discover that she had the impression we wanted something sexy. When it was explained that a folk dance, involving all the girls, was what we were after, there was no problem.
During the scene in which the peddler’s daughter tricks her way into the king’s palace, I thought it would provide a moment of comedy if she dived through the guard’s legs. In fact, not only Asmaa but also Abdul, the guard, both promptly sat down with folded arms. It was unacceptable to both, by all accounts. But throwing a stone into the air and then running around him when he looked up caused neither of them any problems, and both were back on board.
Finally, a linguistic rather than cultural misunderstanding. Some of you will know that a favourite Drama game is Zip Zap Boing (for those wanting an informative video clip, try Lessons as usual, the post from March 28, 2017, in the archive section). It is a game that I have played with very nearly every class I have taught, but I was a little disappointed when, trying it out at Jusoor, it seemed to provoke some awkwardness. It was only when the Headmistress (again) was watching the lesson that we discovered the issue; by all accounts Zip very closely resembles the Arabic word for the male member. I guess it’s Bish Bosh Boing from now on.
(The photo shows Youssef, the hero of The Tale of Luck and Fate, meeting his fate by the Black Panther.)