The proof of the pudding…

posted in: Lebanon | 0

The proof of the pudding is in the eating; getting the school multi-purpose hall project through from initial idea to completion within a year was a remarkable achievement, but it would all be to naught if the room was not used. It was as well that the room was finished before summer school began, as this gave the school the opportunity to try it out.  Throughout, it has been used for martial arts lessons, delivered in rotation to each class.  Martial arts was what it said on the door, at any rate, but the lessons were more varied.  They were delivered by Courtney, a bubbly and energetic Australian volunteer, with a local teacher helping with translation, and consisted of a mix of physical activities.  There were some basic karate moves taught, some fitness and flexibility work, some fun games, some self defence moves, and finally a slow wind-down.  And none of it could have been done in the classroom.

Two days previously, the school had been visited by the Pop-up Penguins, a music and clowning theatre group from the UK, who gave a performance and a workshop, while the day after the opening it was the venue for the school talent competition.  Again, valuable activities which needed the sort of space the hall provided.

The real test will come when the new school year begins, however, and we can see whether the school fulfils a need in the curriculum, as well as encouraging a child-centred, active approach.  I know that the senior teachers are talking about how best to use it, so this is very encouraging.  I will try to report back on this later in the year.

Hall of glory

posted in: Lebanon | 0
The hall – before and after

There are two reasons we delayed our return home from Greece and instead visited Lebanon for a a few days.  The first: to visit our friends Suha and Nagi in Beirut; Suha is the Academic Director of Refugee Education for Jusoor Syria, the NGO with which we volunteered last summer.  The second, closely connected: to visit the school for Syrian refugee children in Jeb Jannine, Bekaa valleyr.  This is the cause for which many of you donated money, to convert a large room at the top of the building – previously a store for all sorts of redundant material – creating a multi-purpose hall; our thanks to you for your generosity.  This was our opportunity to see the result.

At 9.20 am we were standing outside the double entrance doors, under strict instructions not to enter until all was ready. The moment arrived, the doors were opened, and we stepped in, to be greeted by a huge cheer from what appeared to be the entire school.  Even more impressive was a miraculous transformation. What had been a dirty, dusty pile of (mostly) junk – boxes of this and that, broken furniture, a peeling ceiling – was a huge (or at least far bigger than I had remembered) light and airy room that any school would be pleased to have and use.  Of course, the two central pillars were still there, but they had their lower section covered with a padded foam material with a brick pattern – very elegant.  At one end was a small stage, which can be dismantled when not required.  It makes a strong, well-built focus for assemblies, concerts, presentations, meetings, and, of course, theatre.

I was presented with a pair of ceremonial scissors, and cut the ribbon strung between the pillars.  There followed immediately a charming series of dances and songs, with which everyone – pupils, teachers, Val and I – joined in.  It was a joyous and moving occasion.

The hall is, I think, perfect, with all of the elements I envisaged brought into being, only better than I imagined them.  The cupboards, floor to ceiling and built in, are well-made, more stylish and elegant than the functional ones I had imagined, and already well-used.  The floor is coated with an epoxy flooring; clean and functional.  The stage is, as I said, strong and well-made – it easily coped with the large number of children dancing energetically on it.  And the whole room is clean, light, airy.

The speed with which the whole process has been completed has been most impressive. A year ago, this was just an idea, but in twelve months the concept was agreed, the money raised, negotiations with local tradesmen completed, building work and decoration completed, and the new hall already in daily use throughout the summer school. Tomorrow, we will describe that use, and later hope to report on the hall’s use as part of the school curriculum. If you would like to receive notification by email when these posts occur, there is a handy box on the site (bottom right of the homepage) which allows you to do so.

Bowing out

posted in: Teaching in Lesvos | 3

Director’s notes from the programme for “The Chalk Circle”, written in English, Greek and Farsi:

When I first arrived at Gekko Kids, my project being to put on a stage production, I was introduced to a couple of the students as a teacher of theatre.  “Please,” one of them said, “what is theatre?”  I realised then that there was quite a journey ahead for all of us.

For the first few weeks, we played games, learned some physical theatre techniques, and had fun.  The students got to know me, and I got to know them.  More students came, and some left – not everyone had space on their timetable, not all could commit to regular rehearsals.  But gradually, we built a team.  And then we began to rehearse.

It was slow going at first, changing the script written in English into Farsi, so that everyone understood what they had to say.  But slowly the play was cast, the lines learnt, and we began to act, to put movement and meaning to the words.

In my years of teaching, I have directed hundreds of productions.  I have always – nearly always – been proud of my actors.  But this time it is different.  I am very proud of them as actors, but more than that I am proud of them as people.  Each one of them is braver than I could ever be, has lived through more than I could ever imagine.  They are strong; they will thrive.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with them, and I am proud to call them my friends.

One more time

posted in: Teaching in Lesvos | 0
James and Iman

One of the aspects which has contributed greatly to the success of the production, but which I have not given sufficient credit to until now, is the music.  There has been a pair of musicians for the performances, playing live on the gallery overlooking the playing area: James, the musical director, accordion player, and occasional trumpeter for the fanfares (and also senior gardener at the Ecohub) and his friend Iman, the guitar teacher from the School of Peace.  Live music is such an important component of live theatre, and many have commented on how much they have added to the whole experience.

First of all, the theme of journey has been a major way in which the play has echoed the actors’ own experience, and this has been enhanced by the theme James has used each time Grusha has continued her walk, a haunting theme that I now find difficult to get out of my head.  Secondly, (though it has taken some time to get this right) the tension at key moments – Grusha defending Michael by attacking the soldier, crossing the bridge, and the two occasions at the plays’ climax when the child is pulled from the circle – all have the drama heightened by the rising low chords of the accordion.  Finally, the play ends with a dance, with the iconic Zorba tune accompanying the initial traditional Greek circle steps, which, as it becomes faster and faster, transforms into an exuberant Afghan celebration, which has the whole audience clapping along.  Originally, of course, this was picked out on a bouzouki, but I think I now prefer the accordion version.

This was our final performance, the extra one brought about by, as they say, public demand. As is so often the case, it did not reach the near perfection of the penultimate show – I will have to stop predicting this in my final pep talk, for maybe my warning against it is the very thing which brings it about.  It was, nonetheless, a strong performance and much appreciated by its audience.  I think that each audience has “got” the story, and enjoyed both the theatricality of the telling, and the real skill of the people telling it, while there is no doubt that the cast have been infected by the magic of theatre.  I just have to hope that the school can find some way for it to continue.  Whether or not that happens, all of the participants will have what I promised them at the start,  a memory which will last them all their lives.

A hit! A palpable hit!

posted in: Production | 0
Pre-show pep talk

Two performances today, though they could scarcely have been more different.  In the afternoon, we performed to the Safe Zone kids, unaccompanied minors who have recently arrived on Lesvos, housed at Moria Camp in the first instance, in the hope that they will soon be moved on, either to Athens or to supervised housing in Mytilini.  Gekko has provided afternoon lessons for these young people for some time.

Being a matinee performance, there were a couple of necessary alterations.  Most notably, no live music, as James and Iman were otherwise engaged.  We also had no young Michael, as Bashir was away on a trip, but Hossein Ali slipped seamlessly into the role, a remarkable achievement for a previously shy and reserved young man.  More positively, as the audience was almost exclusively Afghan, I encouraged the cast to use Farsi as much as possible, and I very much enjoyed this new perspective.

Far less positive was the response of the audience.  I should have anticipated this, as young people everywhere are far keener on seeing their peers mess up, and these young Afghans were no different.  They did all they could do, in a fairly surreptitious way, to disrupt the performance – even trying to trip the dancers – and it is to the cast’s great credit that they were consummately professional.  When they came off, however, most of them were black with anger – “Animals!!”

It was a totally different story in the evening, with an absolutely packed house, and people queuing up an hour in advance in order to get to see it; somehow, we squeezed everyone in.  The cast responded with absolutely their best performance yet, virtually faultless, and rightly provoking a standing ovation at the end.

This was to be the final performance, but because of the demand, we are putting on an extra performance tomorrow.  I don’t think I have ever had such a hit, which is nice for me, but even better for the cast.  They deserve every cheer.