While running workshops in vulnerable communities we have often been asked to work in the local schools. They have been in Jainabad Gujarat, a village near the salt pans, in and around the brick kilns in the Kathmandu Valley, as well as a school in Bhaktapur. These schools provide children with a basic education to about year eight. They have very few resources and the classrooms, are very basic with bare walls and very old desks facing a blackboard. They remind us something out of a Charles Dickens novel.
As they have no, or very little access or understanding of the performing arts, we have often started the program with an impromptu performance that I begin when putting on my clown nose. It tends to happen at a school assembly where we are first introduced. As the students do not know who we are and what we are doing there, It is a great way to break the ice.
I improvise around a few themes, around a “park-bench”. Simple routines such trying to read some else’s newspaper or falling asleep on someone’s shoulder. I am always trying to sense the student would be willing to perform with me, looking out for that individual who may have the desire to have a go on stage. There is always someone. The students love watching one of their own. After a while I encourage them to perform with each other, and I step back and watch. When a teacher accepts an invitation to perform, with a student as happened in Jainabad, it is pure joy for the audience.
At the community school in the brick kilns, UEMS, the organisation we were working with, are trying to raise awareness of basic hygiene, washing hands, and brushing teeth. I was asked to perform on this theme. The first student who performed with me was hilarious, and totally took over the stage. It was then very easy to find other students to get up and perform. It is rare for students to come up with their own ideas, but in this tiny school in the back blocks of the Kathmandu Valley, we found some raw talent.
The girls take more time to perform, but we always insist that they have a chance at getting up in front of others, and make sure the boys give them space to do so. At this school there were two girls that were particularly good. They managed not to copy what I did, but made an improvisation of their own.
This is always a great way to start in the schools, and the students become excited at what could happen next in the workshops. It shows to the students that learning is fun.