In the six years we have been coming to the Nepal School of Social Work I have run drama workshops on a many social themes, such as hygiene and child labour issues. I teach ways to devise skits on these important issues. However, a lingering disappointment was that the great work students created was only shown in the classroom.
Anu Thapa, a student in these classes, had obvious talent and a passion for acting. Since coming to my workshops two years ago, she has performed professionally in Kathmandu, and knows how performing arts can be an important tool to effect community change in her social work profession. When she heard Anne and I were returning to Kathmandu, she approached Pradipta Kadambari (school CEO) with the idea of creating a performance piece on pollution and the environment and collaborating with me to do that. I jumped at the opportunity to rehearse a group of third year students to create a piece that Anu would take over after I left and that would be performed in all sorts of locations, including communities, schools and street corners.
Pollution is a major problem in the Kathmandu Valley. The number of motorbikes trucks and cars is ever increasing, brick kilns dotted throughout the valley belch out smoke from their massive chimneys; the dusty and unmade roads, the burning of plastic and tyres, and lack of modern infrastructure all contribute to a growing problem. This time were constantly living under a blanket of pollution and through out the five weeks were unable to view the snow-covered mountains that surround the city and in past visits were a majestic sight. Littering is also a major problem; plastic is thrown everywhere and anywhere, clogging ups drains streams and rivers.
The twelve enthusiastic and talented students who formed the group had little experience in performing and even less in creating a script through improvisation. To help ease the fear of performing, I proposed that the company work as a chorus. It feels stronger and is more rewarding to stand as a group in front of an audience.
We started by playing drama games to create a sense of fun and enjoyment in the rehearsal room. We continued the day with exercises to develop an ensemble, which is the essence of a chorus. They learnt to use their physicality to create trees, the chain saws, the bulldozers and the brick factories. They learnt to use their voice to create the gentle sounds of forest, to the noise of the modern city. The strongest moment was a chorus of plastic bags about to take over the world. Throughout the performance, individuals stepped out of the chorus to play particular characters.
In the beginning of the ten day workshop, I gave the ideas, then they soon got the hang of it and were creating their own. Through the chorus work, the group found a common passion for singing, and I discovered, as with other groups during this trip, that singing is a community activity in Nepal and there was no self-consciousness in it. As well, they all knew a number of folk songs that were related to the issue that fitted seamlessly into the developing story.
I was gently insistent that the ending had a strong slogan. I wanted to encourage these dynamic young people to make a demand of their audience to stop littering and polluting their environment. At first the company found it hard. Nepalese people are generally polite and shy away from being confrontational. But the problem of pollution is critical and needs a strong response and action. With a few rehearsals the students found their stronger side and felt ready to challenge their audience to change their ways.
On the final afternoon we performed our 20-minute piece to the School of Social Work community and a representative from The Kathmandu local council. The response from the entire audience was very positive.
This performance and process of creating it gave Anu the confidence to take the project over and the students the realisation that they could create a piece of theatre themselves. The play will be performed around Kathmandu from mid March, and smaller vignettes of it will be performed to specific audiences to enhance their understanding of pollution in Nepal.
Pradipta and I are very proud of the students, after students performance at the school.
I asked the students to write about their experience during this creative and rehearsal process. There were a few common responses amongst many of the students – such as recognising they had a developed a real understanding of how theatre could entertain and educate communities on other social issues, and how they could develop theatre using their bodies and voices to portray a story without the need for complicated sets and props. Below are some of their responses:
“I was very excited to join the drama and in my future it will enable me in every place in every society if I will use this kind of technique”
“The drama will give people the awareness on different issues. It will save our time and we will save time in giving people information”
“This drama training has made me capable of performing and made me know about the importance of drama.”