Theatre for Social Change, Theatre and Community
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    Excerpts from blog posts that describe drama/art projects based on social change and community.

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today seemed like an appropriate day to write the most challenging post of this trip. It is challenging, because this event was the heart of this journey. It is challenging because this one day had so much impact on my personal journey. It is challenging because I am still trying to process and understand the amazing journey that lasted about 8 hours of my life.

My time with the Roma was too short and incomplete. I hope that someday I will be invited back and able to join Dramatic Adventure Theatre on an Action project in that community. If not, however, this day was a key moment in my journey of understanding my own life and rediscovering purpose. That must be enough, for now.

I don't have any photos from the day, because I was too busy living it to take pictures. I will try to borrow a few from other's who managed to pull out their cameras.

I still, however, struggle for the words to write this post, so I must resort to sharing excerpts from my journal, some of the "creative writing" it led to, and my more recent interpretations of the events.
First, a bit of a journal entry from a couple of nights before, when we had dinner with an American man, his Slovakian wife, and one of her friends who I will call K:

"K. lives in Bratislava and works for IBM. '"I don't like my job," she said, and we all nodded in understanding. This woman, when in school , had traveled and studied all across Eastern Europe. She seemed intelligent, friendly, and interested in the world, until . . . we mentioned the project with the Roma. In a valiant effort she tried to be polite and keep her personal opinions about them to herself. But her hardened shoulders and pursed mouth spoke volumes despite her polite questions and 'we shall see' comments.

It's those silent messages that fascinate and scare me."

She was not the only person to react that way. The reactions varied in degree but they were all there. One Slovak man tried to explain the prejudice away, by saying that the Slovak's sort of see the Roma as animals. Does that sound familiar (and disgusting) to anyone else?
We knew going in that this would not be easy. We knew that the hatred and misunderstanding between these two cultures is thousands of years deep. We knew that the Roma both hated and feared whites (rightfully so). I admit to being nervous and carrying with me my own fears and doubts. I think all of us were.

Now to the journal entry from the actual day:

Yesterday was an amazing day! While it started off badly, with the alarm not going off . . . it became a day filled with energy, disparity, love, laughter, smiles, and a little fear. We took the train and a bus to Stara Lubovna to work with the Roma community there.

Our contacts picked us up from the train station and drove us to a Community Center that services the Roma community. As soon as we pulled up and stepped on the slushy snow, I heard music coming from inside and saw faces peeking out the door.

. . . we went downstairs to be greeted by at least 50 Roma children and several adults (actually, I think there were about 75 people there. They performed three Christian songs for us, including hand movements . . . and then we began teaching.

I almost can't put into words the power of that day. The children themselves were a little overwhelming. They like to touch, and everyone in our group claims to have been fondled inappropriately. I didn't notice except for a couple of feeble breast touches, but that happens to me a lot with children so I guess I just ignored it.

[Side note: We later learned from our interpreter that the teens were egging the younger kids on to try to push our buttons, suggesting touching and other things to see how far they could go. I believe it was just trying to test the whites, but I also believe we passed the test.]

The girls were shy, the boys were aggressive. Few of them enjoyed "moment in the spotlight" games but they all loved using their bodies and imaginations.

At some point during the morning it really hit me that kids are kids everywhere. While I was clearly not in the States, watching the swarm of imaginative excitement could have been in any class of children being offered fun and joy from strangers.

[During our break where they served us a delicious treat of donut-like pastries] we watched a video of a drama created by a group of teens in the Roma community that call themselves the Slum Dog players. They created a show based on a true story about a boy who escaped hunger and a family that didn't give him support by sniffing (or huffing). He died. The play toured across communities all around Slovakia, with a discussion session folloiwng. The power of theatre speaks again!

Although they gave us scripts, I didn't need to read the words to understand the pain . . . one of the songs emphasized the fear and anger these people feel because of a white community that offers them only abuse and hatred. I struggle to see, [understand], and live in a world where that much hatred and misunderstanding leads to people being treated like something less than animal.

We structured the afternoon session to focus on language sharing. I led part of this session, and felt good about it. At one point . . . they came up to me to see if we could do something geared toward the teenagers in the room--which we hadn't planned. I dipped into my bag of tricks to have them do the double line improv exploring relationships . . .

Following the second session, we went for a walk into the Roma Settlement. This was an eye-opener for me, as we walked in a street paved in mud (and perhaps feces) where broken toys and garbage lined the sides. The houses all had gaps and showed age, with laundry draped out of windows and across fences. Some of the houses had new wnidows as part of a housing program [offered by the group who brought us to this community]. In each window three or more faces peered out at us. The children swarmed around us, wanting to share stories, teach us words, hold our hand. [One little girl ran inside to put on bright blue eye shadow, then came out to share her beautiful face with each of us]. The older teens stood in a clump by one door and put some music on as we walked by to try to get us to dance.
I danced.

. . . [This walk made me reflect] about how much this kind of life [and poverty] is supported by hatred, because Slovakia is filled with wealth and yet . . . these people continue to live in these conditions. Every Slovak reaction to the "Gypsy" population has been one of fear and negativity and bias. But which came first, the Roma thieving or the attitude that turned the Romani thieves?


[O]ne of my many projects this summer is working with adults with Developmental Disabilities to create some drama/art programming. My artist friend, Jackie, and I go there twice a week to work with this wonderful group of people. At the end of this month, we will be doing a public sharing of some of the things we have done, but my focus has really been on providing this group with an experience that helps them learn, grow, and have fun.

Last Tuesday, the group had an open house and wanted to film the workshop for inclusion in a commercial. So I made sure to plan a really active day, incorporating everything we had done so far--including the fabulous masks and puppets that the group had made. It went really well, and the filming was fun.
However, this is where the issue of AGE APPROPRIATENESS came into play. Yes folks, one of the important people from the company stuck her head into the room to watch what we were doing. Literally, only her head, because to fully enter into the room might actually allow her to sense the energy, learning, and enthusiasm that was going. And what was her reaction? She didn't like the puppets. She didn't think they were age appropriate.

Let me backtrack a little to explain. Since this was a new group for me to work with, I had a plan but recognized that I had to be flexible and let the plan grow around the needs of the group. That is one thing that I am good at. So, first I started by introducing them to drama games, and getting them comfortable with using their bodies and their imaginations. Then we asked them to create masks which I thought would help some of the shyer ones come out of their shells.

It worked.

Then I learned that a group of them are in choir and sing "Puff the Magic Dragon. " In an Aha! Moment I thought, "ooh, we could use that as a foundation for a drama to explore." So, I brought the song with me to a session--and in that one we went on a magical imaginary adventure to the beach where Puff lived and the cave where he hid out. Then, in the next class, we had the group build puppets made of egg cartons and paper, and the decorations of their creative minds. Again, my theory behind the puppets was to give them something tangible and comfortable to use as we further explored this world.

On Tuesday, the group interacted with the puppets, the masks, and each other. They had conversations and acted like they were at a party. They came to life.

But remember, the puppets are NOT AGE APPROPRIATE!

Yesterday, I wrote mini-scenes for us to explore, and brought two sheets and a few masks and one puppet to aid us.

Scene I: (on the beach)

Puff: I love you Jackie.

Jackie: I love you too Puff. Let's always be friends.

We established the beach using the sheet, where we had an imaginary picnic. We ate. We played volleyball. We hunted sea shells. We became seagulls. And then we used the puppet and one mask to practice the scene.

Success #1: The shy man who would never speak or do anything, volunteered and read the lines in a very quiet voice.

Success #2: The woman who said "No!" and would not move, jumped onto the picnic blanket and ate her imaginary chicken nuggets.

Scene II: (Riding in a boat on the ocean!)

Jackie: Land Ho!

Puff: Roar!

King: Welcome!

Pirate: Arrrr!

We used two sheets to create the boat. One became the sail, supported by two people. We laid the second sheet on the ground and had people sit in the middle. Then we picked up the corners and raised it around them, swaying back and forth so they could feel the boat moving. The rest of the group made wind sounds as the boat moved in the ocean.

Success #3: People jumping at the opportunity to ride in that boat.

Success #4: The older gentleman who is always happy and having fun, but a little hesitant about participating, refusing to let go of the sail because he was having so much fun holding it up and swaying in the wind.

Success #5: Some of the shyer ones again volunteering to speak and become the characters.

Success #6: The man who is somewhat higher functioning, but can be very taciturn and grumpy when things don't go the way he wants them to, leaping up to become the King and embodying that king in body and voice.

Scene III (In the Cave)

Puff: Where are you Jackie?

Jackie (outside of the cave): I'm too busy, Puff.

Puff: ROAR (sobs)

This time the two sheets became the cave. Four people held up one for the ceiling, and the other formed the floor. Volunteers again leaped at the opportunity to sit in the cave. When I asked what we might hear in the cave, everyone said "water." So I grabbed my rain stick and handed it to the one woman who had not participated much at all that day. She simply sat in a chair and watched. She took the rain stick and helped create the glorious drippy atmosphere. Then, as we started with the lines, I realized that caves should echo. So everyone became part of this scene, with one person saying the line and everyone repeating it several times to create a cavernous echo.

Success #7: Full participation in this imaginative journey.

Now remember folks. We achieved all of this using things that might be inappropriate.
I wish more adults had the courage to embrace child-like things, because it brings joy.

And for this group of adults, it also brings other important things like:

So I am going to continue to embrace the inappropriate. Anyone want to join me?