Encuentro De Teatros De Tranformacion, Salamanca, Spain, July 2014

Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción española de Antonio García

Playback Theatre is practiced in many countries worldwide with Spain being one of the notable exceptions in Europe.  I had been thinking for some time about how I could contribute to the establishment of Playback Theatre there when I received an email in January about a proposed theatre event.  The email was from Ana Fernández and the event was the Encuentro De Teatros De Transformacion  to be held in Salamanca July 4 – 6th. I emailed back to Ana and said that I’d like to come and eventually offered two workshops, an Introduction to Playback Theatre and Dancing your story (my Biodanza / Playback Theatre hybrid).  What was interesting was that Ana doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, so all our co-ordination was conducted by email using google-translate.

I decided to spend the week in Spain and as the event was in northern Spain and I’d always wanted to visit Santiago de Compestela, I thought I’d begin there. As the direct flights were all early and inconvenient, I had the bright idea of flying to Oporto in Portugal and taking the bus from there to Santiago.  I hadn’t reckoned on the actual distance and it’s a 6 hour bus ride at a cost of 30 euros.  I slept for most of the journey – pointless really.

Santiago is an interesting town and is the destination of the St. James pilgrimage.  As I wandered around, many pilgrims were arriving. I spent my 65th birthday in Santiago on my own knowing that I would be able to celebrate it again with my then unknown new Spanish friends.  I just had a simple two-course meal, soup and fish, in a small non-touristy restaurant.

My communication problems were to develop when I was unable to access my email and my mobile phone had no signal so I couldn’t text. The only contact I had was Ana’s phone number.  In the end, I asked at the Tourist Office and they made a phone call to Ana on my behalf letting her know when I would arrive in Salamanca, which was about a day away by train.  Ana met me at the station with her son, Angel Salinas Fernández acting as translator and they drove me to my accommodation at the El Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca, a beautiful old building dating from the 16th century and a very generous gesture from Ana who was providing accommodation in exchange for my participation. I was joined there by other Playback practitioners, Jutta Heppekausen from Freiburg   in Germany and Jose Marques and Antonio Vicente from Lisbon.

Fonseca

El Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca

Salamanca is such an elegant city with its squares and medieval buildings and made a fantastic backdrop to the event including an outdoor performance by some of the group members on the steps of a church on a balmy Spanish evening.

The Spanish people that I met at the event along with others from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Portugal, Uruguay and my translator Luisa originally from Mexico were so warm and friendly.

Brian Luisa

After my birthday party with my translator Luisa

After the opening ceremony, my Introduction to Playback Theatre was one of the first workshops and as participants were new to Playback, I did a ‘typical’ Playback Theatre workshop with warm-up games, some social mapping, fluid sculpts, pairs and a couple of stories to demonstrate the all-important Playback ritual.  The lack of exposure in Spain to Playback Theatre meant that there was some conflation with other forms of improvised theatre. It’s a theme among Playback practitioners to make that distinction clear – something of a mission at times.

One thing that I had to get used to was the timing of Spanish meals, a late lunch and a very late dinner.  My second workshop Dancing your story on the second day was due to begin at 4pm and we were still having lunch at that time!

Restaurant group

After Lunch!

Dancing your story is a method of integrating emotional awareness through dance and movement with its roots in Biodanza and Latin American culture; it’s designed to be emotional, affectionate and tactile and consequently it was well-received as that was exactly the nature of the participants.

Following on from my solitary birthday in Santiago, a special celebration was organised by Ana on my behalf one evening which I much appreciated.  My new Spanish friends took me to their hearts, so warm, loving and affectionate; there is something special about belonging to a group that is so warm that reflects the ideal inclusiveness that is at the heart of Playback Theatre. I have fond memories of my visit and I hope to be able to continue to support the development of Playback Theatre in Spain. Adiós por ahora!

Encuentro de teatros de transformación, Salamanca, España, julio de 2014.

El Teatro Playback está extendido por casi todo el mundo, siendo España una de las pocas excepciones en Europa. Llevaba un tiempo pensando sobre cómo podría contribuir al desarrollo del Teatro Playback allí cuando recibí un correo electrónico en enero invitándome a un evento. El correo electrónico era de Ana Fernández y el evento era el Encuentro de Teatros de Transformación que se celebraría en Salamanca del 4 al 6 de julio.

Respondí a Ana diciéndole que me gustaría ir y finalmente ofrecí dos talleres, uno de “Introducción al Teatro Playback” y otro de “Danzando tu historia” (mi híbrido Biodanza / Teatro Playback). Lo interesante del asunto es que Ana no habla Inglés y yo no hablo español, así que toda nuestra coordinación  se llevó a cabo usando el traductor de Google.

Decidí pasar una semana en España y como el encuentro era en el norte, y siempre había querido visitar Santiago de Compostela, pensé en empezar allí. Los vuelos directos eran muy poco convenientes porque salían muy temprano, por lo que tuve la brillante idea de volar a Oporto en Portugal y tomar un autobús desde allí hasta Santiago. No contaba con que la distancia entre ambas ciudades es considerable, por lo que al final gasté 30 euros en un viaje de autobús de 6 horas, de las cuales la mayor parte las pasé durmiendo: había sido una mala idea.

Santiago es una ciudad interesante y es el destino del Camino de Santiago, ruta de peregrinación mundialmente conocida. Mientras deambulaba por allí, vi llegar muchos peregrinos. Pasé mi 65 cumpleaños sólo en Santiago, pero sabiendo que lo podría celebrar de nuevo con mis entonces desconocidos nuevos amigos españoles. Así que simplemente comí un menú del día, sopa y pescado, en un pequeño restaurante nada turístico.

Fue entonces cuando comenzaron mis problemas para comunicarme por vía electrónica, ya que no podía acceder a mi correo electrónico y mi teléfono móvil no tenía señal, por lo que no podía enviar mensajes de texto. La única vía de contacto que tenía con Ana era su teléfono móvil, por lo que pedí en la Oficina de Turismo que la llamaran en mi nombre haciéndole saber cuándo llegaría a Salamanca, que estaba a un día de viaje en tren. Ana me recibió en la estación con su hijo, Angel Salinas Fernández en calidad de traductor y me condujo a mi alojamiento en el El Colegio Arzobispo Fonseca, un hermoso edificio antiguo que data del siglo 16. Fue un gesto muy generoso de Ana, que me ofreció alojamiento a cambio de mi participación. Allí me encontré con otros compañeros del mundo del Play Back: Jutta Heppekausen de Freiburg, en Alemania, y José Marques y Antonio Vicente de Lisboa.

Salamanca es una ciudad muy elegante, con sus plazas y edificios medievales. Fue un telón de fondo maravilloso para el encuentro, incluyendo una actuación al aire libre en la escalinata del Patio Chico, en una apacible noche de verano.

La gente que conocí en el evento fue muy amigable y cálida. Además de los españoles, había participantes de Argentina, Brasil, Cuba, Portugal, Uruguay y mi traductora Luisa de México.

Después del acto de apertura, uno de los primeros talleres fue mi “Introducción al Teatro Playback”. Como muchos de los participantes veían Playback por primera vez, hice un taller básico con dinámicas de caldeamiento, algunas sociometrías, esculturas fluidas, parejas y un par de historias para presentar la importancia del ritual en el Playback. El poco recorrido del teatro Playback en España puede explicar que hubiera cierto grado de confusión con otras formas de teatro de improvisación. Nuestra tarea es dejar claras las diferencias entre las distintas formas teatrales y el Teatro Playback, a veces esto se puede transformar en una misión.

Me tuve que acostumbrar a los horarios españoles. Comen tarde y cenan mucho más tarde. Mi segundo taller “Danzando tu historia” estaba programado para las 4 de la tarde, pero a esa hora todavía estábamos comiendo.

“Danzando tu historia” es un método para integrar la conciencia emocional a través de la danza y el movimiento con sus raíces en Biodanza y la cultura latinoamericana. Está diseñado para ser emotivo, afectuoso y táctil y dado que esa era exactamente la naturaleza de los participantes, el taller fue muy bien recibido.

Para compensar mi solitario cumpleaños en Santiago, Ana me organizó una fiesta sorpresa, algo por lo que estoy enormemente agradecido. Mis nuevos amigos españoles me llegaron al corazón a través de su calidez y afecto. Hay algo relacionado con la pertenencia a un grupo que es cálido, y eso expresa el ideal de inclusión que está en el corazón de la propuesta del teatro Playback. Me llevé de España recuerdos muy preciados, por lo que espero tener la oportunidad de continuar apoyando el desarrollo del teatro Playback allí. ¡Adiós por ahora!

 

 

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In Memoriam: Haiku Poet Martin Lucas 1962 – 2014

martin-lucas630A personal reflection on a friendship

Martin Lucas was a highly significant figure in English-language haiku for more than twenty five years, as a poet, essayist, critic and editor. He was awarded a PHD for his thesis Haiku in Britain and was the founder- editor of the haiku magazine Presence, now in its 49th issue.  He was also much loved as a personal friend to many and for his warm and supportive style as a friend of haiku for both beginners and seasoned writers alike.  Martin was a lover of nature, a keen birdwatcher and walker all of which provided him with a rich source of haiku.  Martin’s commitment to the development of haiku combined with an appreciation of haiku as nature poetry gave him a generous and compassionate world-view that was reflected in his editing.

All of this ran alongside a background anxiety condition that Martin did his best to manage for most of his adult life.  It does seem that this anxiety condition played a part in Martin’s disappearance from home on March 21st without money or phone, not to be seen again until his body was found on April 14th  on St Anne’s Beach near the mouth of the River Ribble, an area that he loved.

Martin’s funeral was held in Preston on May 2nd – a very sad and moving event that I was able to attend. I drove up the evening before so I could visit the beach where Martin’s body was found in the morning before the funeral.  I spent about an hour there and made a little shrine of seashells and incense before leaving to drive to Preston for the funeral.

ML10

on the beach
where his body was found
I gather seashells
each and every find
a deeper loss

From the many tributes that I have read, we have the legacy of Martin’s poems and writings and of course, many fond memories of his friendship, we are still left with the void of his absence from our lives – a tragic loss that is beyond words for his family, friends and for English-language haiku to which he contributed so much.

Brian Tasker
Stroud, April 2014, updated on May 2nd.

You can find a selection of Martin’s haiku and an article Haiku as Poetic Spell on the Haiku Presence website: http://www.haiku-presence.50webs.com/index.html  Martin’s tanka below was taken from the tanka anthology published by the Red Moon Press.

on Ascension Day
looking to the sky
swifts
spin on the wind
rain falls

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Thailand and Cambodia, March 2014

After four visits to Sri Lanka over the last four years working with Mountain Flower Playback Theatre and watching them grow and flourish, I had decided it was time to move on and explore new territory.  There is no Playback Theatre in the South-East Asian countries around Thailand, other than Singapore, so it seemed a natural area to visit to see what could be offered.

At this stage, I only had three weeks, so I decided to limit my travels to Thailand and Cambodia and conduct some research into possibilities, but where to start?  I had gone to Sri Lanka with an introduction but had no contacts this time. I’d been told that Playbackers from Singapore had visited Cambodia, so I got in touch and learned that work had happened but had petered out – no leads.

Then by chance, I received a newsletter from a Theatre group in Northern Thailand among my junk mail and replied. It wasn’t clear where they got my email address from, but it was genuine and did lead to a meeting in Chiang Mai with one of the directors.  The timing and short notice of my visit meant that it wasn’t possible to work with this group at that particular time, but I did get to meet a local contact in Chiang Mai that led to an afternoon workshop introducing Playback Theatre at the Studio of Thai / Japanese Butoh dancer Sonoko Prow.   That short notice meant that we were four participants and I, but that wasn’t going to stop us.

I love the way that stories emerge in Playback Theatre and the social mapping exercises that preceded the Playback focused on the usual topics of origins and in this case, the personal qualities and strengths that are important to participants.  It’s the commonalities that are bonding. We also looked at the shadow-side and it was this aspect that was to provide a rich vein of stories around work, family dynamics and the corruption that exists in society, by the last story the topic had flipped to one of success due to persistence.  In a short introduction to Playback Theatre, I only teach one simple short non-narrative form before going into story.  My view nowadays is that the fundamental value of Playback Theatre is the empathy that gets drawn out between participants and that’s my main focus in a short workshop along with the importance of the PT ritual.  Should a short workshop inspire further interest then then the nuances of Playback Theatre can be taught then from a foundation of empathy.

Sonoko

One of the participants above had told me of a mindfulness-based rehab community further north near Chiang Rai in the area known as the Golden Triangle.  I emailed them and got a phone call the next day inviting me to visit. I had planned to head back to Bangkok and make my way to Cambodia, but changed my ticket and caught a bus going north arriving at New Life the following morning after an overnight stay in Chiang Rai.

New Life

The New Life Foundation was most welcoming and after a discussion with the director Julien Gryp,  I suggested offering a dance and movement workshop which was accepted. In all, I spent three days at New Life taking part in community life, enjoying meeting some of the residents and volunteers and did the workshop on the last afternoon, before catching a bus back to Chiang Mai.

New Life is inspired somewhat by Plum Village and the work of Thich Nhat Hanh.  Julien has lived as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and the values of mediation, compassion and harmonious living are embedded in the daily life at the Centre.  Following on from that, I gave my workshop the title of Opening the heart to the feeling of self.  In the Buddhist tradition, the concept of Shunyata (emptiness of self) lies at the heart of meditation, in the sense, that the self (who we are) cannot be grasped.  Yet we have a feeling of substance from our bodies and a feeling of self through our mind and emotions which from the Buddhist viewpoint, leads to suffering.   (Wikipedia has a good description of Shunyata).

In my workshop, through the medium of dance and movement, responding to and enjoying the effect of the music on our bodies, we moved through a series of exercises designed to evoke the vulnerability and tenderness of being human through to compassion and acceptance.  The workshop took place in the Listening Hall, a beautiful rustic building in the heat of the afternoon.

Listening hall

It was then time to leave and begin my journey to Cambodia. It was my first visit to Cambodia and as I was reading a compelling account of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge (River of Time by Jon Swain),  I was somewhat naively not expecting the commercialism of Pub Street in Siem Reap while 36% of the town’s population apparently live below the poverty line.  I spent a few days there and visited Angkor Wat before getting a bus back to Bangkok.   One of the souvenir vendors at Angkor Wat told me how they have to pay a monthly bribe to the police to be able to sell their wares.   Obviously, Cambodia needs more time for me to get under its skin and away from the (understandable) concept of being seen as a tourist and a source of income. Sadly, I wasn’t able to visit the school that my friends support as I was unable to access my email to get the details. A visit to the school would have likely given me a different perspective and helped me to escape the tourist persona that seems to be imposed on visitors. That impression wasn’t helped by the excessive fee charged by a local volunteer agency, which otherwise seems to do good work.

I returned to Bangkok and spent my last few days there. I found it a bit overwhelming as a city, it reminds me of the film Blade Runner.  What’s always interesting about travelling and staying in hostels, is the number and variety of people that you meet.  I heard of a visit to Myanmar which is just beginning to open up to visitors and I was given the name of a social project there to follow up.  So over the next few years, it’s my intention to continue to explore Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar and see what I can offer and how Playback Theatre can be used to share the rich and varied stories of the region.

 

 

 

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Sri Lanka 2013

Sri Lanka 2013

In March 2013, I made my last planned visit to Sri Lanka to work with the Mountain Flowers Playback Theatre group.  They had attended the First Sri Lankan National Playback Theatre Gathering in January that year where they’d had a lot of contact with the other Sri Lankan groups and trainers from Europe and Australia and it was lovely to see how they had developed in my absence.  When we sat down to plan our time together, once again, the group took the lead and presented a list of topics that they wanted to work on.  One important goal was they wanted to develop the ability to work with fewer words and be more expressive through their bodies.

On the day prior to our workshop, a mini-conference was held at the centre and Father Benny was keen to demonstrate something of Playback Theatre.  I was invited to perform as there were just two members of the group present on that day. Father Benny conducted and one of the stories told was about the difficulty of getting an ID card in Sri Lanka without the correct paperwork. This especially applies to Tamil people who live isolated lives on tea plantations and tend to not have the appropriate paperwork for various reasons. I was chosen to play the Singhalese official who only spoke Sinhala and was extremely unwilling and unhelpful to the Tamil applicant. I portrayed this by picking up my chair and moving around the stage with the hapless applicant following me around trying to get my attention.  Of course, not being able to speak either language was to my advantage but I didn’t use English, I spoke gibberish when I deigned to speak to the applicant at all.

In the other story, I was cast as a corrupt head teacher who received bribes to enrol children into a school through a shop-keeper who I also played. Both stories illustrated the disadvantage that Tamil people face in trying to integrate into Sri Lankan society.

Getting back to our final workshop, we re-played the ID card story as a workshop aid and looked at the various levels and how to play a story in a way that doesn’t attack Singhalese people in general as that would just be reverse prejudice.  We looked at the contrast between the psychological level and the political level and how by turning the power game into a caricature it can be disarmed.  We looked at how anger about discrimination could be played creatively and inclusively. We felt it important to learn how to soften into a neutral place from which to play these challenging stories.

When we came to our performance at the end of the workshop, three stories emerged, two of which linked in to times when the group members experienced prejudice or isolation due to being Tamil.  For the last story we invited Rubina who was in the back room, to come and tell a story from the 15 years that she had worked at the Centre.  She chose to tell of her best memory on one of the annual Women’s Day events when she was (again) called from the back room and invited to sing a song with her then two small children. It was a fitting end and an important gesture to make as Rubina had made sure that I was well-looked after when I visited Hatton.  She did that from the back room, making some delicious meals and ensuring that I well-supplied with tea. After the performance, the group and I sat down for our closing circle.  I was trying to find a way of explaining that I wouldn’t be returning to work with them as I felt that my work with them was complete, which eventually became, I wasn’t sure when I would be back, as making such a final statement was too much at that time.  This was an emotional moment for all of us and I was speaking a heavy storm broke and with the rain pounding on the tin roof drowning out my voice, a power cut followed to temporarily  plunge us into darkness.  I was able to hide my tears under the cover of darkness.  It was something that we all felt but that didn’t stop us ending with a little dance party, as dance has always been a big part of our work together.

It has been a privilege to have been involved with training this group of people who have made a committed effort to continue with the work. It’s true that I have no plans to return to Sri Lanka, but the bond remains and I made sure that we took plenty of souvenir photos that were later sent over.  I wish Mountain Flowers Playback Theatre well in their work with the people of  the tea plantations in the area.  I think too, that they will have much to offer to support the development of Playback Theatre in Sri Lanka as it continues to grow and flower all over the island.

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Sri Lanka 2012

I made my third visit to Sri Lanka in June and after ariving from Muscat,Oman where I’d spent 15 hours waiting for my flight (not recommended, although Muscat was worth a look). I took a tuk tuk straight to Negombo, a coastal town near the airport and a very convenient place to relax after a long flight.  It was also convenient as representatives of the four Playback Theatre groups from Colombo, Hatton, Galle and Jaffna were already meeting at a rural location near Negombo with Cymbeline Buhler for a training programme. I was able to join them for the last three days of their time together. 

 After a night in a hotel, I moved to stay at a Jesuit Institute in Negombo and travelled out to the farm where the training was taking place every day with Father Benny. This meeting provided an opportunity for a review and for the Sri Lankans to establish their formal network for Playback Theatre in Sri Lanka and to plan a national gathering to take place in Jaffna in January 2013.  Playback Theatre is now well-established in Sri Lanka with these four committed groups and the scene is set for more groups to emerge over time as interest expands around the island. It was great to meet other people involved with Playback Theatre in Sri Lanka as my previous contact was only with the Hatton group. 

I also offered a Dancing Your Story session to the group which was well-received once we’d got going.  There were some initial technical problems with hooking up my CD player to a sound system, basically through a DVD player and television set!

 After the three days we said goodbye and I joined the Hatton group for the drive up to Hatton in their newly-acquired van where I was to re-unite with the Mountain Flowers group for a two-day training update. The two days with the Mountain Flower group were brilliant really. I’m really bonded with this group and we are really comfortable together. They have come on so well.  On the first day, we made a list of problems to work on and a list of what they enjoyed about Playback.  I think that we were able to cover a lot of what they wanted to work on. 

The group has always worried about technique but this visit they had a real emotional breakthrough on the power of stories.  The first day was about stories of being in control, the second day, one of the participants told how she had to come back to Hatton as her University tutors were on strike, another had witnessed a bus crash just after he got off on the way home the evening before. A stream of stories were provoked on disappointment, hurt, anger and sadness in the group which not only bonded them more deeply, but showed the importance of naturally counter-balancing the positivity of the stories from the day before (a perfect red-thread) and made them stronger for it. They put their energy into serving the story rather than worrying about getting it right.  It was very moving to witness the group coming to this insight by themselves! They also took responsibility by being able to quickly identify the problems they wanted to work on – they obviously have been thinking about what they do and I now respond to them rather than having to feel responsible for them – which is the whole point really!

 It was then time to leave Hatton after such a short visit and take the van for an eleven-hour drive up to Batticaloa to offer another two-day workshop to a Project there It was then a long train ride back to Negombo for an overnight stay before flying back to London, via Muscat (I’d booked a hotel as it was an overnight break between flights).  I got home to Stroud at about midnight on the Sunday and then straight back to work on Monday morning!

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Guest Blog: Visit to Cambodia

This is a guest blog by Pammy Michell and Paul Shevlin who are supporting a school in Cambodia. We will be running a joint fundraising event in Stroud on May 26 2012 – proceeds to be split between my Sri Lankan project and the school in Cambodia.  The event will be a social evening with shared food and dancing to music played by world music DJ Baba Ganoush. Email for details and an invite.

Paul and Pammy write:

In early 2011 we were travelling in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Whilst we were warmly received everywhere we went, we were particularly touched by the warmth of the people in Cambodia, who have suffered so profoundly in comparatively recent times at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.

At Siem Reap near the astonishing historic temple complex of Ankor Wat, we came across a free school run in the evening by a monk, Yorn Chea. He and volunteers were teaching English and other subjects to whoever turned up. The school was just a space with some cover and some rudimentary seating and some desks and a board.

We joined in, helping with vocabulary, pronunciation, conversation. They are very enthusiastic to learn. A boy with no hands and a big smile is amazingly skilful with a pen held between his stumps.

Some of the pupils

Some of the pupils

Sadly, it is very common to see people of all ages with limbs damaged or missing, often resulting from landmine explosions, but also from untreated infections which have turned gangrenous and necessitated amputation.

The school in action

The school in action

Pammy’s son Jack and his friend Peter were also there helping, having a head start with their detailed knowledge of Aston Villa and Arsenal. We were so touched by the tangible sense of hope that the school provides and the difference Yorn Chea is making we decided to continue supporting him on our return. We made checks to ensure things are as honest as they appeared (sadly Cambodia is not without scams aimed at tourists) and we organised some fund-raising activities. Peter has recently (January 2012) returned to Siem Reap and taught at the school for two weeks. Whilst he was there he gave Yorn Chea £400 that we have raised.

Yorn emailed us his thanks:
“Yes sure now the school is bigger and it needs me to have more responsibility of it. This money we have paid it to be salary for four khmer teachers who are teaching at enkosa river school, we already paid some of it for them in this month i will send a copy of each payment to you as soon as possible.
I have four khmer teachers who are teaching here, these teachers we need to pay them of $30 a month for each teacher, $30 X4 =$120.
and this money i will be able to supply about 5 months.
Please keep me update i will let you see about all of my payments, Now i’m running another project about sewing school for village girls in the countryside, now i just got 3 sewing machines and i’m trying to find more sewing machines for this project.
Thank you very much for you both, I bless you best wishes, lucky, happy, healthy, longevity, and success all everything what you wishes all the times.
Yours kindest regard
Yorn Chea” (12 Feb 2012)

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India Visit, September 2011

I have a long-standing connection with India, having first travelled to India overland through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1971.   I was to later return ten times over many years to buy gemstones as I then worked as a jeweller.  I stopped being a jeweller in 1990 during that recession and stopped going to India as well.  My life has changed in many ways between that period and now.

I re-visited India in September 2011, not to buy gemstones, but with the intention of introducing Playback Theatre to at least one social project in northern India.  I did indeed visit a social project run by Alice Garg in Jaipur and had the pleasure of meeting her, but the timing was wrong and the proposed workshop didn’t happen.  I wasn’t able to contact the project in advance so I just showed up, a viable proposition in India, but it wasn’t to be fruitful on this occasion. I left Jaipur shortly after that, having stayed with an old Indian jeweller friend and was also able to meet his father, now in his 80s, who I hadn’t seen for twenty two years.  Jaipur has changed dramatically in the ensuing period and is now a boom town with private money throwing up fancy buildings surrounded by the usual Indian chaos.  Jaipur was very hot and it felt like I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I left and took the overnight bus to Chandigarh.

 I was able to meet up briefly with Indian haiku poet, Angelee Deodhar who I had met in New York at a Haiku Conference in 2003. She’d very kindly given me her card at that time and said to call if ever I was in town.  I was just passing through the bus station on my way to Dharamsala and she came over with her son to meet me. 

 After what was a 24 hour bus journey, I arrived in Dharamsala and shared a taxi up to Mcleod Ganj and left after two days on the overnight boneshaker to Manali, where I had stayed in 1971.  I had no money at that time and ended up having to walk 100 miles or more without shoes on my way back to the plains.  Someone eventually bought me a bus ticket but that’s all another story…   Manali had also changed beyond recognition and was much developed – nowhere was familiar to me. I re-visited the hot spring at Vashist just outside Manali that was now an enclosed temple complex, it was just an open spring in 1971 and I’d fallen in on my birthday that year, which was like falling into an extremely hot bath.  On this occasion, I stayed in Manali for a few days and then travelled down to the old British hill station of Shimla where I met up with a friend from England who was also visiting India at the same time.  Continue reading

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Sri Lanka May 2011

The group in May 2011

The group in May 2011

I have now visited Sri Lanka twice, last September and this May.  I initially went with notions of peace-building between Tamils and Sinhalese following up on the work of Cymbeline Buhler. I learned that the issues and stories in the Tea Plantation sector are more localised and concerned with personal and community struggle and mainly relate to Tamil people.  When we did the social mapping at the first workshop we explicitly acknowledged that everyone present excepting me was Tamil and either Catholic or Hindu. We also noted the absence of Sinhalese and other religions.  The Hatton area seems to be a neutral area with little animosity among groups.  When I asked about the effects of the civil war, no one that I spoke to in the Hatton area, seems to have been directly affected by it – the perception being that this war took place at a distance.

The Hatton group is Tamil and drawn mainly from people who live on tea plantations who therefore represent an important segment of Sri Lankan society. By the way, the name that was chosen for the group this May, was Mountain Flower Playback Theatre.  I know now that Cymbeline plans to re-visit Sri Lanka in February 2012 and hopes to base a long training session in Hatton for Playback Theatre groups from throughout the island. Hatton would make an excellent venue for this work, with good work spaces and good food.  Hatton has a cool climate and is easily accessible by train from the south, north and Columbo and it’s a great train ride too!  It would be great for the Mountain Flowers group to experience work with other Playback Theatre groups and hear other stories.  A decent length of training would also really help cement the understanding of Playback techniques. Continue reading

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Sri Lanka September 2010

Makeshift Theatre Travel Blog

Makeshift Theatre visited Sri Lanka in September 2010 to offer an introductory Playback Theatre workshop in the town of Hatton,  while only meriting a passing mention in the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, Hatton hosts the Centre for Social Concern and is the capital of the tea-growing area. The Director of the Centre for Social Concern is Father Benny, a dynamic Tamil Jesuit Priest who grew up on a tea plantation is very familiar with local social problems and issues.  The work of the Centre for Social Concern is not confined to working with any particular religious group, but seeks to empower all of the people that live and work on tea plantations and the urban poor in the Nuwara Eliya district of the Central highlands. I was put in touch with Father Benny by Cymbeline Buhler, a Playback Theatre Practitioner form Australia who was instrumental in establishing a Playback Theatre presence in Sri Lanka some years earlier.

I was pleased to spend ten days staying at the Centre and taking part in the daily life, meeting many local people and taking a turn to cook in the evening.  I was taken good care of by Maryausa, Emilmoses, Chandrakathan and Rebina among others and appreciated the friendly hospitality and administrative skills of Yogitha who organised the workshop.  I also had the privilege of visiting two tea plantations with Father Benny and experiencing the Tamil Mass and meeting local people and learn something of the life of the tea picker.

The residential three-day workshop was attended by 32 young Tamil people, both male and female, ranging in age from 15 to 25, all of whom lived on tea plantations in the area and a couple of whom had previously attended a PT workshop with Cymbeline.  Otherwise, everyone else was new to the idea, and it seemed, new to the idea of drama itself, so I had to adjust my plans and find a suitable approach.  As it was my first time in Sri Lanka, I had some pre-conceived ideas about what kinds of stories this group might bring to the workshop and I soon had to revise them. I conducted the workshop in English, with Father Benny translating into Tamil.  Working with a translator requires a slowing down of the process, pausing often to give the translator time to understand the content as well as translate appropriately.  Working with a translator also means that the facilitator is one-step removed from contact with the group, dependent on the translator to keep the flow going and not get side-tracked into a debate or over-mediating between group and facilitator.  It’s a challenging, sometimes frustrating and rewarding process. Continue reading

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