Abundant smiles

February 14, 2011

What a pleasure to once again be in a country where it is appropriate to be inappropriate, or at least appropriateness takes on a completely different meaning. The joy of walking down a busy street and to be approached inquisitively by a complete stranger, ‘Country?’. Although one understands the context of what is being asked it certainly instigates a playful and jovial interaction. This is often followed by equally out-of-context questions like, ‘Marriage?’, ‘Father?’, ‘Mother?’. The thing about being thrown these isolated words amongst the cacophony of sound that is already present, is that it is almost expected that those same questions are reciprocated with equally absurd answers. The interaction that follows can then go down any number of routes, in my experience always ending in a humorous exchange which parts with big smiles from all parties.

We are living in Sister Fatima’s home in Golapudi, a village on the outskirts on Vijayawada. The image of a ‘village’ maybe be somewhat misleading as we are situated on one of the main highways out of the city and the quiet village life that one might expect definitely does not prevail. We have been living here for over a week and it begins to feel like home: always greeted by friendly chai wallahs, mischievous children and pushy fruit vendors. We seem to have adjusted to the fact that we are living amongst nuns and Christian symbology and it no longer feels strange that a large porcelain statue of Jesus watches over us whilst we enjoy our communal meal at the end of the day and although some of us struggle, swearing is kept to a minimum.

We are now half way through the first project and have performed our show to different groups of kids who have responded excitedly to its playful tone and colourful characters.  The kids seem to enjoy the character I play, a strict authoritarian policeman who demands seriousness at all cost but is continuously mocked by the rest of the cast, providing humorous interludes between scenes. The other characters are met with equal delight: two mischievous clowns, three friendly street urchins and a pair of unassuming tourists, not to mention the charismatic, yet accident prone subji wallah (vegetable vendor)/rickshaw driver/waiter.

Vijayawada is South India’s largest railway junction and many street children end up here as a result. The organisation we are working with at the moment is called SKCV http://www.skcv.org, who’s main concern is providing shelter and food to those children who have had the misfortune of ending up on the street for one reason or another. Dividing up our teaching time between the night shelter, the boys’ village and the girls’ home we spend a total of four days a week with the kids. We have been welcomed with an enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn that confirms the validity of this project.  ‘Brother!’, ‘Sister!’, echoes around the yard as children are eager to show us their success in spinning a plate on a stick or managing to juggle three balls for a number of consecutive throws. It is incredibly touching to be able to offer them the encouragement and recognition they deserve and the look of glee and excitement on their faces is the most satisfying reward. Next week will be our last week with this set of kids and although it will be sad to say goodbye, it warms me to have spent time with them, gaining insight into their world and experiencing a truly beneficial exchange.

As I complete this entry I am being evacuated from the cool afternoon shade of our porch, as mosquitos here don’t seem to to be limited to solely nocturnal activity. Contently I sit in my room with the fan on, enjoying the free time Sundays provide, recognising the gratitude that lies within and looking forward to the weeks to come.

– Olly


Train tracks and balancing acts

February 2, 2011

On the train to Vijayawada: its reflection time.

We left Gokarna in a hot state, dragging our bags up the rocky path from our guesthouse to the pick up point around 16:00 hrs. A few of us were feeling too ill for breakfast but our spirits are high, after the success of the show the previous night.

The reception from the crowd had been stunning! Olly and Andy, dressed in costume, rode unicycles up and down the beach rounding up loungers and travelers. They were a great sight and our audience grew rapidly. With Kudle beach as our backdrop and facing one of our regular restaurants we dazzled with a strong ensemble dance, composed by Eluned, as a start to the show. Then straight into a street scene with a subji wallah (vegetable seller) with a stock of juggling props, while three lively street urchins stole juggling balls and clubs (clean finish please).

This followed into a pretty ribbon interlude with some dancing and acro followed by another group ensemble – as a cycle rickshaw – this one got an unexpected applause partly due our fantastic soundtrack (we got many compliments for our music).  Our rickshaw whisked a traveling couple to a restaurant before deftly exploding! With the rickshaw wheels as hula-hoops, this moved nicely into a hoop routine by the girls. Livi finished on multi hoop, which got the crowd clapping.

Of course a good theatrical show must have a comical interlude and Olly had spent some time preparing himself for this. Comparing between acts as policeman who slowly gets won over by the circus even though it is raucous and messy. The thinking was that our main audience would enjoy poking light fun at this figure of authority, perhaps one that they may have run into trouble with. It also acted as a unifying theme, a way to crowd control and an extra body to move props between scenes.

Our last scene took the audience back to the restaurant, with Jemma and Mike as patrons who get waited on by a diablo-ing, plate-spinning Andy-waiter. (our ex subji wallah).  We have some audience participation when an unsuspecting child is made to hold spinning plates in hands and teeth, after which Dave does the walk of death with his knives over an exhausted waiter.

As the sun sets we move into a spectacular fire show with home made fire fans, palms and bull whip as well as a numerous assortment of juggling clubs, poi, hoops, staffs, devil sticks etc. The finale saw us all jumping through a firing skipping rope, a first for many of us on the PWB team as the crowd cheer. The show is also a fundraiser and PWB raises over 100 pounds through people’s generosity.

The rest of the night is spent celebrating Dave´s birthday with rum-lemon nanas (fresh mint lemon drink) and receiving congratulations on the show. We become almost mini celebrities the next day, even in Gokarna we get a wave from some locals on a motorbike as they zoom past “Great show guys” We were a hit!

We are sad to leave the beach, but look forward to seeing more of India. This first show was mostly in front of a traveling western audience who will be used to more professional productions. So we sit in high spirits on lightly cushioned blue bunks, surrounded by our luggage (the unicycles carefully balanced on the air con fans above) awaiting our arrival at Vijayawada, a show ready to go and a strong group vibe.

–  Elma

The first PWB boot camp 2011

February 2, 2011

Karnataka, Gokarna, Kudle Beach

What do you get when you combine 9 people, 2 weeks and a multitude of skills, circus and imagination?

An hour-long show spanning dance, theatre, circus, clowning with a firey finale!

The first PWB boot camp was a stimulating meddle of skill swapping, sharing (on many levels), sunsets and show creation.   Having all met only once before jumping on the plane to India, the 2 week boot camp had to cover much ground.  It gave the 9 strong group vital time to get to know each other, to learn and swap teaching methods and skills and to create and polish the show ready to take on tour.

We stayed at Namaste yoga farm (www,spiritualland.com), above Kudle Beach. The affable Oliver runs the retreat and put us up in a small cottage, tent and hut split between the 9 PWB members. Two weeks on the beach might sound idyllic but the fierce daytime sun robbed us of the energy and brainpower we needed to work on show creation. Thankfully Namaste yoga farm came to the rescue with a covered practice space to shade us from the heat.

We split our time between daily morning and afternoon sessions. Inspiration for devising the show came from games, warm ups and group exercises, which also helped us to work on teaching techniques. Many of the shows strongest images came from the practice sessions initially intended to help us get to know each other. It’s often said too many cooks spoil the broth, or in this case slows progress, but the group dynamic worked well to keep the pace moving forward, the project on track and everyone happy.

Each evening found us practicing skills as the sun went down over the ocean and the two weeks proved exciting for all as new tricks and props were shared– including acrobalance, silk ribbon and juggling to name a few – and we used the time to improve old skills and rehearse set acts. Kudle was an inspiring place to be as many other talented and enthusiastic people joined the skills swap and fed into the learning experience.

As the day of the premier show drew nearer sourcing materials, props and costumes was sometimes a hot, frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience. It was a valuable lesson of being on Indian time (shanti shanti, slowly slowly). Note to self: things take longer than expected here, especially in the energy sapping heat of the day!

We took our selves to Om Beach (the next beach along the coast) for a pre-show fire practice; both to keep some of the fire show secrets hidden from our future audience and to spread the word about our premier show. (Which obviously worked as we were getting post-show praise as far as Paradise beach, three beaches away from Kudle! Whoop whoop!) The practice run was a brilliant evening, despite a hint of chaos as we tried to finish props in time, while spinning fire and holding the crowd. But we drew a sizeable audience and played with newly created fire toys (thanks to Mike!), plus testing ideas for the actual show.

The final show developed the initial street scene idea to take you on a riotous, often ridiculous circus ride showcasing the range of skills with which we want to inspire and teach the kids.

– Jemma