Cabaret means something different in Lebanon…The second blog from team Sierra Leone

January 30, 2014

Written on 26/01/2014 (sorry it’s taken a few days to post!)

Sweaty boot camp and African booty dance…

It’s incredible; 24 hours ago we were shaking, boogying and basically having an awesome time performing in the PWB/PeWiBo cultural fusion cabaret show! Even more amazing is that a week ago we were 8 performers on a beach with a bunch of toys and definitely no show.


The journey we have all taken from then to now has been a roller coaster of sweaty training, sewing costumes, making fire toys and promoting the show. We turned our beautiful patio in the Save the Children complex into a training space with mats, cool beverages and lots and lots of circus toys. This happened after it became apparent the beach is no place to create a showtoo much sand in the pants for successfully completing any sort of acro move! We spent the mornings training just us 4; Tim, Livi and I creating a trio comedy juggling piece, Emma working on her jazz and contemporary dances, plus lots of playing, stretching and the odd sit-up if the mood took us!


In the afternoons we were joined by Brima, Morlai, Mummy and Tessay, 4 national performers from the cultural dance troupe. It was so special to spend this time together, not only could we swap ideas, training methods, routines and styles but it really helped us bond as a team and that training time seemed to become really important to everyone as the week went on. Because of that the quality of our work got higher and we all got a real buzz from training and working together.Image

Amongst training we also took a few trips to the local Universal Radio station, thanks to our keen promo organiser Emma and her bubbly, outgoing approach to life which led the big boss (an oversized character of a man who swaggered about ordering around his minions) to invite us onto the show. We were guests during the news on Tuesday morning in-between lots of Bob Marley tunes and angry sounding interviews with various people, then the next day got an hour long slot which allowed us to basically answer the same questions multiple times in as many different ways as possible! We had a competition to win 2 free tickets for the show (the winner did come along but sadly on his own and slightly drunk, but hey he seemed pleased to be there!) and we had over 60 texts asking a variety of seemingly random questions. The best one was ‘I don’t believe it; I think it’s a myth. Please tell me is it really true white man can dance with fire?’ to which Emma expertly answered in a suspenseful tone ‘I can exclusively reveal, here on Universal radio that white men CAN in fact dance with fire!’ Upon being asked for a closing statement I shamelessly blurted out ‘I love Universal radio, really I wish I could listen to it all the time, even in the UK!’ Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ll say anything for a bit of free publicity 🙂Image

For me the real gem of the week was performing at the American School. We were invited by a friend and teacher there to perform a few tricks and hand out flyers in their assembly as a lead up to the show. The warm welcome and positive reaction of the children was incredible and gave us the boost we needed after training so hard all week that the show might in fact actually be a success! A thought I at least hadn’t allowed myself the luxury of thinking during the whirlwind of boot camp. It was hot and we were very sweaty (sorry, common theme occurring!) but the delighted children still swarmed usquestions to Tim about his INCREDIBLE contact ball, awe at Livi’s hoop skills and very funky stripy jacket and a particularly cute boy too shy to look us in the eye so instead very timidly reading questions from his schoolbookADORABLE! The best for me though was in regards to mine and Emma’s ‘Puppet dance’ in which I manipulate her like she’s on strings. Firstly the children find it hilarious that she can’t stand up right then a tiny blonde girl toddled up to us and very seriously asked if there were real strings on Emma. Of course she said yes and proceeded to be dragged around the playground by her ‘strings’ and as the little girls new favourite toy 🙂 I love children’s endless imagination and was so glad we had managed to tap into at least one child’s sense of play.


It’s show time!

Saturday arrived and with 2 cars packed full to the brim we trundled along to the British Council. Usually I don’t like car journeys but here I love having the window open, the breeze in my face, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this still very confusing yet wonderful place. Sadly this car had air con so I had to shut the window and take the opportunity to have a little nap instead ;P

The space at the British Council was great, a big plywood stage (with only 2 or 3 holes in it to gaffer over!) a huge auditorium to seat 150 people, lots of room backstage and a handy yard round the back to pre-dip the fire toys.


The shows were incredibly fun! It was AWESOME to see how the national guys come alive the minute they hit that stage. A lot of lessons were taught in that matinee performancethem to us about style, performance and how it should be done and us to them about backstage etiquette, not just randomly walking through the back curtain and never spraying aerosol next to the lit fire toys! A real treat was when all 8 of us performed a jazz routine Emma had choreographed. Now I’m no stranger to jazz but this was not an easy routine. Very fast and a million miles away in style from African dance, everyone trained and trained and trained until it was perfect and boy was it worth it on the night!

I am in awe of the National’s energy, style, commitment and passion; at one point I was sat backstage and couldn’t help smiling to myself about the absurdity of the situationAfrica, cultural dance and costumes, very loud drumming, big cabaret show, MASSIVE fire finale, all in 31°C heat. Yeah no problem!!


After a hearty supper of rice and beans the evening performance went like a dream. We had lots of positive feedback and even big guys like the head of UNICEF were watching! In total we raised over £1000 but it sounds much more impressive to say 6,000,000 leones J We are now in a great financial position to head out on our tour, but more than that we have bonded as a team and feel ready to get out there and spread some PeWiBo PWB African Circus loving to the children of Sierra Leone!

Much red wine, flapjacks and chocolate muffins later (thanks Clare!) we went to bed exhausted but very very happy 🙂

Written by Kay-T

Week One in Leon by Emily Ball

January 30, 2014

Amado & Jake

The PWB team arrived in Leon early sunday evening, after the fun filled week at El Berrinche. We stumbled gladly into our new home for the next month and settled into our rooms. Straight into the action on Monday, I set off for a meeting with Amalia, director of Las Chavaladas, to organize some outreach work alongside our project with El Barrilete. Amalia is super organized, helpful and has set us up with a whole bunch of outreach shows and workshops across the city in various barrios, and with 2 of her projects – Escuela Movil, a mobile mini-school which travels out to different barrios every day, and Las Chavaladas, which supports boys in difficult situations and helps them get back on track. Getting back just in time to get changed, we set off for a show at a village called Tamarindo, the sister project of Son Flora, a swiss-run NGO. Lester, a local clown who also works with Son Flora, met us and accompanied us to the right bus terminal; there are several in Leon. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill/leave (buses seem to mainly leave when full, timetables being more of a guideline than anything else), Jake spotted a familiar looking young face…who finally plucked up the courage to say to him… “Circo? Los Quinchos?” It was Amado, one of the boys we had taught in San Marcos last year, who has now left Los Quinchos to be back with his family and was working at his uncle’s shoe-shine stall at the bus terminal. He jumped on the bus to say hi to the rest of us and we entertained each other until the bus was ready to leave – his smiles and laughs as he juggled with Jake were something very special, and a perfect reminder of why I am involved in these projects. Arriving at Tamarindo, we carted our hoops, staffs and selves along dusty tracks before arriving at the village basketball court where a crowd of excitable children, and less excitable but nevertheless interested, youth and adults were waiting for us. We were told the children were going to do a show for us with Lester, who has been teaching them clowning (clowns seem to be pretty big here). After helping them to get ready with their face paint, we were treated to a 12 strong clown show, which included a skit called ‘the Death of Pepe.’ It was enjoyed by all, even those who have less understanding of the language!

Our show was well received and we returned to the city tired, dusty, and very happy – this was just the start!


El Barrilete kids doing a pyramid!

Tuesday saw some of us heading to El Barrilete, despite it being a day of rest, as we had been invited to join their float in a carnival procession celebrating the national poet Ruben Dario. And what an event! They had dressed a tractor as a steam train, which towed three trailers (in varying states of disrepair): one full of kids and parents, one with a Dona and some chickens, a pig, and a massive sound system mainly playing train noises, and the last with baskets of vegetables, with some adults and children in (debatable) traditional dress. This set up was followed by 2 oxen pulling a cart full of kids dressed up as ghosts! The whole parade was fantastic – our stilt walking friends whom we met at El Berrinche were there dressed in various folklore inspired costumes (headless men, ghost horses, masked women), as well as various dancers, Giganticas (huge puppet women) and so much more! In true nicaraguan style, the parade was very delayed at several points, and we ended up leaving before the end, as we wanted to have our energy for performing our show at El Barrilete the next day…It went down very well and I was happy to recognize several faces from last year. When we turned up to teach our first session on Thursday, we were greeted by 20-30 super excited children all wanting to hug and say hello to us at once, and some less visibly excited older children who wanted to know when they could start learning the things we did in the show with fire (poi, staff, hula hoop). Our first session was exciting and energetic as expected, and with improvements we taught our second session on friday, which went even better – I look forward to seeing what the next month holds for these children. There is a good mix of students from last year who remember some skills, and new students eager to learn. Thursday morning 3 of us squeezed in a visit to a barrio with the Escuela Movil, and said hi to Las Chavaladas, some of whom remember us from last year. Friday morning we performed our show again, for the children of an SOS children’s village on the outskirts of Leon, and Friday evening saw us heading out for our first bit of skill exchange – a salsa class with the stilt walkers! We’ll be teaching them various circus skills next week in exchange for the salsa lessons! All in all, an exciting, full and fun first week of our Leon project…bring on week 2!

Sierra Leone Team Blog 1!

January 27, 2014

So, The Performers Without Borders (PeWiBo) team arrived at Heathrow on a cold, rainy and grey January morning- half asleep and probably a little apprehensive about our tour to a country none of us had ever travelled to- labelled  by the media as having a colourful and complicated recent past. I, Livi (or Grandma), provide the team with the basic essentials of a PWB tour- Drumstick lollies and squeakers.  We then met Uncle Harold the pilot- Emma’s magical uncle who wiggled us 3 free air tickets to and from Sierra Leone-  Thank you BA. Not only did that help us keep our volunteer contributions low, but we also got upgraded to world traveller plus- allowing us to squeak our way in excitement and comfort to Africa. I’m sure we were very popular with the other passengers on the flight! We even got to preach our message to the co-pilot who came for a little chat about the wonderful work that PWB do.

Our arrival in Africa soon brought us back down to earth, when only half of our bags made it with us to Sierra Leone! Luckily all the hoops arrived, and all my bags. So for our first day everyone dressed as Livi, except for Tim…I think the girls were happy my bags arrived and not his.  After waiting for 1.5 hours at the airport in a ‘queue’ of angry Africans, we were introduced to the concept of ‘Africa Time’ very abruptly and realised that our punctuality had to be replaced by smiles and patience- and of course, we were the last to leave the airport. Once the bags were sorted by the friendly airport staff Baibai, our Save the Children representative, helped us find our way out of Lungi International Airport to a small coach and made our way to the river estury to get to Freetown. It was such a relief to have my toes in the sand once again, and being surrounded by palm trees made me feel surprisingly like I was at home! We were stuffed onto a small boat, tied to a small jetty in very choppy waters- two of our team felt extremely sea sick and were glad to be on the move. Once at the other end we were met by a smiling Peachy and car  to drive the bumpy road up to our home from home the save the children compound. We were welcomed by Clare and the three puppies living here.  After some rare and amazing veggie chili-  Veggie dishes being usually out of the African cuisine- and acclimatising to the heat (great after leaving England  mid-winter) we settled down for our first African sleep.

Our first day involved a preliminary meeting discussing the details of the tour and what acts we would contribute to our fundraiser on the 25th January. For the first time in PWB history, we also had to take into account our local PeWiBo performers, who would be joining us on tour and  we were all very excited to meet them! We the other half of the team at Cue bar, a bar/gym combo on the beach where the touch rugby team meets every week. After an awkward minute or two we were comparing both the differences and similarities in performing lifestyles from either country- Can be amazing what a passion for performance gives you in common!Image

Our first weekend before Bootcamp  involved a welcome party at Cockle Point- a beautiful, secluded beach with a fantastic view, quite different from the hustle and bustle in the city of Freetown. We enjoyed a day of swimming in the sea before settling down to a group meal with a selection of local friends, other ex-pats working for charity, travellers and locals. Peachy set up a DJ booth with fairy lights and his new speakers (RA-style) and we performed our first show together as a team- some enjoyed their first fire performance on a beach in Sierra Leone- something to remember! It was great to show everyone and each other our skills and the team bonded with sharing dance styles and the Sierra leone dance anthems like ‘chop my money’. Everyone slowly crept to bed, leaving  the last few to enjoy some late night reggae under the full moon-yes mate- thank god for the mini-rigs J. The morning was met with a welcomed cool swim to sooth the inevitable doxycycline burn from the day before followed by a lazy day of amusing card games and relaxing by the sea. By the time we arrived home we were all relaxed and acclimatised to the heat and ready for a 8.30 start for Bootcamp the next day.


Written by Livi Little

El Berrinche Ambiental by Aileen Lawlor

January 21, 2014

Casa de las botellitas

Phew! We are settling into Leon after an exciting week at the 5th annual El Berrinche Ambiental festival, held in Granada. La Casa de las Botellitas and the Escuela de la Comedia y el Mimo are the venues for this event, at the helm of Diego Gene, a man that everyone in the city seems to know. This festival brought in international talent from Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, England (Us!..well, I mean, I guess Valentina and I are from the states…) etc. When we rolled up in a bus, some of the kids that Emily, Bags and Jake had known from last year’s tour came outside, instantly greeting their old teachers with warm hugs and high fives, telling old jokes and saying hello to the new volunteers (Justin, Penny, Valentina & I). It was really sweet; these kids spent perhaps a few weeks with those 3 last year, and knew them all by name and acted as if a year had not gone by in between.

We kicked off the week with a celebratory parade through the streets of Granada to the main square, drumming up interest, stiltwalkers dancing and singing, hooping, juggling and clowning all the way to the Casa de Los Tres Mundos, a cultural center of Nicaragua. It was there that throughout the week we got to watch what the other artists had prepared, as well as perform the 40 minute PWB show that we put together in our first 7 days! The week culminated in creating a grand show, including all the artists, to showcase at the end of the week to a theme relating to the environment.


Parading down the streets of Granada

The presentations from everyone, including the young children from the Escuela, had a mind blowing level of acrobalance, clowning, storytelling, comedy and theatre. It seemed to me that people here hold great reverence for clowning & mime. I was so impressed with the skills and physical storytelling present in their acts. I watched some workshops that included great acting and improvisation games, disciplines that contribute to the well-performed clowning apparent among the children and Costa Ricans.


Playing games with the artists, lakeside

I didn’t understand what the name of the festival represented, so I asked Fito, a super spirited guy that seemed to be central to rallying all the international artists for a meeting every afternoon. He told me that “Berrinche” refers to a child with much rage, with the need for attention, a tantrum. After spending some time in the city, and working with some of the kids in the local barrios, that name took on a profound significance. We witnessed the streets filled with orphans or troubled kids that clutch onto old plastic bottles of glue under their shirts and huff it, resulting in a lost, glazed look over their eyes, gray-faced, stumbling straight into the center of a street show, oblivious to the people around them and only mesmerized with the performers. It was a jarring sight. One night I was getting ready for our show in the Cafe, preoccupied in my mind about the acrobalance bits, when I noticed a young boy standing behind me, watching me put my makeup on. I could smell the glue from a couple feet away. I greeted him; he was very polite with me, and held up his bottle and asked me if I knew what it was. I replied yes in Spanish, and I asked him why he had that stuff. He told me he didn’t have a mother and father. He waved his bottle near my face asking me if i wanted it. Firmly declining, I continued talking to him for a little while longer telling him about the school, about all the kids involved in juggling and performance. I was no longer preoccupied about doing well in the show, but reminded why Performers Without Borders is here in the first place. It was a moment that sobered the dreamy-eyed gringa that I am, from everything so beautiful and rich with culture, to being checked with reality, feeling sad and slightly discouraged.


The amazing Escuela de la Comedia y el Mimo

That moment aside, the show ended up going really well, and the smiles and applause from the locals, other artists, and the children of the school were all encouraging. The participants were all easy going, the children affectionate and smiley and instantly warm. Workshops were taught to 50 kids that walked over a mile in the hot afternoon from their barrio to learn body percussion, tumbling, “hula hula” (how they refer to the hula hoop), juggling, and more skills offered from the artists. All the performers were able to share their skills with each other as well, and


Hooping with the local children

I was delightfully challenged to teach my first contact staff class in Spanish to a group of beginners. It was a highlight for me, even though throughout the week I really struggled with comprehending people. The accent and slang here are very different, and I’m out of practice. I found myself having to really listen and sort out in my head how to articulate things I know I learned over the course of 14 years in Spanish! However, that was also the beauty of teaching disciplines rooted in the body; it has a language of it’s own, and the kids are like sponges & actors, observing what you are doing and through mimicry, picking up the hoop or juggling moves.


Puppet created at the festival by the artists!

I found myself outside the little pulperia one of the last nights with a celebratory group of artists and kids. There was a lot of laughing, eyes sparkling, wonderful drummers and guitarists, singing and dancing. My heart just about burst out of my chest with love for all the quirky people of this festival, and the contribution of time & energy into passing that spirit and fervor for art along to the next generation.


Penny’s Nica Boot Camp Blog

January 20, 2014

First team desayuno together

On my way to Nicaragua, I loved the chance to eat Cuban guava and cheese pastries in the Miami airport. I was met successfully by the PWB tribe in the Managua airport: Emily, Jake, Justin, Valentina, Aileen and Bags on a balmy evening, good start!! We had big fun loading into a jeep with the roof piled high (as high as the jeep!) with circus equipment, including a huge bag of hula hoops and even huger bag of proper acro mats, hurrah!

A two hour drive to Leon with our host Rigo, blasting Led Zepplin and Rolling Stones all the way. I thought, this is going to be fun, so I sang all the way to Leon, whoop whoop! We spent our first night in Rigo’s fabulous colonial hacienda with an enormous iguana prowling the palm-filled courtyard. I found myself loving Leon already, loving Nicaragua already, so civilized, hospitable and funky. La gente estan muy muy simpatico!


Practicing acro sequences for our show

Emily did a great job of organizing supplies and we were sent off in groups on different errands – to the market, the supermarket and the hardware store for supplies to make circus equipment. We did shopping for 5 days because we were headed to the coast for CIRCUS BOOT CAMP! I kid you not. We had a house on the coast for 10 days to practice, get more skilled, share skills, find out how to share those skills in Spanish and, importantly, put a show together. The house was 20 minutes to the nearest outpost of civilization…could this be Circus Big Brother house?

Ok so, shelve the Big Brother analogy, it turns out 20 mins to the nearest outpost of civilization means 20 mins to the nearest bar! Boot camp is in Rigo’s rambling hacienda on the beach amongst many more rambling haciendas. The sea is wild, the sunsets postcard perfect, pelicans fly in V formation low over the water, lumbering like B52 bombers and strangely elegant at the same time as they bank and turn. Each day is a full-on circus day. Sunrise yoga on the lawn, we discover 4 of us can do the splits and plan a possible dramatic end to our show. Breakfast is followed by a full morning of games and skill sharing, rhythm work, dancing, clowning and improvising, being foolish and dreaming. A strange new theatrical order starts to emerge from the chaos. There are some other back packers staying at the house and I feel mildly sorry for them as our equipment, piles of costume and noisy theatricality invades their tranquility. But, as they sit and watch our antics and laugh their heads off, I gather they are actually enjoying the free floor show!


Brainstorming session

It’s a tough life being a volunteer. I am sitting in a hammock in a cabana at the end of our garden of palms, papaya and soft grass underfoot. I am looking out over the Pacific ocean with the laptop on my knees, something ancient and something modern. But seriously, everyday is intense – training and creating. This morning, I have been in a 3 high pyramid tower and been doing assisted flips and walk overs – and I am stoked!!!


Jake, Aileen and Justin practicing their staff routine

We are on a tight schedule, we have 10 days to get our group show performance ready and learn enough Spanish to teach circus skills before the festival in Granada begins on the 13th. Days start early, first light is 5.30. We start doing our own thing, stretching, yoga and training skills between 6 and 7 in the garden when it’s still cool. Its breakfast at 8am and I love the simple pleasure of eating around the big table with the PWB gang. Group training runs from 9am to 12 noon. Taking turns to lead the group, we share skills, teaching methods and enthusiasm. Emily and Bags, the team leaders, and Jake were on the project here last year so they have local knowledge and are familiar with the kids we will be working with. To make sure we know what we are getting into, the job of teaching in a foreign language is complicated further by them playing the role of over excited children in our trial classes. This ain’t gonna be no cakewalk.

A two hour lunch break gives us time to eat, swim and siesta. We share cooking and have been having the best lunches, tortillas, tostadas, queso fresco, BIG salads, fried plantains, mmm hmm. Lovin’ the humor too, the guys’ banter crack me up! When Bags pushes the puppy away that is licking his feet, Jake wants to know how Bags can do that to a cute little puppy, is he carrying a childhood trauma and does his family constellation matrix need re-imprinting? ‘Repeat after me Bags’ he says ‘I am loved and I am special’ bwah ha ha!


Bags, Tilly Twist & Valentina’s Hoop Trio

The pace accelerates towards the end of boot camp, we are all pleased with the way the show is coming together, we have 10 acts in it including a magical transformation scene and towards the end of boot camp, Emily pulls a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat – we have a show the day before we leave at a children’s project 10 minutes up the road. Sonflora is an after school project run by a Swiss NGO, the children there have a homework club, play games, make and eat wholesome food in a healthy environment. We see hand painted posters on lampposts advertising ‘Artistas Sin Fronteras’ The big day arrives and we are feeling good, happy with the show we have created and looking forward to seeing what the children make of it. We set off in costume, Bags has created a super hero costume and is now Super Bolsas!! The young boy of the family who live at and care for Rigo’s guesthouse laughs at him and says “He thinks he’s a superhero but he can’t even fly!!”


Practicing our dance sequence

The Sonflora show is due to start at 3pm so we set off at 2.15 to give ourselves plenty of time to arrive and set up, but when we arrive there is a full house of 50 or 60 children between the ages of 5 and 15 years, so its straight on with the show!! 40 minutes of silly dancing, top juggling, poi jousting magic, roustabout and the grand finale of our 3 – well actually technically 2 and ½ high pyramid…the kids love it!! Cheers, claps, whoops and shouts all the way through. The seal of approval. After the show, there is lots of hugs from all the children, that makes it all so worthwhile. Sonflora staff ask if we can do a show for their other project near Leon, that’s a positive! 


Our final acro trick – a 2.5 high!

Then it’s back to the house to talk the show through and to enjoy drinks at sunset on the hammock platform on the last evening of PWB boot camp. Tomorrow we are packing, packing, packing and off to Granada for our first stop, the Escuela de La Comedia y El Mimo and El Berrinche Ambiental Festival. Boot camp has been great and now we are ready for the change of pace that is to come.