Shadow Play

During the recent school holidays a group of volunteers from various Terre des Hommes homes came to the Core Trust for an intensive Shadow Puppet Workshop that was terrific.

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We needed to do some exercises and explore silhouettes initially which was an orderly process but as soon as the children had each made a puppet the excitement rose and spread and many other people joined in. At the end of a chaotic day, someone in Management decided we should contribute towards the celebration for the birthday of Chezian who is founder and CEO for the Trust . . . With two days to prepare ourselves.

In order to achieve this impossible task the number of puppeteers was limited to twelve and the message circulated that the troupe needs to focus and not be interrupted while working.

Next day the group who turned up was smaller but the plea for concentrated attention was just another impossible notion that carried no weight – probably just the sort of stupid demand a foreigner would make. Nevertheless we continued:

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Because of the periodic absence of teachers or adults who could join me with translations – since my Tamil was frequently challenged, I invited a young friend Sungita who lives nearby and was also on holidays to join us; she has just the requisite sparky nature to make an excellent puppeteer so I was delighted that she agreed to come.

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Sungita’s presence made a huge difference – she is quick and lively, she’s a natural. And so is Priya – a teacher who was soon able to spend more time with us. Since these children had no experience of similar skills, it was going to be quite demanding to prepare them for the performance. Demanding and very rewarding:

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Since we had only two more days to cook up a show, I suddenly grabbed a handful of puppets and said: right, these are the characters. Then it was relatively easy to sort them into three groups for three scenarios and play with them to devise the story-lines, action plan and script. I rushed up a few standard sets – a bus, a house and tree and a fruit-seller-and-cart. One day was occupied in a mad scramble to decide on the rough outline of each scenario; day two – the day of the performance – was for the one and only dress rehearsal. I should mention that I was the only person who had any notion about the complexities to be refined in order to make a decent performance. It was all a bit nuts.

The performance would happen on an open-air stage and a big screen had to be hurriedly made and erected flimsily not where the performance would happen but in the doorway of the room we had practiced in. That was all skew-if, but we launched ahead regardless.

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Sungita’s sister Sandhya came and became a puppeteer. Sungita was Co-Directer with her friend Amu.

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The function happened – I was unable to attend unfortunately so I asked the teachers concerned to take photos and that I would be most interested (naturally) in how it went; however nobody told me about it except Sungita; she said they only performed one skit. They don’t seem to be interested in follow-up nor in the original intention.

When the ShadowPuppet workshop idea was first discussed it was to gradually form a small troupe of TDH youth who would refine their skills to perform eventually for others related to this Trust – taking their shows to other Homes, other schools or whatever.

However as is often the case here in the backwoods, life is already sufficiently demanding just with basic gravity.

Thus if an idea is a Good One – of educational and recreational benefit for the children, even if they and some or even one of their teachers/carers would love to do it, the brute reality is that there’s no time, no one to organise, not enough resources, not the initiative even or will-power to follow something through, even with minimal tenaciousness required.

To follow through with developing a Shadow Puppet Troupe in the context of this remarkably well-organised Trust would be simple, enjoyable and undoubtedly worth putting time into, however: the difference between what we call a “mugg-up” and the original intention gets lost, overwhelmed in the stupendous effort required to do something relatively unusual – something slightly different from the norm in a traditional culture.

This post is about the frantic, hopelessly disarrayed, ludicrously insufficient, great fun substitute that transpired for that original intention.

Been there. Done that.

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