Sam Lasman - Drama in Romania
Acts of Warship
"And then we can have them do some tableaux of different subjects," I suggest for our upcoming workshop with the Economics High School. "Like sadness, celebration, worship..."
Ruth looks at me skeptically. "And how exactly are two kids going to do a tableau about warships?"
Still, despite the occasional transatlantic dispute over vowel pronunciation, the multinational Projects Abroad in Brasov Drama volunteers have worked together to revive or create from scratch a total of five drama groups, in which local high school kids can both hone their theatrical skills and practice their English. One of these groups, from the LSN high school, is working towards a production at the end of November - the rest have been learning basic techniques of mime, improvisation, script work, and, in some cases, shadow puppetry, through weekly workshops led by some combination of the three drama volunteers and our coordinator. In addition to our work with high school classes, we have also been making regular visits to the House of Joy in Sacele, a foster home where we have used drama to stimulate the children's creativity and provide an outlet for their energy.
Each of us contributes a unique perspective to the project. Ruth, a native of Shropshire, England, comes equipped with three years of drama training in university, experience as a writer, director, and technical hand at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and a dose of ready British sarcasm; Julia is a student from Switzerland, brought here by an interest in acting and drama technique; I am an American on the first leg of a gap year, seeking to supplement my high school theater work while soaking up some Old World sophistication.
Our recently arrived coordinator, Kyla, who is also Projects Abroad's new social manager in Brasov, brings her abilities as an actress, teacher, puppeteer, and camp nurse from the wilds of Toronto. Our work together has been something of a cross-pollination of different teaching styles and skills, and the results, while frequently mutant, nearly always bear fruit.
As we have them mime Titanic in fifteen seconds, sculpt their bodies into the shapes of eagles, flames, and mosquitoes, or act out the chaos experienced by a convent after the arrival of a charming male visitor, our students get to experience artistic creativity at its most basic - no materials or instruments intervene between the actor and his or her work.
This approach to theater, while perhaps necessitated by our limited space, numbers, and budget, is also incredibly valuable in its universality and versatility. Our workshops frequently begin with a handful of teenagers exhausted by tests, papers, and endless school days - they end with a group of young people discovering that they are capable of creating comedy, tragedy, and visual art with nothing but their bodies and, occasionally, a scrap of paper or purple scarf. Not that everything succeeds - even professional improvisation rarely does. But at any level of theater, the process can illuminate far more than the result.
In the LSN production (still a work-in-progress, being written in collaboration between volunteers and students), three teenagers confront the problems in their lives by looking back to myths that reveal basic human truths. Likewise, in our work here, we are trying to teach that theater is universal, doable, and, most importantly, relevant - a tool for individual, and possibly social, transformation. But enough analyzing (and, for that matter, enough analyzing) - theater is meant to be experienced and, hopefully, enjoyed. In the memorable words of one of our students: "Jack, I love you. But we just hit an iceberg. " There's work to be done.