Theatre Production with Youth

Nikki_and_Dennis_Theatre_Group

We did not know what to expect upon our arrival to Ghana and frankly we were nervous: this was an unfamiliar culture for us and here we were directing a local performance group to do a play about their own problems: teenage pregnancy. And the first rehearsal turned out to be the most nerve wrecking, we wanted to see their capabilities so we asked them to perform for us, and instead of watching a few amateur skits, we saw several very complicated well choreographed dance pieces, that lasted 20 minutes each. These kids blew our minds away, we were not working just with kids, we were working with professional artists. What we had prepared for them that day were basic western theater exercises: the name game, zip zap zop; I had clearly underestimated these children, I wasn’t even sure if I should go on with my intended plan. However, as we started our work, the kids embraced it with huge interest. The exercises might have been basic, but they were new to them and these kids were as equally curious as to how western theater works, as we were how African theater work. From then on the process became a two way situation we were learning as much from these children as they were from us: a true exchange of cultures.

For the next two weeks our rehearsal process became obvious, we would always first meet with our Ewe translators and go over the story line ” would kids in Ghana meet in parties or in school?”, ” how would a Ghanaian mother react if she were to find out that her 14 year old daughter was sexually active?” etc. These meeting gave us a clear understanding of how the local culture functioned and also created a clear story line and scenes. When the kids would arrive we would always start out by giving a basic theater workshop: games, drama exercises; not only would they warm up as actors but their education on the craft got further expanded. Following that we would relate to them the story line from that day’s meeting and allow them to recreate that using improvisation in their own language Ewe, our translators simply made sure the kids’ dialogue didn’t veer off the story line, while we made sure we staged the play correctly: entrances and exits, stage pictures and of course good acting (which wasn’t too hard: all of the kids already had natural talent). The rehearsals would always end with drumming and dancing.

By the third week our entire storyline had been created so now we could concentrate on expanding individual scenes. At this point the children’s creativity really began to flow and they each had their own ideas and input. The play began to get richer and richer. These young performers were dedicated 100% to their work. Most of them expressed a huge interest into pursuing acting as a future career.

The most amazing surprise came with the two shows that we got to witness. A director always has to give up his or her work to the actors at this point and simply watch the play with an objective eye and we were simply amazed by how confident, professional and talented this cast was. These kids shined in front of their audience, they solved all of their problems out (lost props, scene changes, appropriate costumes) and their acting skills took even a further leap. But most the most beautiful thing was the audience’s reactions. The spectators simply forgot that they were watching actors on stage and fully delved into the storyline. They were laughing, they were crying, they were applauding…That meant that our job was a success.  These communities listened to the messages in our play and hopefully they will be discussing this play for years to come.