International Women’s Day 2012

Fleur……

The day I had my interview at Uni Glamorgan was the day I was told I could have a bursary that would cover my University fees, living expenses and materials allowance (books, USB sticks etc) and was the day I went to my first seminar, on Research methods. It was unbelievable – yet felt so right as the door just opened wide…. I feel very grateful.

So, in the light of this new step, and on International Women’s Day, I would like to share the words of an incredible theatre director from America called Anne Bogart’. I have this written out and up on my study wall – to remind myself daily to move forward and enjoy the journey.

“….how to handle the resistances…your circumstances might offer; Do not assume that you have to have some prescribed conditions to do your best work. Do not wait. Do not wait for enough time or money to accomplish what you think you have in mind. Work with what you have right now. Work with the people around you right now. Work with the architecture you see around you right now. Do not wait for what you assume is the appropriate, stress free environment in which to generate expression. Do not wait for maturity or insight or wisdom. Do not wait until you are sure that you know what you are doing. Do not wait  until you have enough technique. What you do now, what you make of your present circumstances will determine the quality and scope of your future endeavours. And, at the same time, be patient.”

Anne Bogart. A Director Prepares

Well it’s been a few months since I last checked in. How are you? Are you well and happy? I hope so. A lot has happened since our trip to China. I’ve moved house, started University again and see my future in a very different light. China was the catalyst to huge changes – a place where I had the space and inspiration to jump out of my box and into a different way of thinking.

I’m now studying a Masters in Drama at University Glamorgan (in Cardiff). It was in China that the idea began to study again. I was inspired by the Applied Drama work employed by Hua Dan, especially hearing stories about the work with female migrant workers in Beijing as well as the project Kalim and I were a part of in Mien Yang. Over dinner one day, pondering my future, Jess tentatively suggested doing an MA and after that spent a long time with me, discussing drama and suggesting I read ‘House of Games’ by Chris Johnston and other such key texts. I sat in the baking hot Hua Dan office one afternoon (fanning myself continually) immersed in the concept of Invisible Theatre from ‘Games for actors and non actors’ by Augusto Boal and realised I had to make the jump. I remember Kalim and I walking in the sun to buy doughnuts one Sunday. We were talking about what we would do when we returned to the UK and Kalim really encouraged me to apply for the course, telling me to believe in myself and know that I can achieve huge goals. I had no idea how I could afford to do an MA, or what work I could find to support  Ramin and myself while I studied. I just had faith that doors would open if I was meant to go in that direction.

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Hua Dan and Creative Voice

Kalim and I have been in China for three weeks and are fully involved in the latest Hua Dan project, working as volunteer Arts Practitioners alongside the Hua Dan Sichuan team workshop leaders, Zhao Nan, Hu Gang (the men), Jin Lian and Yang Yang (the women). Yang Yang is actually a part of the Beijing Hua Dan team and is staying in Chengdu for the duration of this project to support and assist the Sichuan Team. She is a very experienced and talented actor, singer and director and we are hoping to work with each other in the future on a creative project.  Yang Yang (whose name means ‘Sunrise’ as she was born at 6am – and my middle name, Talieh, also means sunrise – yet another connection) has been our stalwart translator, enabling an easy flow of communication both in the planning and feedback sessions and in the workshops themselves, which we have really appreciated.

For the last two weeks we have travelled for over two hours by train together to a smaller city called Mian Yang to run drama, music and Step workshops with a Primary/Middle School and another Primary School. On the Monday we plan the week’s workshops, Tuesday-Thursday we deliver them, then travel back Thursday evening, reviewing the week on Friday afternoon back at the Hua Dan office in Chengdu. The Hua Dan team wrote and performed a play about a young Chinese boy who lives in London during the Second World war, who is evacuated to the Welsh countryside of Tintern the week before – and the workshops since then have explored the themes presented through the play.

The journey takes just over two hours, most of the time spent sleeping, chatting, looking at photos on each other’s phones and listening to music. The Sichuan Hua Dan team are very easy company, with all of us doing our best to understand and communicate with each other. The most disconcerting thing about the train travel is that every now and then someone will pop their head over the top of the seats to stare at Kalim or myself and have a good old listen to our conversation. We also get stared at from the moment we get on the train (often a couple of people in opposite seats, just settle down to an hour of unashamed and curious looking), to the time when we walk to the hired bus, to the time when we walk through the town or eat somewhere – and then people often take surreptitious photos of us while we eat. Literally the only time someone is not having a good look is when we are alone in our rooms. Our Chinese friends feel a bit uncomfortable for us, but we all do a good job of ignoring everyone.

In Mien Yang We are working with children who experienced the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, many of whom live as boarders in the school while their schools and home are being re-built in the earthquake area. Another common experience of the children in this area (and throughout China) is that many children (and the recent generations of children are mainly only-children due to the one child policy in China) live with their grandparents in rural areas or smaller towns while their parents work in the larger cities, and often only see their parents for short periods of time during national holidays. So the Hua Dan team have been working with the themes of separation and love reaching across distance as well as the China-Wales connection that the play and Jessica Naish (the Creative Consultant for the Hua Dan Sichuan team in Chengdu, formerly head of Learning and Engagement in Sherman Cymru in Cardiff), myself and Kalim are bringing to this project.

The experience so far has been a great way to get to know the Hua Dan team as co-workers and as friends through our travels, co-facilitating workshops, eating together and participating in daily feedback sessions. Learning how to come to decisions together with different viewpoints and through translation back and forth from Chinese to English has been challenging and also very rewarding and I feel we are all learning from each other. Kalim and I see our role as one of empowering the Sichuan team, who are a relatively new group and who have a small amount of experience in this field. We both facilitate our specialist subjects, Kalim teaching Beat-Boxing (which all the children of all ages adore!), myself teaching Singing and both of us teaching Step or African Body Percussion. I have also utilised my skills as a Drama teacher (alongside Jess Naish’s ideas and approach. I always learn so much from her!), especially in the planning and review stages, guiding the rehearsal and performance planning while encouraging the different personalities in the group to make their contribution.

The children have not been easy to manage, the second primary school class getting over-excited to meet Kalim and I as ‘exotic’ foreigners (wanting autographs and shoving paper and pens into our faces as they compete to be first in line, screaming so loud in the small room that I had to stick my fingers in my ears to stop my ear-drums bursting), the Middle School young teens half wanting to participate, half wanting just to keep their cool in front of the opposite sex and in every class the boys and the girls do not want to mix. The students are not difficult or challenging in the way young people can sometimes be back in the UK, there is no back-chat, no sneakiness or undermining of the teacher’s position or the lesson being taught – there is just a constant buzz of noise, giggling, squabbles amongst themselves, a wanting to sit down all the time rather be actively involved in the workshop and a seeming inability to just be quiet. China itself, with her enormous population, is a very noisy place to be – especially in the city and in schools where there are over two thousand children in one school it is rare that a quiet moment is found. Adding to the distraction, every hour a very loud, sentimental song that blares out of the tannoy speakers – signalling the time – which is meant to assist good emotions in the students rather than the shrill sound of a bell. Hmmm, if the song was ten seconds long, then maybe – but it goes on for at least if not more than a whole minute!

There is also the challenge that all the classes are so large (fifty students in every class), the floor is pure concrete and is dusty, uncomfortable and dirty (also full of small flying insects once the evening workshop is over as the room is too hot to keep the windows closed) and the children have never experienced drama classes like this before, Hua Dan being the first NGO drama company in China to run such projects. The children are used to a very strict and often (in my opinion) cutting teaching approach from their Chinese teachers. We are asking the ‘actors’ as we call them, to listen to us without us shouting at them – which is new to them – to participate in activities that encourage their creative sides – different from the Chinese rote-learning methods – and to co-operate together as people from different cultures and sexes without making a big deal of the differences – again very unusual for them. Kalim and I are probably the first, or maybe in the case of the Middle School students, the second experience of talking with non-Chinese people they have ever had. They probably find it all very disconcerting and strange – far more than we do!

So as we’ve been approaching the final week of rehearsals (which starts tomorrow), and the classes have now had in all three workshops with the Hua Dan team, it was becoming increasingly important that the ‘actors’ settle down, co-operate with each other without silliness, listen to the facilitation and work together and with us as facilitators to create a performance in front of the entire school (a couple of thousand!) for International Children’s Day on July 1st.

Last week’s session went far better than before when we insisted (through a game) that the ‘actors’ as they are learning to become, stand in a circle in the formation of boy/girl/boy/girl. Half way through the session, Kalim and I were still fed up with the amount of effort it was taking to get the students to listen. Our previous thoughts and ideas of class management (and Jess’s ideas) had been heard during the planning and feedback sessions but not implemented and possibly forgotten in amongst all the translation. So we nipped out of the room when the class were involved in an activity that we were not leading and had a quick (desperate!) consultation, deciding to implement – without discussing with the others (and for the sake of our own sanity) the warning system suggested by Jess in the previous planning session during the following section where Kalim was to lead one half of the group beat-boxing and I was to teach song-composition with the other half, and then review later with the team.

In our respective classes we both solemnly introduced the football style of ‘Yellow card, Red Card’ including a ‘Green Card’ for positive reinforcement. With the threat of having to write ‘I am sorry for being disrespectful’ twenty times if they were sent to the back of the room with a red card and a promise that I or Kalim would personally talk with their teacher about their disrespectful behaviour if they got the red card a second time and also the positive re-enforcement of praising those who were working well and showing them the ‘smiley face’ green card – suddenly both Kal and I found that the wrist-wrestling fighting among the boys, the girls slapping the boys, the constant whispering and shuffling and just not paying attention 98% stopped! Only one boy received the red card in all three classes and Kal and I were both happy that Yang Yang made the warnings, as we didn’t want the system to seen as foreigners being mean to Chinese children – but more as: this is the system of play in this workshop.

All the Hua Dan facilitators were quite amazed how this simple system of keeping order changed the atmosphere of the workshops. Kalim and I were so relieved that they agreed to use this and had recognized the importance of having a discipline system that connects up with the activity in practise – shouting and trying to make yourself heard above the noise in arts classes never works – you and the children feel exhausted afterwards, and very little creative development, mentoring or co-operation can be achieved. It made me realize how the team are really at the beginning of learning and yet are so willing to develop their understanding and implement new ways of working that are quite different from their own life or cultural experience. I felt quite humbled by this and hoped I would be the same if a person from a different culture was assisting my development in the UK, that I would adopt the willingness to learn from them. Also, isn’t it interesting that you can discuss an idea or principle at length, but it’s only when you experience it in action that it has an impact on you, reminding me of the line by a wise man from the East ‘Let deeds, not words be your adorning’.

New Year – New Projects

-By Fleur:

It’s 2011 and I’m feeling excited, hopeful, curious and keen along with a large helping of anticipation about the events and experiences this year will bring. The thing is, the New Year isn’t going to bring me anything really – is it! It’s going to be a year when I bring far more to the table of my life. I have some solid resolutions – some personal – some I’m willing to share with yourselves, maybe now, maybe later – which have ignited a fire in my soul and which have changed my perception of my life and even my own self – let alone the way I am relating to the world around me.

My Creative Voice projects (resolutions) for 2011 are as follows:

‘Soundscape’ project in China

Kalim and I are working on a funding application which will enable us to visit China for 6 weeks- 2 months in the summer. The deadline is this coming Saturday and so I am currently focused on the application and all the letters of support and other information I need. If we are successful with our funding bid then we will be volunteering for Hua Dan (www.hua-dan.org) in ChengDu and working with young people who are survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and with children of migrant workers. We will be devising a ‘soundscape’ performances and recording with the young people, telling a story through singing and beat-boxing techniques, speech sounds and imitation of nature and machines. More about this – when/if successful! As you can imagine, we are both truly excited about this opportunity. I lived for 10 months in ChangChun, North East China in 1998-1999 and even though it wasn’t always easy for me and I experienced dramatic culture shock, I learnt so much when I was there and developed such amazing friendships that I have looked back at that time with great fondness. FIngers crossed!

My creative literary voice

I have been writing short stories, chapters of books, poems and lyrics since I was about 10 years old. English was my favourite subject at school, reading was my favourite past-time (as my parent’s quote back at me – I once dumped a boy (I think I was about 14) with the words, “I’d rather read a book than go out with you!”) and writing was a form of expression which took me into another world – where anything was possible and everything was wonderful.

Those of you who know me personally and those who have been attentive to my web-presence (there isn’t much of one, but it’s there!) will know that Victoria Leith and myself compiled and edited a book back in 2005 called ‘Make a Difference in Just One Day’ which was a collection of diary entries from all around the world, all written on the International Day of Peace (21st September) where people from all walks of life had a go at doing something for peace in their local community, with their family and friends. This wonderful, inspiring, moving and heart-connecting book is still yet to be published, but hopefully will be available to buy this year, as we have one publisher making happy noises!

My resolution for this year however, is to write a novel – working at it, chipping away at it and believing in it so that it is ready to be read by 2012. I have written about a third of a science-fantasy novel already, but lost my faith in it and got all stuck on what would be and what wouldn’t be possible – so it’s still waiting to bloom into something magical. I might pick up from where I left off and just get it written – damn it! Or, I might continue with the idea I had (a murder-mystery set in Cardiff) when I wrote for two days (only two days! my oh my)  as part of the amazing world wide phenomenon which is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) back in November 2010. Maybe I’ll write from a totally different angle and include my experience of my husband’s journey with MS and my life in Germany. Can I handle that one yet? Whatever I write, even if it’s unpublishable and just for the fun of writing – it WILL BE DONE! It has to be…

‘Seed’ House Concerts

One nice thing that’s coming up is a weekend of performances in Northamptonshire. My good friend and very talented composer, Richard Leigh has asked me to sing many of the songs from his recent album, ‘Seed’ (prayers and writings from the Baha’i faith) – which is so lovely as I adore these songs, and I love performing with Richard. They are called the ‘Seed House Concerts’ and will be the second time I have sung these songs with him. When I lived in Northamptonshire many moons ago, we formed a band called ‘Kai’ and wrote an album’s worth of songs together, which we performed with Anne Sparkes. Richard on piano, guitar, viola, violin and backing vocals, Anne on Marimba, percussion and backing vocals and myself on vocals and (for one song!) violin. Singing in ‘Kai’ was a bliss and I do miss those days.

My resolution on this front is to write another album’s worth of songs this year and find a group of people to help me perform them. Kalim and I are definitely going to be rehearsing more songs together – as we intend to perform in China also.

So, what are your creative resolutions from 2011? Let this be the year that books get finished, albums get written, songs get sung and paintings get painted and framed! It doesn’t really matter what the final result is – it’s the process of sculpting, expressing, emoting, absorption and discovery which is what I am committing myself to. How about you?

Women’s Community Singing Group

Fleur here:-

In 2009, Sherman Cymru organised a whole week of activities, workshops, performances and concerts for Refugee Week. The aim was to connect Refugees and Asylum Seekers living in Wales – from all different ages, cultures and backgrounds with people living in Wales.

The week was packed full of activities from dance workshops for young people with Earthfall to drama/theatre workshops with Robbie Bowman. The evening programe was rich and varied  – featuring internationally renowned poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, Comedienne, Shappi Khorsandi, a wonderful children’s production ‘Little Leap Forward’ and a discussion on the role of theatre in places of crisis with with Hua Dan (China), Ice and Fire (UK) and Theatre versus Oppression (working in Uganda).

We ran a Women’s Community Choir for Refugee and Welsh ladies, preparing for many weeks leading up to Refugee Week with choir leader, Rabab Ghazoul, and with myself leading the week of rehearsals and the choir at the performance at the end of the week. The choir was attended by over thirty women during the course of it’s many rehearsals – and so the Community Engagement department at Sherman Cymru decided to continue supporting the choir – renaming it a Community Singing Group – with the goal to have the weekly sessions as an activity to foster friendships and connections between refugee, asylum seeker and Welsh ladies – and generally be creative through our voices!

I was asked to lead the singing group from May 2010- and it has now gone from strength to strength with 15 women attending the last session! We used to meet at the Welsh Refugee Council, Phoenix House, Newport Road and we now meet at the YMCA (off The Parade) in Cardiff from1pm-2.30pm – and we have members from many different countries, backgrounds, abilities and ages! Some of the ladies bring their small children, who play in the creché corner, or dance around us, or sing with us also. Since October 2010 we have also included men in the singing group and so we are now a Community Singing Group open to each and all!

The singing group has become a place where people can try out a new skill, get to know each other, eat together and for the refugee men and women to feel a sense of being at home with friends, where thinking and worrying about asylum claims or the every day worries of the world can be shelved for a few hours. One regular attendee called the group ‘yoga for the brain’. I like this, as it brings a sense of peace and balance – which is the power of the creative arts.

The singing group is free of charge (supported by Sherman Cymru and the Oasis Drop-in centre) and we are still looking for members. So please contact me by email: fleur@mysinging.co.uk if you are interested in joining us! No experience is necessary – just a willingness to learn simple songs from around the world, to chat over a cuppa and make friends!

Sherman Cymru Women’s Community Singing Group – performing at the Welsh Refugee Council’s 20th birthday party at Holland House, The Mercure Hotel, Cardiff.

 

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