Powerful Voices

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I am a proud Ghanaian-British creative. My creativity is enhanced by my rich Ghanaian heritage. As a West African, I am keen to give back to the continent that made my parents and therefore ultimately made me who I am. This August I flew more than 10,000 miles from LA to London, London to Doha, Doha to Nairobi and then Nairobi to Alego Nyangoma, Siaya County, Western Kenya, to work with 100 children on the first ever Shakespeare production performed in the Luo, Swahili and English.

I was invited via Los Angeles Drama Club –( LADC, the country’s youngest Shakespeare company) and by Dr. Auma Obama to be a guest artists-in-residence at the Sauti Kuu Foundation (SKF).

Founded by Dr. Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu’s, (meaning “powerful voices”)– goal is to create a platform for children and young people worldwide that allows them to uncover their strengths and realize their full potential to live independent and successful lives. The aim is to help children and young people, in particular those from rural communities, to discover the strength of their own voices and the power they have to positively change their lives. SKF works with families to develop sustainable socioeconomic structures that will guarantee financial independence, assists the children and young people to actively participate in the development of their communities, and utilise locally available resources to improve their living conditions.

Dr. Auma Obama has long been serving children in her community and in other countries – through the Auma Obama Foundation, Sauti Kuu. The Kenyan-born sister of former U.S. President Barack Obama, presided over my visit to her foundation.

What was the programme?

Every summer for one week, children aged 10-18 are given the opportunity to board at SKF to experience a number of workshops to encourage children to take charge of their future. This summer, August 2019, LADC provided Shakespearean workshops which enhanced the drama component that Sauti Kuu has incorporated into their mission. I worked with over a hundred children in a global exchange, of culture and ideas which culminated into a performance, watched by the whole community. The theme for the week, “All The World’s A Stage – How Will You Play Your Part?,” not only focused on theatre, drama, and expression, but also on personal development (one of the four pillars of the Sauti Kuu mission). Through bringing their voices and perspectives to Shakespeare’s most extreme characters, participants explored how one can transcend culture to realise the universal relevance of this exchange. This knowledge can be used to help an individual make the best and most informed choices for their lives.

The week consisted of all 100 children attending a morning fitness class, that included boxing, netball, basketball, football (soccer) and yoga. This fitness class was every morning and children were split into groups and did all exercises on rotation.

After the children had breakfast, drama rotation groups began with the children being split into age groups, they attended two 1 hour workshops hosted by each teaching artist. There were workshops that focused on stage combat, iambic pentameter, storytelling, theatre games and trust exercises. My workshop was Dance for Inspiration; exploring the expression of dance in theatre. Focusing on dances of Shakespearean time and how this has been interchanged with other forms of dance to reflect, western modern cultural references. My workshop not only expressed the history of dance in Shakespeare plays, but encouraged students to utilize their own cultural dances to enhance scenes.

The remaining hours of the week, were dedicated to each teaching artist working with their core group on Shakespeare scene or a choral monologue.

I worked with children aged 10- 12 on a monologue from Troilus and Cressida about time. Utlising the monologue we create a piece which was fully devised by students, incorporated movement and was performed mainly in Luo and Swahili. It was very lyrical and symbolic and emphasised the role time plays in our lives. It’s not about how much time we have but what we do with the time we are given. It was a great success!

 

What were my goals?

There were 100 children at the retreat. My colleagues and I set the goal of creating a Shakespeare production inclusive of Kenyan languages: Luo and Swahili as well as embodying the essence of Luo culture. As this was a cultural, creative exchange, it was important to me that we develop work that was a cohesive representation of the community. Shakespeare plays are the most performed all over the world.  However, there is often a notion that Shakespeare needs to be performed in a heightened British accent, and that the actors have to adapt a western imperialistic behavior to execute the drama at a high standard.

As Kenya is a former colony of the UK, I was very conscious of the colonial residue within the country. It was my personal goal to empower these children to not apologise for their self-expression, their experiences, their mother tongue, their pride. If they want to change where Hamlet is set, so be it! If they choose not speak English whilst performing so be it! When it comes to creativity there is no right or wrong!  

What was achieved?

History was made! On Saturday 17th August 100 children performed the works of William Shakespeare in Luo and Swahili, for the first time in Alego Nyangoma, Siaya County, Western Kenya. We achieved cultural cohesion, and highlighted that regardless of your background, art always unites people together. The show was a tremendous success and was certainly an exciting, memorable experience for all involved.

Why was this important to the young people?

Theatre is the single most valuable place where children can explore the full extent of their imaginations and often be surprised at their strengths. If theatre is not present in a child life, they miss out on the opportunity to develop their, communication, work ethic, morals and working as a part of a team. 

I believe through this experience the children I worked with, learnt the importance of creative thinking and imagination. Creative thinking skills are critical in the world of business leaders, the ability to create solutions to problems is a necessary and valued asset.  Theatre also allows you to place yourself in a character’s shoes, to understand their perspective, their trials tribulations and celebrations. This teaches young people lessons of empathy and cultural relativity. Working on a theatre production takes a lot of time, dedication and patience. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes you won’t get something right, straight away. However, you cannot give up at the first hurdle, you have to work through the challenges to achieve a unique and magical experience. The children at Sauti Kuu, were able to do this, and this proficiency will help them on their journey to success in the future. Through Theatre the children I worked with explored scenes which expressed a character’s morals. As a result, this made these young actors question their own personal morals and give them an insight into how to handle difficult situations.

It was an honor give back to the continent of Africa! It was a pleasure to be one of the teaching artist that furthered the mission of Sauti Kuu, enabling children and young people in Kenya to find and use their voice to positively change their lives.

There is endless amount of learning opportunities within theatre and for every child that allows theatre into their life, they will find their own Sauti Kuu (powerful voice.)

@AnniwaaBuachie: I am not a writer, just a blabber, a lady that asks many questions but never knows how to collate the answers. Just a normal lady with nothing more to say, than words that mean nothing but say something.

 

 

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