Saturday, 1 October 2011



Jessie, Juliet, Theo and I were lucky enough to spend our last two weeks on tour with Sapana, Nepal’s first and only contemporary circus company. Sapana is an offshoot of an NGO called the Esther Benjamins Trust (EBT), which rescues displaced Nepali children, many of whom have been trafficked illegally into Indian circuses. Over 130 children are looked after at a refuge run by EBT in Godawari, where they live and go to school. 12 of the older children, some of whom have left school and go to work during the day, have decided to continue to explore the art of circus on their own terms and they make up the Sapana circus company.

So along we went to meet them all at the Gurkha gym where they train. We were accompanied by two perky Aussie fellas, Ivan and Shaun, who are trained circus professionals and now work with EBT full time, training the Sapana kids and helping them devise their shows. At the moment, Sapana are gearing up for a trip to Dubai in October, and are devising the show that they will tour with. As if the pressure of that weren’t enough, they also had to perform at a fundraising benefit held at the British School, a private international school primarily for ex-pats, with just four sessions to polish what they had and turn it into a showcase.

As time was tight for Sapana, we didn’t have much scope to do our thing and run a full course of workshops with them. But we did get the opportunity to observe them in action, practicing their extraordinary hula-hooping and tumbling skills. The personalities of these kids are great, and the potential for them to develop some clowning routines along with some very impressive acrobatic set-pieces is enormous.

When we did get a bit of time with some members of the group, we ran some Complicite exercises, helping the kids with their teamwork and focus, and developing a sense of unity between them as a group and between the group and the audience. While our success varied, one girl (I think her name was Angeli) played quite an intense partner focus exercise with Juliet, which left her speechless and tearful. I think her words afterwards were ‘I don’t know whether that was horrible or wonderful’!

Theo, our most acrobatically gifted Rickshaw member, threw himself in (quite literally) with their tumbling training. And, along with Shaun, he choreographed a kickass fight scene with two of the boys (both called BJ) from the group, involving some spectacular, and somewhat frightening, tumbling. The show in its entirety was performed towards the end of our final week of tour, received with much acclaim at the British school. The kids looked great all dressed in black, and did not fail to impress the audience who cheered and clapped at every interval. It was a privilege to have met them and worked with them, and we hope Rickshaw can do some more in-depth work with Sapana in the future!


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Rickshaw in Nepal!

Hello from Rickshaw in Nepal! Well... we've been having quite a time of it, what with a relay race of team members going down with dog bites, dysentery, and whatnot. But Nepal has been lovely... we're so lucky to be in this tiny country nestled within the mountains, surrounded by the most affectionate little kids! The refuge run by EBT at which we're working is set in idyllic rolling fields on the side of a mountain... working here has been such a privilege. Yes, and then there are the forty wilful little bundles of energy we've been trying to get into performance-ready form in a week!


Today was dress-rehearsal.... and mayhem reigned. Our kids tried their very hardest, but trying to get a shiny crown and cape / toga / skirt to stay on 6 yrs olds for a period of more than a few seconds turned out to be nigh impossible... our team of four trying to wrestle with forty turned rather manic ourselves, trying to juggle props, magically vanished cast members, costumes on wrong cast members, kids that seemed to suddenly lose comprehension of any of what was going on and would cheerfully wander in and out at totally the wrong times and places... End of dress rehearsal, it was a little bit like having been run over by a 10 tonne truck :p But the show will be great tomorrow! And our kids are sooooo brilliant! They're totally irrepressibly cheerful and affectionate... we might feel bad after bellowing at them for props to be *moved* *now* from backstage... but they remain meltingly beaming and affectionate as ever. Childhood is amazing... apparently even life in a refuge can't dim that amazingness - it was our privilege to work with these kids, certainly not the other way around...


Sunday, 11 September 2011

SEWA in Lucknow

SEWA, established in 1972, is an organisation of poor, self-employed women workers who earn a living through their own labour or small businesses. SEWA's vision is to to achieve gender equality across India, recognising that economic autonomy is a key step in making Indian women "stronger and more visible". Whilst the SEWA movement is nationwide and has recognised tremendous accolades, the Lucknow branch of the movement has been particularly successful, with its founder, Runa Banerji, being nominated for the Nobel prize in 2006. One of the core projects undertaken by SEWA Lucknow, alongside their large-scale production of beautiful 'Chikan' garments, has been the running of a school since 1982 known as SEWA Samudayik Shiksha Kendra. It was here that Will, Catherine, and I held a series of drama workshops over 2 weeks. 

Compared to Ummeed in Delhi, I found the workshop and rehearsal process at SEWA to be a well oiled machine, complete with illustriously talented kids, a team of attentive and qualified volunteers, and a theatrical culmination of Bollywood proportions (not to mention the 'A team' combination of Will, Catherine, and I). But despite their disciplined attentiveness the kids were far from robotic, and exposed to us flashes of creative brilliance. One young girl composed 2 didactic tales about environmental issues (written in both Hindi and flawless English). It was around one of these stories, ‘The Red Moon’, that we clothed our 20 minute piece of physical theatre.
Catherine doing a mind-blowing turtle 
The whole group making a still image of a marketplace

Whilst the Lucknow projects seemed far more convenient than our Dehli projects, with police driven chauffeurs, devising a decent piece of theatre with 35 energetic young people will never run entirely smoothly, particularly with pressing time constraints. Even so, we devoted the first four workshops to building general drama exercises, including improvising short scenes, using tableaux, introducing music, and a range of ensemble and ‘complicite’ exercises.
Our lovely volunteers surprising Catherine with a birthday party
One issue that became important for us was deciding how far the workshop leaders should enforce their own vision for the final piece. We decided upon a middle way, realising the directorial approach would have the benefit of allowing for some of the less confident and quieter children to be recognized and praised for their involvement, but that the children should also have a chance to take ownership of their work. The evidence of building self confidence as a result of this approach was seen repeatedly throughout the tour, with those who begin as quiet and evasive children becoming more vocal and making bolder moves of self-expression. 

A young student watching the action meekly behind a door. (Photo taken by Mamsi Sekete, tour photographer).
Stylistically, we determined early on that the piece should be focussed upon movement based story-telling rather than dialogue-heavy theatre, not only because our repertoire of exercises had already been directed towards this approach, but also because the project was about undertaking new experiences and word-based theatre is an style to which the kids in Lucknow had previously been exposed. 
As well as the approach we took to construct the piece, there was also the issue of deciding upon a manageable group size. Before arriving at SEWA we had arranged for pupils to self-select for the workshops, which left us with a large group of around 40 (my performing group at the Delhi Umeed home for boys was chiseled down to just 10). Because there was no obvious way to cut down numbers, with auditions being out of the question and totally against the ethos of the project, we decided to split the group in to 3, and devised allocated sections of the story to each mini-group. 
A scene from our final piece - the flower is found a new home on the moon!
A related problem was the practicality of having a large number of local volunteers joining us in the workshops to translate and help to manage the kids. Paradoxically, whilst the act of verbal translation was essential to our project, it could often lead the exercises in unwanted directions as the translators themselves reinterpretted the rules or reason of a game in order to fit with their own thoughts or experience. Volunteers would often over-manage the exercise where it should have been allowed to develop organically, or over-direct the children’s movements which fitted with the teacher-pupil relationship we wanted to move away from. We resolved the issue simply by cutting down the number of volunteers so that only one translator was used for each of the three groups of 10-12 kids, which worked much more smoothly and allowed us to more closely monitor the translation process.
The professional invites for the final event (see the SEWA logo on the bottom left)

I would like to thank the staff and kids of SEWA school, and all our volunteers, for their energy, generosity, time, and general brilliance in helping us with the project. It was a lot of fun, and turned out to be a great success!
More information about SEWA in Lucknow can be found at
Theo Boyce

Monday, 5 September 2011

Puran Shiksha Kendra - Workshop Photos

Puran Shiksha Kendra

Here in Lucknow, Jessie, Nkoko and I are working at Puran Shiksa Kendra, a free, no-pressure school for slum children from the local area. No pressure means no uniform, no homework, nothing that might put the children off coming to school. Since its foundation in 2007, the number of children who attend has grown to around 120. The school consists of one office, 3 classrooms and a garden.

Working at Puran had its significant challenges. For starters, the no-pressure system means that not all the children come every day, and so the group we were working with fluctuated accordingly – this is fine when doing workshops, where the material was different each time, but it meant that once we started rehearsing we had to be extremely flexible, re-blocking and re-assigning roles and lines a little bit each day, or deciding to take a gamble, leaving things as they were and hoping the missing actor would be back the next day. What’s more, even kids that had shown up were free to come and go as they pleased, and kids that weren’t in our group could wander out of a lesson and join in.

Next was the issue of space – with only 3 classrooms there was rarely one to spare, so almost every day we would workshop and rehearse in the garden, following the shade slavishly as far as possible. I have NEVER sweated so much in my life. I sweated so much I stopped (almost) noticing I was sweating. We tried to start before the sun was too high, but from 11am-4pm was pretty much consistently boiling. Another downside to being in the garden was that all the children not involved in our workshops could see us, distracting them from their lessons and distracting our group from their workshop.

Finally (I have to stop somewhere) there was the language barrier. I found this a much bigger problem than in Jan Madhyam, because of the size (25 compared to the 10 or so we had in Delhi) and the rowdiness of the group. Luckily, we had 3 translators and 2 members of the Lucknow-based theatre group JOSH on hand – of course sometimes this many people trying to help also felt like an obstacle, but the fact is we would have been hard pressed to put on a show without them.

For the performance, we took inspiration from the street theatre we saw performed by university students in Delhi – we wanted to create that same connection with the audience, the same infectious energy. Ideally we would come up with a chant based on the kids’ own demands, a rallying cry like the ones being shouted all over India at the anti-corruption protests in support of Anna Hazare. We asked them what they didn’t like about their world – at first it was hard to get any answers, but after some coaxing and explaining we got a few answers: Pollution and littering, drunkenness, dishonesty and stealing. Using a Hindi song in which a child demands to be taken seriously, and the chorus “If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention” from Sister Act as the chants, we created a 15 minute performance incorporating the skills we had taught in the workshops. All the children were onstage throughout, forming a semi-circle around the edge of the thrust and reacting to the action if they were not involved in the scene. This was the hardest thing for them to grasp – that even if you’re not centre stage, you have to be fully engaged and still performing.

I wish we could have had more time at Puran, but in the two weeks we were there, our rowdy, ever-changing group became a dedicated little cast, demanding that we rehearse more, more, MORE even we were literally ready to drop – and their performance on Saturday reflected their dedication and earnt them a huge round of applause. I was very sad to say goodbye.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Remembering Delhi

Some highlights from Delhi....

the food - amazing streetfood,


and highlife food,

crowded autorickshaws,IMG_0376

& bumpy cycle rickshaws,


the scene outside our hotel,



stunning views of the Jama Masjid from our hotel IMG_0583

Jama Masjid Gate no. 1, that's us!,IMG_0598

the joys of monsoon rain (let’s not talk about the perils Smile)


Anna Hazare street protests, Cambridge Rickshaw Project Delhi 119

majestic national monuments, IMG_0522

very precarious-looking overhanging electrical cables... IMG_0612

Delhi was such a city of contrasts… so utterly unforgettable!


Ummeed–week 2

Come performance week at Ummeed... dedication levels grew, the younger kids peeled away, and the older kids hung around... but an ultimatum, they would do the performance, they said - but it would have to be 'good enough' - no half-measures. CRP Delhi 2011 504Woah - a tall order indeed... no wonder Theo and Suchitra look grave.... how do we pull this off in 4 days?!

Note the bare blackboard... pressure! Cambridge Rickshaw Project Delhi 044

We would never have managed if it wasn't for the energy, dedication, creativity, and sheer talent of the Ummeed kids - I was left amazed. Those kids were better than almost any I've seen - they scripted most of the storyline themselves, danced up a storm, and most inspiringly - beamed delightedly through all the frustrating hours of trying to make this nebulous creation into some semblance of performance - we could never have made it work if they had been any less amazing, I am seriously in awe.

The Ummeed kids present 'An Amazing Love Story!' - a shameless Bollywood ripoff, just a little tongue-in-cheek :)

Fayaz - our pint-sized kickboxing heroine: carries off the bright pink skirt amazingly well :) CRP Delhi 2011 433

Romance in the air - Raju and Fayaz meet over the washing line


Bazaar-wallas - patient Rohit and Raja307256_255273751160583_188461577841801_871028_1640278_n

Our villanous villains... Yogesh and Suraj play the part to perfection... one wouldn't want to bump into them in a dark alley!296867_255274051160553_188461577841801_871032_5607000_nCRP Delhi 2011 459


The showdown between our hero and the villanous villains

Fahim - our debonair policeman... even brandishing his lathi, he manages to make it look cool :)CRP Delhi 2011 (2) 099

The final dance-off - a breakdancing pink-skirted heroine, CRP Delhi 2011 485

the villain takes the floor!CRP Delhi 2011 488

Yaay - we did it! Our kids totally rocked - I'm not sure when I've been more proud - Woo Hoo!

CRP Delhi 2011 (2) 102

Our last time with the cast from Ummeed - for a while at least… time went by far too quickly… those kids moved our world.

CRP Delhi 2011 (2) 111