In order to make the students feel welcome and comfortable, as well as to have them form a broad range of friendships as quickly as possible, the Liger Learning Center instituted a sort of "Summer Camp" for the initial weeks. We created a rotation of sports and swimming lessons ( only 7 of our 45 students can swim, and with many water sources at the school this is a priority), interspersed with an art project, some initial English assessment activities, and some basic necessities like a full medical check and hygiene counseling. I am running singing and drama, along with my Khmer associate, Reksmey. Reksmey also doubles as a university student and often goes home from our work to take lengthy exams on political science and economics!
Our first plays were about animals.
After some introductory games about animals and animal noises, I had them each write a story about three animals who encounter each other. The animals, circumstances, and outcome were up to them.
Then each student chose actors to play out their story, and directed them in where to move and how to act as they read aloud. Interesting and fun...
The plays were followed by "crits" where the audience (we talked first about the nature of how to be a good audience), gave their feedback on the story and the acting.
So much came out of this- though I was of course mostly completely out of it language-wise. Occasionally I asked Smey for a quick update on what a student had asked or responded, but mostly I just let it "flow" and observed the individual engagement and response to the demands of the activity.
Two things stood out:
First- these students are indeed truly bright, quick, alert, and full o beans. They took the assignment seriously and had sharp and honest insights into the performances. Unlike their western compatriots, they did not hold back in saying so and so's rabbit was smiling at the wrong time, and such and such's story did not make sense.
Secondly, just as in Thailand, many of the students' first impulse when given a creative assignment is to "copy". When two or three stories clearly told the same tale, it came out that a goodly percentage of the writers had simply retold an animal story they had previously learned in the government schools. This explained the relative repetitiveness of the animals chosen and the range of stories. They gravitiate to doing things "right", which obviously has its benefits but can be creatively constrictive. So it will be interesting to see how the next phase goes, where they have to write a play centered on a value concept, and I will insist it be wholly original.
Here are a few more photos of the pre-play activity we did where the students imagined themselves seeds underground- then sprouting into whatever plant or tree they felt like:
Then we got old and tumbled back into the soil for the next generation of seeds...