Monday, October 8, 2012

English Theater 2012

The English Theater venue

My primary assignment is to be an eighth-grade English teacher.  For fifteen hours a week, I am in the classroom.  I teach nouns and adjectives and gerunds and grammar to five overstuffed turmas of rowdy African children.  It has become a part of my life, and I love it.

Every weekday morning, I also teach Informatica.  For between two and three hours a day, I squeeze into my school's tiny "computer lab" and teach computers to adults in my community.  Most of my adult students have never used a computer before, so we start from the very beginning.  It's a huge challenge (and executed entirely in Portuguese), but I love it as well.

In addition to these primary projects, Dan and I are also expected to maintain several active secondary projects.  As volunteers, Dan and I are involved in REDES (girl's empowerment), Science Fair, and English Theater.  We have both agreed to take on positions of responsibility for the 2013 school year, making Dan the Science Fair national co-coordinator and me the provincial coordinator for English Theater. It will be a lot of work, but we are both looking forward to it.  While these extra projects can be exhausting and time-consuming, we are also discovering that they can be a lot of fun.

English Theater is a particularly popular secondary project in the country of Mozambique.  As my predecessors so succinctly put it:

"Mozambicans really love theater and Mozambicans really love English, so English Theater is the perfect Peace Corps project."

This is absolutely true.  What I didn't expect, however, was how much I would love English Theater, or how proud I would become.  What started as a rag-tag team of eighth-grade students became the most diligent little club that I have ever seen-- and the highlight of my first year at site.

The kids wait for the show to begin

Our English Theater group consisted of ten students:  five girls and five boys.  Six of these students were my eighth graders, making our group one of the youngest to compete in this year's competition.  Trust me when I say that, compared to the rest of the competitors, my students were little itty-bitty.  Our group might not have been the most well-spoken, but they were definitely the cutest.

The theme for this year's play was "We are all Equal!"  This could have translated into any number of topics (race equality, gender equality, HIV/AIDS awareness), but my counterpart chose to write a play about orphans.  Armed with a thirty-minute script that later had to be trimmed to bits, my counterpart then selected two of our smallest members to play a pair of maltreated orphans.  For the first few weeks, it was absolute mayhem.  We were trying to squeeze ten different scenes into a ten-minute play, and most of the performance seemed to showcase extra-small eighth-graders running frantically on- and off-stage.

Towards the end of September, the play started to take form.  It was clear that the students had been practicing at home.  They could now say their lines with quite clearly ("You are maltreating us because we are orphans!") and they usually remembered to speak clearly and to face the audience.  I was proud of them, and I let them know it.  For most of these kids, this was their first performance piece, ever.

The introductory performance

On the day of the competition, our group met at 5AM.  Dan and I herded all of the kids onto a chapa bound for Moatize, then sandwiched ourselves between ten noisy teenagers.  The next two hours were spent singing songs, jostling props, and running lines.

"Speak ENGLISH," instructed one of the oldest kids.  "This is the ENGLISH THEATER minibus."

Once in Moatize, we piled out of the chapa and began to help set up.  The competition was being held at a big, fancy mission (with a stage!) but there was still a lot of work to do.  My kids were asked to hang posters, arrange benches, and blow up balloons.  They loved it, of course, and spent the next hour wrestling with a large bag of party balloons (which was, in itself, a fairly foreign concept) and sticking them to the wall with a combination of Bostik and bubblegum.

At about 9AM, the competition was called to order.  We kicked off the ceremonies with a rendition of the Mozambican National Anthem, then drew school names from a hat to determine in what order the groups would be performing.

Zobue was selected to go first.

The Zobue English Theater Group:  Osvaldo (the orphan) and Requito (the cruel uncle)

By the time that the kids were ready to go on-stage, I didn't have a lot of advice to give them.

"Just yell," I said.  "Be really loud!"

And yell they did.  For the next ten minutes, the stage was filled with tiny, noisy children, shouting their lines as loudly and as clearly as they could.  Sometimes they got confused and messed up ("You are maltreated us because we are orphans BECAUSE!"), but the audience was going wild.   In the final scene, where the youngest orphan jumps into the arms of the kindly stranger, the entire auditorium burst into applause.

The Zobue English Theater Group:  The ophans (center) announce their intention to continue their eduction.  Orphans go back to school, graduate with honors, and become very rich.  End of play!

In the end, the Zobue English Theater group took third place (out of eight competing groups), along with the prize for "Most Creative Performance."  My kids each got three certificates, an English Theater T-shirt, and an English-Portuguese mini dictionary.  Every single one of my students was grinning from ear to ear.

Back in Zobue, we were treated like heroes.  The Director of the School collected every certificate from every one of my students and handed them back in a very solemn, official, school-wide ceremony.  The kids have been wearing their English Theater shirts every day for the past week and "cool" English phrases have been popping up on the blackboards in every classroom:

"How to Use Your Oxford English-Portuguese Mini Dictionary"


"Oxford is a Registered Trademark of Helix Publishers, Ltd"

Even better, I have been approached by about fifteen eighth-grade students, all of whom have asked if they can join the group next year, too.  

The girls of English Theater show off their certificates

English Theater was a very meaningful and fulfilling experience.  I'm so proud of my eighth-grade students and I am excited to do it all again (and better) in 2013!

My students are excited, too.

Teacher Lisa and the Zobue English Theater Group

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