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  • Writer's pictureYak Pack Theatre Project

The Yak Pack News #10 – Munsel-Ling and Kaza Public School

To round off our second week of performances, we have 2 full days at 2 of the biggest schools in Spiti: Munsel-Ling and Kaza Public School. They are run by the Rinchen Zangpo Society for Spiti Development, founded by the monk Venerable Tashi Namgyal. The Society provides a combination of traditional and modern education, to help lift Spiti out of economic backwardness, whilst preserving the unique culture and traditions of Spiti. As well as the schools here, they also run a boarding house in Dharamshala which provide a ‘home from home’ for Spitian children who attend school outside of Spiti, often later secondary or sixth form.

Kaza Public School is on the flat ground next to the Spiti river, next to the cricket pitch and the new ice hockey pitch.

We spent Wednesday morning with 20 students making flowers out of rubbish that we picked up on the walk down to the school. They enjoyed making them, and learning the dance and drama parts too. They’re year 6 children, the oldest at this school, and many will go on to Munsel-Ling for their secondary education. The rest of the school is having exams all morning, but these children will take their tests tomorrow so they don’t miss out on the workshop.

We had the usual dahl, rice and curried veg for lunch. Kaku came in from the kitchen with a small dish of tomatoey looking sauce and casually offered it around. Arjuna and Ben tried it…and were instantly almost crying with a massive chilli overload! With a grin Kaku revealed the sauce was made from ghost chillies from Manipor in the North East of India, some of the hottest in world.

In the afternoon, the whole school squeezed into the hall, a rather dark (bit too dark for photos) basement room with windows just below the ceiling. There’s 280 children aged 4-11, and they are all VERY excited!! They enjoyed the performance and joined in well with all the responses, dance moves and clapping along. The acoustics in this room aren’t great, a bit echoey for us and magnifying all the excited whispering among the children, so it was quite a loud show! But great fun and well received by the teachers. We gave the school some copies of our ‘illustrate-it-yourself’ book, which they can photocopy to use in class if they wish. We’ve left the master copy at the printers in Kaza so that any school can order copies.

On Thursday we were at Munsel-Ling for the day. It’s a boarding school, and children come here from the tiny villages to have a better education.

‘Munsel-Ling’ is a Tibetan word meaning ‘place where darkness of ignorance is dispelled by the light of knowledge’.

The biggest school in Spiti, it educates about 500 children aged from 5 up to 19. Apparently they’re ALL coming to the show!

There’s a big outdoor stage at the front of the playground here, and although we generally don’t like using stages, it’s the only space big enough to accommodate everyone.

We had year 9 students for the morning workshops and they were very capable and enthusiastic. The workshops are a gentle and informal way for students to hear and practice speaking English too, and these students were chatty and confident.

Over lunch we chatted to a physics teacher who had got the ball rolling for ice hockey here in Spiti. An ice hockey was built here in 2019, and the 2022 National Womens Ice Hockey championship was held here, helping to put it on the map. . Despite the huge enthusiasm for this new sport in Spiti, unreliable electricity means theres no way they can have an all year ice rink here, so he’s planning to use in-line roller-skating as a way of being able to practice and coach all year round.

In the afternoon, a vast number of children sat down in the playground to watch the show!

As the show began, a large yellow dog nonchalantly ascended the steps at the side of the stage, walked across the front, and down the steps at the far side. No-one batted an eyelid.

We were a bit worried about sound in a large outdoor environment, and whether our minirig sound system, or the untrained element of the cast would manage to be heard alright.

Luckily there was no wind, the stage acoustics were pretty good, and the audience were brilliantly quiet when actors were speaking – it was absolutely fine. In fact it was far more than fine – it was absolutely great and possibly our best show yet. The audience laughed at every joke, and some new bits too, they were totally on board with the message of the show and booed the Wolf with huge enthusiasm. The actors played off the audience and the show was fantastic.

At the end, the principal came up on stage and made a lovely speech emphasising the main message of our show. ‘Do you want to be like the Wolf? Or like Tick-Tock?’ he asked the kids. They roared back ‘Tick Tock!!’. The children seemed reluctant to go when the show ended, so Ollie juggled cupcakes, Izzy spun her poi, Arjuna did some breakdancing, and Ben got his guitar out for a last song. We felt a bit like a travelling circus.

As we packed away, Izzy was mobbed by children wanting her to sign their hands or swap Instagram handles – she enjoyed the celebrity! Before coming to India, I wondered whether now Izzy was 14, there would still be that instant connection with children in the audience – Izzy and Freddie were only 10 last time. But she’s mostly onstage opposite Ben as either Granny or the Wolf, so the size difference makes Izzy look tiny and very relatable to kids in the audience. After packing up, Ollie joined in with a game of volleyball, during which he managed to tonk an unsuspecting teacher on the head with the ball!

[Photo - we were delighted to see this sign at Munsel-Ling School]

Our second week of shows has been really great fun, and the performance itself has now really come into its own as the actors know their parts so well.

We have performed for 1150 people so far, the vast majority school children and their teachers who have not seen anything quite like us before! Three of our shows have been at places where we performed 4 years ago – and the fact that everyone remembered us so well, shows what an impact we are having. So far 80 students have joined in the Yak Pack workshops, and have acted and danced with us on stage with enthusiasm – its been lovely to have that deeper connection with these groups.

This week we’ve produced posters for the high villages where we are performing next week – Lotey has arranged for them to be dropped off by his guides when they’re passing through so that everyone knows that we’re coming. We’ve also finalised a venue for our final show in Kaza at the conclusion of the project - a large café bar in the centre of town – Café Zomsa - which is well known and easily accessible to everyone.

We have 2 days off now, but have to leave Kaza to sleep at higher altitudes for 2 nights to acclimatise for the week of performing and trekking between shows, in some of the highest villages in the world.

[photos - the Yak Pack Boys on Chicham Bridge - the highest bridge in Asia - en route to Kibber Village at 4270m for a night to acclimatise]

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