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  • Writer's pictureYak Pack Theatre Project

Yak Pack News #5

First performance!

Our first show was at the government school right here in Kaza. Its just up the road, so have the morning to indulge in last minute nerves, eat a good lunch, and feel as prepared as possible. Though of course, everything here is full of unpredictable factors, and we just have to roll with it.

We walked to Kaza Government School carrying the show – 2 holdalls of props and costumes, a large bundle of trees, and Bens guitar. We’ve also got 3 bundles of story books in English for the school libraries – thank you to everyone who donated them! And about 100 of our Illustrate-it-yourself books.

We chatted to the headteacher Dikit in her office whilst Ben and Arjuna looked at the various halls available to us. She has been principal since 2019, and during the Covid lockdown in 2020 she found herself at the centre of providing remote education to the children of Spiti who go to government schools – most of which are in tiny remote villages without internet access. They solved the problem by having teachers come into school for the first 3 days of the week to plan the lessons and prepare the materials. Then for the next 3 days an army of typists made hundreds of copies of the lessons, and on the last day of the week, they were distributed. Spitis remoteness meant they also had to deal with complications such as shortages of paper and typists ink. Dikit worked for 96 consecutive days without a day off.

[backstage - are we ready for this?]

Ben and Arjuna came back to the office having decided which hall to have the show in. It’s a square with some desks around the edges. A couple of men were vigorously whisking up dust from the floor ready for the audience. When the dust settled we set up for the show, watched curiously by 20 or so kids sat at the desks who had been having a lesson before we arrived. Some older children brought thin mats for everyone to sit on.

Dikit told us there were 56 children at the school, so we thought there was ample space for everyone.

Over the weekend, Ben had met the principal of Komik Village school, a lovely chap called TP. We are going to Komik in about 3 weeks time which is after the schools break up for summer and our performance there will be for families at the end of the working day. However, its really beneficial for the children to see the show with their teacher of course, so TP planned to bring his students down to the show in Kaza as a school trip. He also wanted to bring some children from the neighbouring village of Hikkim, where his wife is principal. We loved this idea, and will suggest to Rana for future shows that children in the smaller schools surrounding where we perform could also be invited along.

This morning, when Ben and Penny went into town they met TP and his students in a café. They were about 7-8 years old. The children had never seen a pizza before, let alone eaten one. They were having the time of their life in the ‘big town’, and were so excited to meet Ben and Penny. They are utterly adorable kids with rosy cheeks and sweet shy smiles.

We’re so pleased TP is the kind of teacher who sees an opportunity for the students and just makes it happen for them, in this case organising a school trip with about 24 hours notice and bundling as many kids into his car as possible to come down from the high villages into Kaza for the day.

I wonder whether the show or the pizza was most exciting though!?

School lunchtime finished at 2pm, and all the children started arriving at the hall, squeezing into the seats behind the desks and onto the floor mats. TPs students sat right in the front, so they became the flowers in the performance; each has a flower made of plastic rubbish which grow, die, and grow back during the course of the show. About 10 teaching staff squeezed into the back. No way was there only 56 people in this room. I started counting heads and by the time I’d got to the front row, I’d been shuffled back into the doorway as more and more bodies squashed in.

115 altogether, ranging in age approximately 7-18, double what we were expecting! What a great audience.

[Enjoying a song - Big Bads Back]

The show went really well - they reacted to completely differently to our UK audiences, always fascinating. We’d started the show by teaching them to ‘boo’ the baddie – and when Izzy started rummaging through the rubbish to make the first tipkin, they ‘booed’ because they thought she should pick it up. In the UK, people laughed at that bit! Izzy plans to look through the rubbish carefully next time, rather than flinging it around – she doesn’t like being booed! Ben however loves it, and happily the Wolf went down a storm. Arjuna got the best laughs of the show as Tick-Tock, they loved his ‘coming alive’ scene, and especially farting in his sleep. We do love a good farting scene.

Kakus narration in Hindi at the start of each scene explained what was going to happen, so that they could then follow the English dialogue. They laughed at jokes in English and it was evident that they could follow the show, which we were very happy to see. Kakaus narrated bits also allows everyone to catch their breath between scenes – we’re getting there with the altitude but its still very noticeable with the slightest exertion. And leaping about to ‘Asereje’ is definitely exertion!

All in all, a great success and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

At the end we showed the children the illustration books, but gave them to the teachers to distribute as there were so many kids. TP took some picture books for Komik and Hikkim schools too. Ollie and Izzy chatted to some of the students after who know them from our previous visits. Izzys friend Nyensel was unfortunately off that day, but hopefully they’ll be able to catch up with each other while we’re here. They first met when Izzy was 7.

We popped into the printers this evening to get another 100 copies of our illustration book printed – clearly the numbers on roll at a school don’t necessarily reflect the numbers of children coming to the show!

Ben bumped into TP again this evening and it was great to hear his reflections of the show. The village children had loved the whole experience and the very youngest girl in his group told him that she understood about the problem of plastic pollution. He said the children have never seen anything like this before and it was also inspiring the teachers to try to create their own version this winter. They can use the illustration books to help with text, and they also videoed it all to refer back to.

After a week of preparations, travelling, rehearsing and a show, we’re looking forward to a well earned rest day on Tuesday. We've got a few jobs to do as well, mostly contacting headteachers to finalise shows and workshop times, and meeting with Lotey to chat about logistics. We’ll be packing too as we’re heading to a different part of Spiti for the next 5 days.

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