Thursday, December 13, 2012

Show time!

When we first landed in Ghana, I was told by a DIVOG staff member that we would be staying with "someone who does what you do." I had no idea what this meant, as I do a wide variety of rather unusual things, so I was delighted when I met Makosa and learned that he was not only a theatre person, but also a puppeteer!

Makosa (left) tells a traditional Ewe story to the students

Makosa (a.k.a. Richmond Edem Kpotosu) is the Director of Chaufra, an organization that uses drama and puppetry for community education. Their current production was a marionette show touring villages on a flatbed truck, and was about the use of civil language on political platforms towards a free, fair and peaceful national election. On our first night staying with Makosa and his family, he took us along to the show in a nearby village.

Conveniently enough, both Bakpe and Bamefedo, the villages that we were working in, were on Chaufra's tour list, so we joined forces for a puppetry double-bill. Who knows, this was possibly a first in Ghana!

The Chaufra folks are smart. They roll into town at dusk, with generator-powered lighting and sound systems, and they start playing some tunes. The party atmosphere is quick to draw a crowd, and the kids are keen to dance. Followed by a puppet show, it makes for a very special night in a rural village, and the whole community comes out.

Things were no different that night in Bakpe. When the marionette show concluded we quickly set up our shadow screen and started the performance of our three shadow plays based on traditional Ewe stories: Ayiyi and the ChiefThe Monkey and the Tortoise, and Ayiyi, the Animals and the Termites

It's hard to fully convey the chaos of 75 excited kids trying to find their mostly-black shadow puppets in the darkness. The shows were rough and wild, but the kids all had a great time. It's process over product, and I think we gave the kids of Bakpe an artistic experience they will not soon forget. At the end of our show the dance tunes came back on and Susanne and I danced under the stars, a maelstrom of joyful children swirling around us.

Eventually we packed up the screen and reunited the kids with their puppets. A crowd of children gathered around Makosa's truck in the darkness. It was time to say goodbye and there was a huge lump in my throat. One of the teenage girls said "Don't forget about us." I promised her we wouldn't. How could we?

Susanne and I are dreaming big for our next Puppets Without Borders project in 2013, and hope to return to Bakpe. We'll be sharing these plans with you here as they develop.

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