A Road in KabulI am walking down the dirt road, my headscarf up over my nose to keep from breathing quite so much dust and smog, averting my eyes and trajectory from any men, and looking for the cement stanchions on the righthand side that mark, for me, where I turn left. So many of the courtyard and protection walls look similar, I am still nervous about making a mistake, even though I have taken this route for over a week. My left turn takes me down another dirt road, past the home of somebody important, to the middle of the next block. There, next to a yellow metal door in the huge security wall, the building’s white facade is painted in bright colors with images of children juggling, standing on each others’ shoulders, and smiling. This is the compound of the Children’s Circus of Afghanistan.

Because I think my work with the girls there was colored/textured so heavily by the context of what is happening in Afghanistan, I want to paint a more detailed picture of what life is like there, especially for girls. As many of you know, Afghanistan has been torn by war since the 1970s, with the Taliban ‘occupation’ setting new standards for oppression and cruelty in this part of the world. When I was in Kabul eleven years ago, it was illegal to listen to music, wear bright colors, watch television or movies, illegal for girls to go to school, and for children to fly kites or play outside.

Of course, in true Afghan spirit, people did these things anyway, fighting the darkness with secret arts and education. How telling that these two phenomena, arts and education, are perceived as the most threatening things people could do!! And yet, this is what we Teaching Artists know, that arts and education are tools of immense power to instigate thinking, compassion, and action.

The dynamic and delightful blend of arts and education is the backbone of the Mobile Mini Children’s Circus/Afghan Educational Girls at FestivalChildren’s Circus, and is what took me down those dirt roads this past October and – I hope! – will again in 2014.

Although I spent half my time volunteering with the Afghan Friends Network, each day also held time with the wonderful children at the Circus school. Some days I was with them as they went to perform, some days I was the teacher for the full morning, and some days I hung out with them in their math or science or English or Dari class before being their Teaching Artist for the following hour and a half to two hours.

It’s hard for people in the US to really understand what girls ‘taking up space’ means, how important that is in and of itself, never mind the actual defiant act of girls studying anything outside of the Koran, which is still an issue (especially outside Kabul) despite official government support. Girls performing, having actions and a voice, being seen strong and bold in public and across Afghanistan deeply affects everyone—the viewers, the families of the performers, the boys in the Circus, the girls themselves.

There are so many street children here, and their situation is truly bleak. Many of the children at the circus would be walking that road without this incredible organization–which feeds them, by the way. Moreover, too often, street children and orphans do not have the opportunity nor modeling to develop social skills needed to thrive and become the agents of change they wish to be; the social skills needed to learn as a team and perform integrated juggling routines develops these skills. I was asked to help develop the girls’ sense of ‘theatricality’; what is character, how does one develop them, how/why would you include characters in a juggling routine… what is a scene… how does comedy and comic timing work… what are forms of local narrative, and how can we create work along those lines…entrances and exits… beginning/middle/end… physical theatre techniques, and so on.

SchoolSo there I am, only enough Dari to say hello, in a room full of children who typically all talk at once to each other throughout their academic classes (all learning and working, by the way), tasked with doing that listening-teaching thing in hopes of sparking their understand of and interest in various theatrical concepts. Daunting. Exciting. Chaotically beautiful. Each day I would come, not knowing if the schedule would bear any resemblance to what we had talked about the previous day, having a lesson plan of something fun, student-driven, and geared toward skill-discovery and exploration. I always came early so I could hang out with them in their other classes or as they prepared to perform, and participated in warm-ups, being extra goofy or rigorous or reflective as it felt right to do.

Some days I had some translation help from the “circus father” Hamid, sometimes my friend Eva of the Afghan Friends Network (who is not fluent but had waaaaay more Dari than I did) would help and participate, sometimes I and the girls struggled through with bits of Dari they taught me, bits of English they knew, and a great deal of gesture and pantomime. One day we played with masks and discovered characters, gestures, and walks, then let them create little scenelets (girl with mask video clip).  The next using masks they madeday we played with objects, creating scenes around them then using them to become other objects (including a hilarious one where a woman trying to smack a fly with a swatter pops another character’s heart). Another day we built on the “this object is really something else” and grew scenelets with those, focusing on humor and poignancy. We found it was easier and more fun for them with the masks, and that the ‘conceal/reveal’ nature of the masks made entrance and exit buttons more apparent. 

Slowly, bit by bit, we negotiated what was important, what was fun, when it was time for a break, when we wanted to work beyond the normal parameters. They came to trust my intent and instinct and would reach more passionately across the divide of language as well as that of theatrical understanding. They worried less and played more. On our last two of my ten days, they created a new piece based on a favorite folktale, using each other as the trees and house, discovering largess and timing and so much more, and even though it was fairly raw, it was enchanting and Hamid planned on developing it to be included in the touring show, the first piece of its kind, the first story told. This video clip is from part of the story where the father has plucked the sacred fruit, is accosted by the ogre, and in fearful desperation, promises the ogre one of his daughters in marriage. For our final day, I wanted to plan an activity that was loose and individual as well as cooperative, so they made their own masks.

Girl Jugglers_edited-1I was told I should extend my stay, which I logistically could not do, so instead we have made plans for my return, which includes grant hunting and Dari-learning. I can only believe that somehow the pieces will come together, and I will again be in a deliciously crazy situation with brilliant, brave girls who will be the first in many years to tell a story, be loud and large and take up space in front of everyone. In the grey-brown streets and hills of Kabul, my heart will be bright and full of joy and gratitude.



unesco logoQUICK!!!

Turn to the nearest Arts Educator and thank them! Buy them a tea or coffee! Congratulate them on helping make the world a more empathetic place!

This week is both UNESCOs International Arts Education Week AND National Teaching Artist Appreciation Week in the United States. In honor of International Arts Education week, Routledge Education has made several Arts for Peace articles available online to peruse for free up till July 31st, 2014. See below for info and links!

National Teaching Artist Appreciation Week was established by the Association of Teaching Artists in 2012. Says founder Dale Davis, “ATA’s belief that Teaching Artists are important and integral parts of quality education and vibrant communities led to declaring the third week in May as an official celebration of the many contributions of Teaching Artists to making life better for so many children and adults. Time to pause and think and to appreciate and support the work of Teaching Artists in our schools and community.” If there is a Teaching Artist you would like to honor this year, please contact Dale Davis at ATA at ddavis@teachingartists.com.



Want to bring more arts to your own classroom practice ? The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE has class plans complete with all the attachments you need, step by step instructions…it is amazing. A great place to start and then get excited about involving a local performing or visual artist or perhaps linking more closely with the school arts teachers!

Finally…if you need a reason to believe in Arts Education, here’s an awesome study showing connections between an arts-rich school environment and success for youth at risk on many many levels  AND here’s a link to a giant pile of studies showing benefits from arts education for children, teachers and community! 

Aaaaaand as promised, Routledge Education’s Arts for Peace Article CollectionIt includes (but is not limited to):

Mikel Moss is an Ithaca Native and Drama Therapy Alternative Training Student with the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He was recently be awarded the “Student Volunteer of the Year” Award by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He currently serves on the Diversity Committee of the NADTA and is vice president and co-founder of the Affinity Group “Blacks in Drama Therapy”. He gave the below speech at the annual Drama Therapists’ conference this year. In it, the community to which he refers is that of Drama Therapists.

I have very vivid memories of my childhood: Singing, playing outside, riding my big wheel, laughing, my favorite pair of Osh-Kosh overalls, meeting my best friend Disi hours after moving to our house on Second Street. The most vivid memory that I have from my childhood is the communal dinners we would have. My mother and all of her friends would get together at least once a month to cook, play music, play cards, laugh and joke for hours into the night. All of us kids would eat, play, laugh, sometimes argue; all in all a great time was had by all.

I  carry this amazing memory with me everywhere. It is that sense of community and kinship that has guided a huge portion of my life. I tell that story to a lot of people because it helps to illustrate my feeling of the sense of community [of Drama Therapists–editor] I envision. A couple of years back, I was telling that story to one of my friends in front of my mother and she looked at me in shock. My mother and I have this intense connection with one another so before I even noticed she had the weird look on her face, I felt it. I asked her what was wrong. She smiled at me and with tears in her eyes told me that those meals, those “community meals” as I called them, happened because at that time of the month, no one had enough money to feed their families by themselves. But someone had a little bit of this and someone had a little bit of that, and another person had a bunch of this but only a little bit of that so they all came together and pooled what little bit they had so that everyone had enough and sometimes even a bit more to carry them through.

For me, this insight was everything. It has shaped and dictated my journey in this community. In everything I do, whether it be volunteer or learning, I am always searching for a way that I can not only contribute what little bit I have to our profession, but to also encourage others to do so as well. We all have busy lives, careers, families, and other various obligations that consume most of our time, and many of us have already contributed so much time and energy to this community.  Some of us are new and are still making our way and are not sure where we fit in.

I encourage everyone at either end of that spectrum to continue to contribute in ways that you would not normally think to. My mentor Cleve Thomas used to always tell me, “Always bring something to the table. Even if it is just a smile and a encouraging nod. You never know when that may be just enough for someone.” If you have been in this community for many years, offer your experience and wisdom to those just walking through the door. And not just in the classroom. Find a way to reach out to the new people and welcome them to the family. 

Listen to their ideas, encourage their dreams and goals. We must learn to strike from our vocabulary phrases like, “Oh, we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work” or “We’ve done that already”.  Doing something once and not having it work doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. How many times in history has the continued effort of someone paid off? Instead, I encourage you to say, “You know who knows a lot about that? This person right over here” and “That’s a great idea, how can I help?” And if you are introduced to someone who has a passion you once had or do have, embrace them! Give them all the support and wisdom you can! The lessons that we have to teach one another should not be conditional on whether the other person can pay the fee for your seminar or class. To borrow from one of my favorite phrases: It truly does take a village to raise a drama therapy student! If you are new to this profession, WELCOME! WE ARE SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE! I don’t have much, but what I have I will share. I encourage you to take what wisdom you can from those who have come before you, and nurture your dreams! I encourage you to find a place where you feel your ideas, goals and thoughts are not only received, but there is excitement for them. And if you can’t find a space, MAKE ONE! I will cheer you on! I may not know where it is you want to go, but I will walk with you for as long as I can.

This spirit of kinship and community is something in me that will never go away. No matter how many bad words and situations are thrown at me, no matter how many of my projects and ideas are whittled down to almost nothing, no matter how many times I stumble, no matter how many times I have to find a new school at which to study, no matter how long it takes me to get my RDT (cause lord knows its taking a while!), I am here. I will stay here. I am not going anywhere! I share my enthusiasm and my story in hopes that you take what you need from it and use it to continue to better our community, our family.