Well, I can definitely say that I am learning an awful lot during my residency at Phare Ponleu Selpak. And it’s not been the type of learning experience where I’ve sat with my notepad and pen, reflecting and processing, but the type of learning experience where I’m on my feet and in a new environment in a panicked state as my mind has gone blank and there’s 20 people who don’t speak the same language staring at me as they wait for my next instruction and for that split second I don’t have one to give. On the outside I smile and look calm, on the inside I’m scrambling and flicking through every game I have ever played and assessing whether it will work in this situation, whether it will be easy to explain through an interpreter and whether it is culturally appropriate in Cambodia. You know? That type of learning.

Last week I facilitated the first of two 5 day forum theatre intensives for Phare Ponleu Selpak staff. There were 20 participants made up of artists and non artists, with the age ranging from early teens to over 50. Initially I was a little nervous whether I’d have enough content for 5 days 8am to 5pm, but it turned out to be great and I really liked having that time to explore activities in depth. Through games, image theatre and the creation of 4 small forum theatre plays the group explored issues within Cambodian society that ranged from poverty to alcohol fueled violence.

The usual outcome for these master classes by visiting artists is to have a showing at the end of the week, and this one was no exception. With the creation of the plays being a small part of the whole week, I suggested just a few audience members to get discussions bubbling. However that was not the case, and at 3pm on Friday the whole school showed up.

I must admit, my jaw did drop and I started to sweat when the audience came in and was made up of very cute, teeny tiny children – knowing that our plays consisted of violence, drugs, child trafficking and poverty! But it worked, somehow. It was chaotic and probably not what the original aim was as our target audience was for a much higher age group, but with last minute (panicked, everyone looking at me, scan my brain for new activities…) changes to the forum it worked in a different way. I think my favorite moment was when a young girl of about 5 came on stage to tell the drug addicted character to ‘go to school!’ Flexibility was definitely the key.

One of the most valuable learning experiences for me this week was working with an interpreter. Although I have done this before, it has been for short practical sessions, rather than long classes where discussion in depth was had. The good thing about working with an interpreter is that you have to really think what to say, with clear, important points that avoid rambling. The difficulty is a lot of things takes twice as long and so here is the constant risk of losing momentum. The relationship between you both is so important, and the tone of the workshop really relies on it. I realised that as a facilitator I really rely on the energy from my voice to guide a workshop, and this completely changes when another person repeats you. After a day of negotiating through trial and error I felt my main interpreter and I got into a rhythm which worked really well as we developed a good, fun relationship. Over the course of the week I had 3 interpreters that randomly rotated, and i was interesting to see the different energy that brought to the workshop.

For a little snapshot of the forum performances, check out this clip –