A new start
In our Team VIII, we, Elisabeth Heinz and Mariana Dimtsiou, had the possibility to offer three different kinds of Activity Time1 and we had the choice between a wide range, as previous teams had already established several “English Clubs”.
The purpose of these clubs during “Activity Time” is to give additional English input in a student-centered and playful way. We opted for the English Games Club and Singlish, and as we both had some drama experience, we were highly excited about the fact that there had been a drama club at Sikeud Lower Secondary School, Ban Phangheng, once before, run by Rebecca Dengler and Marie Kirsten (Team V).
We liked the idea of giving the pupils English input in this creative manner.2 Hence, we wanted to give them the possibility to come to our club and express themselves through facial expressions and body language while speaking and learning English. Of course, we had to take into consideration that many pupils tend to be very shy, especially when it comes to speaking English in front of people. Moreover, Lao people tend not to use facial expressions and body language as much as we do, but we wanted to give it a try and see what we might be able to achieve.
The first sessions
In the first two sessions of the Drama Club, we focused on loud and clear speaking, confidence in speaking, and expressing emotions. We practised emotions by giving them acting instructions, for example to walk around like they were carrying a heavy suitcase, or to walk around as if it was bitterly cold. In the third session, project leader Johannes Zeck visited our club and gave us his feedback, reminding us to concentrate more on motivating and encouraging the pupils to speak in English.
Johannes’ advice gave us the idea to perform a little play at the end of our work at Sikeud secondary school with our Drama Club: Every participant gets to play a role and has to learn their lines by heart. The plan was to invite all the teachers, the director, and some pupils to come and watch the performance of the play. We picked the 10-minute play “The Three Goats”, originally a Norwegian fairy tale, which was adapted to a well-known picture book amongst other things.4 The three goats are very hungry and looking for more grass to eat – but there is one obstacle to overcome: The only way to get to the grass is to go across the bridge, under which an angry troll lives.
Preparing for the performance
The goal for the club was set, so now was time to plan our next steps. With Ms Saysamone Singhalath‘s help as an interpreter, we first asked the director for permission to perform a play in front of an audience. Secondly, we wanted the pupils to get a practice-run with another text before starting with the play “The Three Goats”. In our teacher-library in the villa,3 Elisabeth came across a sketch with the title “The Cat and the Mouse“ written by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps: 1849, 33-34).4 We decided to bring this text to the Drama Club to give the pupils the opportunity to dive into the world of theatre with this play first.
Unfortunately, we started facing problems: The pupils’ attendance was sporadic although we had distributed the roles and asked them to attend regularly. As time went by and the date of the performance came closer, we asked Ms Saysamone to join us once, to help interpret and make sure the pupils had understood that they needed to stick with their roles and attend every session. From then on, the pupils came regularly, practised their texts at home and learned it by heart. We saw good progress in confident body language, gesturing, speaking, and also in the intonation and rhythm of the spoken sentences.
In the last sessions before our performance, Ms Saysamone joined our club again to help us with the final rehearsals, making sure that every pupil understood the feedback which Mariana and I gave them to improve their acting as we went through the play several times. After every run-though we pointed out what was already going well and what could still be improved.
On the day of the performance, we practised the play two more times in a row to give the pupils security. Then we prepared the room, built our “stage” in the classroom and assembled seats for the audience to create the ambience of a theatre. The set consisted of only one table and two chairs, which served as the bridge.
After all the rehearsals, the studying of text, and the work and time they had invested, the pupils were thrilled to finally perform in front of their teachers, friends and the director. The following teachers honoured them (and us!) with their attendance: Mr Vienglakhone Keopaseud, Ms Saysamone Singhalath, Ms Amphaivone Chandavong, Ms Khamsee Thanbounhueang, Ms Malaythong Loungsai, and the director from Sikeud lower secondary school, Mr Khampheng Bounthalavong.
The audience got seated and quietened down.
The entire ensemble of eight actors began by announcing: “The three goats!” The first narrator started: “Once upon a time there were three goats that lived on a hillside” (cf. “The Fable Cottage”).6 Then the actors performed their play and did very well. Mariana and I were ready to prompt, but the pupils did not need any prompting. In the end, the four narrators came to the middle of the stage and said: “And the goats lived happily ever after. The end!”
The audience applauded enthusiastically, the actors even got a curtain call and smiled all over their faces. Some members of the audience could not wait to congratulate the pupils and talk to us. One could also tell by the faces of the actors that the tension and concentration started to give way to happiness and relaxation – and we felt this, too. At the end we proudly took some photos and said goodbye.
The following pupils
performed in the play: Ms Phoudthavy Seephaserd as narrator 1 (Class 3/2), Ms Phonephachanh Vilavong as narrator 2 (Class 3/2), Ms Vongmany Chanthavyshouk as narrator 3 (Class 3/4), Ms Bouasone Seephaserd as narrator 4 (Class 3/4), Ms Alounny Phavised as the little goat (Class 3/1) , Mr Thanousone Nouesavang as the middle goat (Class 3/4), Mr Sompith Phommasing as the big goat (Class 3/4), and Mr Anmany Vanhnalat as the scary troll (Class 4/3).
Elisabeth and I are filled with joy to have reached our goal. It was a great process and experience and we would like to thank the teachers and the director for coming to our performance and of course our actors for their good work and commitment to the drama club.
Thank you very much – khop chai lai lai!
Text by M. Dimtsiou & E. Heinz
Photos by C. Proels & E. Heinz
1″Activity Time” is an offer for every pupil of the school and takes place Monday to Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m.
2 Drama has a positive impact on personality development and is increasingly finding its way to foreign language lessons. Through this experience, learners become more aware of their own bodies, overcome their stage-fright, act more calmly in their social environments and expand their language skills.
3 Our teacher-library in the villa provides English books in the fields of didactics and methodology, Lao course books, previously held workshop handouts, books for pleasure reading, and all the extra material that was collected since the project started.
5 “The Three Goats” was first published as ‘The three Billy Goats Gruff” in 1859 in Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe’s collection of Norwegian fairy tales.
Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, James (1849). Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales: A Sequel to the Nursery Rhymes of England. London: John Russell Smith.
2 Goethe Institut. https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/mag/20866409.html (last accessed on 22 May 2019).
4 Pitt. “Fables about cats and mice”. https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/cat.html#tail (last accessed on 22 May 2019).
6 Fablecottage. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”. https://www.thefablecottage.com/english/three-billy-goats-gruff (last accessed on 22 May 2019).