Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back from Kenya

They loved the jump ropes
This was the shortest trip we have yet made to Kenya, only about ten days. There were three main activities that occupied our time. The first of these was running a Bible school for about 85 children aged three to eight. We did this for five days, about three hours a day, in a crime-ridden town named Gachie. It is one of three towns in Kenya renowned for producing criminals. Drugs are rampant, orphans are numerous, and AIDS is everywhere. One of our team members was held up at gunpoint just a block from the church where we were working. It rained nearly every day, so the yard and the streets were muddy. We did not have electricity in the building because every time the church has wiring and a meter installed, someone steals it to buy drugs.

Note the mud on the floor
But the seven of us wazungu (foreigners) had three to five Kenyans assisting us each day. They translated, restored order, led games and songs, and distributed snacks. In other words, they were vital to the operation. Vincent has been running a program for the smallest children in Gachie West so that they will be prepared to enter first grade. If the children cannot pass tests, they are removed from the (free) public schools and must pay for private school. So it is vital to the community that these children recieve some education. They were remarkable in their attentiveness and learning under the firm but loving care of Everlyne, an extremely dedicated and patient teacher.

For four of the days, we also worked with children from an academy run by Susan and Elizabeth. It caters to children whose parents can afford school uniforms and minimal fees. The academy meets in a church in Gachie East; at least, it was doing so while we were there. Because Susan and Elizabeth have decided to help out the Gachie West church, the pastor of the Gachie East church has told them to find another place to hold their academy. This is distressing news and we sincerely pray that the pastor will come to his senses.

Susan and Elizabeth's academy
The children taught us some games and songs; we taught them games and songs also. The song they remembered best went: "Love, love, let us love. Let us love one another, for love comes from God." They were wild about craft time, asking permission to use another crayon, anxious to apply stickers to their foreheads. At the end of the week, we asked questions about the Bible stories and they were able to answer all the questions. In this photo, you can see the two women leading a game. Across the road, a neighbor girl watched and danced along with the songs. When we handed out pencils to the children in the academy, we also gave some to the kids who were watching from the road.

Any time we went anywhere that children were around, they would say "Mzungu! Mzungu!" which amused the 17-year-old in our group to no end. Most of the places we went,, the children had never seen a white person up close. We were mobbed at the primary school where we acted out Bible stories and taught them some action songs (think about Cat and me doing the "Hokey Pokey" before 600 Kenyan children). Next post, I will tell you about the conversation with the principal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mousetrap, part 3

Friday morning, we had full dress rehearsal at 10:00 AM. That gave time for setting props, doing hair and makeup, posing for photos, and practicing the curtain call. When you are sitting 24 inches from a mirror, it is easy to think you have put on too much makeup. That's what Jennifer thought. She played the part of an eighty-year-old woman and thought that these were too many wrinkles. But When we got on stage under lights, from the third row of the audience you couldn't even see the makeup. She had to add more and darker lines for the performance.

It dawned on me that I had to treat the face that I was seeing in the mirror as a flat, colorless surface on which it would be necessary to paint a face. Every square inch has to be colored with makeup and all wrinkles need shadows. Since my character was a policeman, I thought it good to give him a bit of red on the nose and cheeks. When Cat took this shot, I was about halfway through putting on makeup. There was a student snapping photos all through the week. She promised to send me the files, but I never got them. So I can't show you what I looked like onstage (I know you are bitterly disappointed). But here is one more photo of backstage.

You can see from the people standing there just how tall the set was at the back. The opening in the background entered the stage about two-thirds of the way up. The table there is on a platform which was the highest point at which people walked around. Tell you what, if I get those photos from the student, I will post something later.

The next posting to expect on this site will be from Kenya. Yep, we are going again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mousetrap, part 2

We had scripts and full cast for less than two weeks. We assembled this massive set in the auditorium at our university, had two or three days of rehearsal on the set, then took it all down to move it to Ruidoso. We arrived on a Friday and parked the truck and trailer on a church parking lot. Over the next several days we rehearsed in the church gym and once in the sanctuary (where we could not disturb the setup for the next day's worship service). When the Spencer Theater finally was available for us, we spent a whole day putting up the set. The next day we rehearsed in the morning while the technical director set the light and sound cues. So sometimes he would call "black" and all the lights would go off. Made for an interruptive rehearsal, but the show must go on.

On Thursday, all the props were ready, the set was completed, and we could rehearse with light. Sounds still had to be played on a boom box since only the Spencer personnel can touch the sound board. The afternoon was a time to work with hair and makeup. After dinner was dress rehearsal. The youngest member of the cast was grumpy over the removal of all iPods and cell phones from backstage, but we were all eager to get on stage in costume under lights with sound. The director reminded us one more time of how important it was to do an outstanding job. We had all worked very hard, physically and emotionally, and there needed to be a payoff.

Here's what it looked like backstage. The set had a snow device so that when the window was open, little (plastic) flakes drifted down outside. The floor of the set was raked at 8 degrees; that meant that we entered through level doors and stepped onto a slanting stage. That floor was made of 17 full (4 X 8) sheets and at least half a dozen cut sheets of particle board on 2 X 4 frames and legs screwed and clamped together. There were 25 wall panels that were sixteen feet tall, five entrance platforms, six sets of steps, two working doors and a working window. The crown molding at the top was 12 inches wide; imagine mitering those joints!

Only one more full dress rehearsal on Friday morning and we would be ready. We were exhausted Thursday night, but exhilarated by the potential. After lunching on sandwiches for the last week, the possibility of a restaurant dinner beckoned.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mousetrap, part 1

First let's talk about the Spencer Theater outside Ruidoso, NM. This place is beautiful. The photo here is from the lobby area. That giant red Christmas tree is made of hundreds of individual glass tubes. There is glass art like this throughout the theater. So you should go sometime just to see the place.

The day after we performed, they were having an art auction and so there was even more art than usual hanging around. Wall space was at a premium as indicated by the fact that they had to squeeze this piece between two fire alarm instruments. It was kind of cool hanging around listening to an art expert telling the staff about detecting forgeries and copies of lithographs made after the death of the artist. If I had had an extra million bucks, I might have bought a painting. Just to suppoort the arts, you understand.

Here's another wall of glass art. Cat took all these photos while I was in rehearsal. She was a real trooper, running errands and cleaning up and taking photos. Next posting, I will show you the set. It was truly awesome (and profoundly heavy).

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Volcanus interruptus

Vacation Bible school has been over for a month now, so I decided to finally get the photos off my camera and post them. The top shot is what the volcano looked like when completed. Doesn't look too impressive there because you can't tell how tall it is and it doesn't have all the plants around the bottom.

The only other shot that I got was during VBS from the back of the chapel. But at least you can see the size compared to people. The VBS director thanked us many times for the volcano. (Yes, we got a big "thank-you" card signed by all the first-graders.)

The next posting will be about the play I was in at the Spencer Theater in Ruidoso, NM. It was the Agatha Christie mystery "Mousetrap." We only had two weeks to memorize the script and we played to a packed house. It was wild.