Monday, March 14, 2016

Bringing "Hakuna Matata" to Chiang Mai

At the end of my six months of the theatre outreach internship with Chiang Mai Drama Centre and Art Relief International, I had the honor of taking part in the special Lion King musical theatre workshop for kids. When I was growing up the Lion King was my absolute favorite Disney movie. Even today, the story deeply resonates with me; when I hear the musical score, I can feel the powerful emotions of the music running through my veins. So when Natalie, the founder and director of CMDC, asked me to create the choreography, teach the songs and dances to the kids, and create some costume pieces, I was beyond enthusiastic about it.

After much anticipation and planning, the first day of the Lion King workshops finally came, and adorable children aged 5 -10 arrived to Lanna International School full of energy; ready to tackle everything we threw at them. As they learned the first song and dance, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, they were incredibly attentive and ready to learn African dance moves. We finished off the afternoon by reading through the script and assigning parts. At the end of Monday, Natalie and I felt like it would be a challenge to have everything learned and completed on time, but we leaned in with anticipation of the coming days.

By Wednesday, these incredible children learned 3 songs and dances, blocked almost the entire script (with some students already having memorized their lines), and we began seeing more character development. The students were creating brilliant set pieces like jungle bugs, flowers, birds, and elephant graveyard bones. Even though 4-hour days are definitely challenging for kids this age, they continuously blew us away with their energy and attentiveness. At this point, it was evident that the kids would be able to blow the performance out of the water!

Time flew and it was already the day of the performance. There was a good vibe in morning, and the kids were nervous and excited to show their new-found skills to their parents. The music started and all of our animal characters entered to the “Circle of Life”; just as I expected, they performed brilliantly! They remembered to smile big during the songs, all of their dance steps, and dialogue. On top of this, some of the students were even able to improv, stay in character and keep going even when things didn’t happen according to plan (like Timon and Pumba hilariously missing their high-5 a couple times before getting it right).

At the end of the week, I felt ridiculously proud of the kids for working hard, putting in a lot of effort, and focusing on a common goal at such a young age. Personally, I felt accomplished and successful in seeing my ideas come to fruition. What I have learned from Natalie while working at the CMDC is that everyone can learn how to be a team member, while growing in confidence by having a bold voice and showing others what they are capable of. It is amazing to see young kids learning how to be committed, flexible and able to adapt to challenge. These are key qualities and skills for life that they can carry into school, friendships, and future jobs.

As it is with so many folks that travel to this captivating place, Chiang Mai has captured my heart and I now plan on staying here longer than I thought I would! Of course, this makes me incredibly happy, as I know that I do not yet have to say goodbye to all of the young individuals who have made my life so much brighter. I am more than thrilled to see what the future holds with the shining youth of Chiang Mai.

Peace and love,

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