STORIES FROM THE SCHOOLYARD // PROJECT SUMMARY
“Stories from the schoolyard” is a project that used theatre to encourage education, personal development and the use of creativity for children living in Ferentari, a ghetto-type neighborhood of Bucharest. In addition, the project aimed to raise public awareness about the marginalization and discrimination issues that these children and their community face.
Throughout the 13-month long project, the children took part in weekly theatre and improvisation workshops led by experienced actors, and worked together to develop and perform a theatre play based on their own stories. In the last two months of the project, the theatre play was performed in front of an audience of over 500 people in seven different cultural locations in Bucharest.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED // CONTEXT
Children who grow up in ghetto-type neighborhoods live in an unpredictable environment, are exposed to the effects of poverty, of inadequate living conditions, of dysfunctional lifestyles that include violence and drugs. They have little access to reliable life models, have little to no exposure to culture and generally exhibit high school drop-out rates. The project takes place in Ferentari, one of the most ill-famed ghetto-type neighborhoods of Bucharest, which also comprises a large Roma community.
Artistic endeavors are rarely encouraged in the formal educational system of Romania. As a result, many of the creative skills that these children have are not valued, which means that they often grow up believing they are not adequately equipped for a life of inclusion and appreciation. This project was started with the belief that adapting arts and culture initiatives to the needs of children living in marginalization and discrimination conditions can help them to better integrate and express what they go through and at the same time enable them to use and develop their existing creative skills, which are rarely promoted by formal education. This was done with a view to increasing their self-confidence, to improving their own view with respect to their life prospects as well as to showing that creative expression and creation offer viable life prospects.
WHAT WE WANTED TO DO AND WHAT WE ACHIEVED
The project’s aim was twofold. First, to bring art and culture in support of education and personal development for 15 children within the Alternative Education Club of School no. 136 in Ferentari. The second general aim of the project was to raise public awareness of marginalization and discrimination issues faced by the children involved in this project and their peers.
The project aimed to do this by working with several selected children in weekly theatre and improvisation classes and involve them in the common creation of a cultural product – a theatre play, based on their own stories, which was to be performed in front of a public. In addition, one of the project’s objectives was expose the artistic result, together with its social implications, to an outside audience, by organizing at least six public performances of the play and bringing three videos viral – one trailer of the play and two anti-discrimination videos.
Stories from the schoolyard is therefore a small scale project that, however, builds on similar past and current initiatives that have been successfully undertaken in the Alternative Education Clubs led in several schools in Ferentari, by project partner Policy Center for Roma and Minorities.
Throughout the project, children that are part of the Alternative Education Club took part in improvisation and theatre workshops, where they had the opportunity to practice skills like creativity, speech, teamwork, concentration, and focus in a way that was engaging and attractive to them. The regularity of the workshops provided them with a constant secure space where they could come back and work together. As the project progressed, eight of the older children focused more on theatre workshops where they developed a theatre play in which they had leading roles.
At the same time, around 15 other younger children (ages 7 to 10) mostly focused on the improvisation workshops. A challenge in all of these workshops was to work with the availability of the children and their commitment to keep a regular schedule, knowing that there would be fluctuations in attendance according to their readiness to be part of such activities. Therefore, in the last moths of the project, eight of the children that regularly attended the impro workshops were selected to become involved in the theatre play with secondary roles.
Children who were regularly part of the project exhibited progressively increased levels of concentration and focus, a progressing higher ability to work with others, but also a higher interest in continuing such workshops and gain the chance to have leading roles in a theatre play in the future. In one such case, one of the children who had not initially been involved in the theatre play with a leading role, but was part in most improvisation workshops, expressed his desire to become involved in the play and by proving his commitment to learn a role, convinced the artistic coordinator that he is ready and therefore joined the older children in the last five months of the project with a leading role.
The theatre play
The theatre play is composed of several scenes – each involving two to three children – that address issues that are familiar to them. They range from issues related to poverty, discrimination, theft, alongside other challenges that most children face, like discovering love, dealing with school issues, dealing with questions about God and their existence. Although most of these issues can be demanding for both the actors and the public, they are addressed in a humorous and positive way. The eight older children involved in the project have one to four different roles in the scenes, while the younger one have one collective character in one of the scenes.
The children were involved in all stages of the process: sharing stories they are familiar with either from their own lives or from the lives of the community, which later became part of the play, reading and learning the written resulting script, learning interpretation techniques, practicing their own roles together, and then practicing the flow of the scenes as they enter end exit the stage. Additionally, other skills improved as well: reading better and faster, learning new words, discussing and arguing issues that are raised in the play (in some cases rehearsals were followed by discussions among themselves and with the instructors about some of the life issues that were raised in the script). Some of the children that started off the project as quite shy and reluctant to speak their minds became more confident, and felt more entitled to express themselves.
In that last two months of the project, the play was performed at 7 different cultural locations in Bucharest, ranging from independent theaters to café-type bookshops, to a theatre festival, to other cultural event venues, as well as a school in their own neighborhood. The shows gathered a total audience of over 500 people – both adults and children – and brought full-house representations for all 7 shows. More details about the public performances can be found in the Events page as well as the Facebook page of the project.
The public performance added a lot to increasing the cohesion of the group. Under the guidance of the artistic coordinator, the children realized that the show was better when they worked together as a team and pay attention to eachother, rather than complain when one or the other makes mistakes or misses a line. By realizing this, they became closer to each other, started supporting each other more, and even came up with their own group adjustments to the beginning and ending of the play by adding a singing and dancing element to it. This was the first major negotiation that they did among themselves, as a group. As the artistic coordinator of the project constantly encouraged them to gain independence, discuss and make decisions together and create a product together as a team, he accepted the adjustments they proposed to the play.
Therefore, while the initial objective of the project was to involve the children in the play, the children have now gone a further step and feel ownership of their own co-created artistic product, which is seen as a result of their teamwork that they can now perform with minimum input from the coordinator and even make adjustments to.
All public performances ware highly successful to the public, and attracted invitations form several cultural venues to continue the performances after project end. In addition, the younger children involved in the play gained an appreciation and admiration for the older children, which motivated them to want to stay involved in such projects and achieve their performance in the future.
In addition, the project involved the creation of a video trailer to promote the play, as well as two video spots to promote the anti-discrimination component of the project.
With: Alexandra Militaru and Ion Gerebeneș
With: Jean-Lorin Sterian, Toto Horvat and Monica Istrate
With: Tudor Chirilă, Claudiu Dumitru, Eugen Matei Lumezianu, Livia Păun
Both the trailer and the anti-discrimination spots greatly surpassed expectations in terms of viewership on social media. The trailer achieved over 8,600 views on Facebook, while the two anti-discrimination spots went quickly viral on social media, achieving over 150,000 views and 880 shares, almost 10 times higher than initially planned. All three videos benefited from the support of professional artists – directing, cinematography, montage, acting – that ensured a reel-type quality to the videos, as well as promotion benefits. Moreover, all three videos involved children that are part of the project, thus giving them the opportunity to take part in a real film shooting experience, alongside professional artists.
THE SHOW GOES ON
Under the close guidance of the artistic coordinator of the project, Ionut Oprea, the children involved in the project have developed a group working technique that allows them to organize their own rehearsals, and carry out the theatre show with minimum direct input from the coordinator.
Their growing friendship and sense of trust, which were constantly encouraged by the coordinator and theatre instructors throughout the project, and their enthusiasm to bring the play to the public, which was validated and further encouraged by the public success that it had from the very first representation, have all given them the confidence that they worked together to build a valuable project and to gain appreciation from other people for it. In addition, it motivated them to take the play further, to organize themselves to rehearse between shows, to organize their own stage entries from backstage during the show. In addition, some of the older children with leading roles expressed their interest in supporting the younger children (who have secondary roles in the play), to learn leading roles in the future.
Following the audience success achieved by the play, the children and organizers were invited to continue bringing it to the public after project end. Therefore, while the project officially ended in April 2016, the play has three other established collaborations for representations to take place in the upcoming months.
In addition to the continuity of the group that was formed and that is eager to take the theatre play further, the project also contributed to developing skills and relationships that are likely to benefit the children in the long run. These range from increased self-esteem, confidence, higher practical skills like reading, attention, memory, focus, to the long run benefits of developing a cohesive group, friendship and support of each other.
The Stories from the schoolyard Facebook page will continue to offer news on how the theatre group is developing and what other shows are being scheduled for the play.
Project financed through a grant offered by Norway, Island, Liechtenstein and the Romanian Government.
Please access the project partners page for more details.