Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Children express pain and sadness through play

By Santi W.E. Soekanto

JAKARTA (JP): Come one, come all to Taman Ismail Marzuki this Sunday afternoon to witness children from conflict-ravaged Pontianak in West Kalimantan express their pain and sadness over the ethnic violence that has claimed many lives.

The nine children, together with 24 Jakarta street children, who are also no strangers to violence, will stage a free performance titled Voices of the Next Generation at 2 p.m. The children created the play, but they are being directed by British director David Glass.

Glass involves the children in workshops where they are taught basic drama techniques and storytelling to allow them to express their feelings about their lives. His techniques include encouraging the children to plan, rehearse and stage a performance based on their experiences.

The play had originally been planned to be performed in Pontianak, home to more than 30,000 refugees who escaped the violence in Sambas two years ago.

The recent explosion of fresh unrest, however, forced the group to move to Jakarta, and cancel the involvement of most of the children from Pontianak except for nine who were flown to Jakarta last Friday.

Glass said he hoped the play would help the children explore their feelings, express their pain and overcome their fears. "The idea (behind the performance) is (encouraging) children to be creative, (exploring) the functions of life, encouraging the children to discover more of themselves and the world.

"In the process, it is hoped the children will grow less fearful of the world," Glass said. "It's a bit like therapy."

The performance will be Glass' second in Indonesia. He visited Indonesia in March 1999 to assess the feasibility and details of performing with street children for his "Lost Child Project".

He worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), street children and artists with a potential interest in collaborating in his group's project. He returned with his team, the David Glass Ensemble, six months later and worked in Indonesia for three weeks in Jakarta.

This was followed by one week in both Bandung and Yogyakarta, with half the group working with street children in each city.

"It was beautiful to see the children stand up and tell (the audience) why they lived on the streets, what it's like to live on the streets," Glass said. He added that the experience helped empower the children, so much so that one child involved in the play last year has established his own NGO.

Sponsored by the British Council, the performance is the focus of a series of events and activities under the same title, Voices of the Next Generation.

This year's program has several main aims, namely to build the capacity of NGO workers dealing with displaced children from areas in conflict, to work with a group of displaced children to create a drama about their lives and to gain national and international publicity about the situation of displaced children from restive areas in Indonesia, and to advocate action to protect their rights and respond to their needs as children affected by violent conflict.

Glass, a mime artist, has performed solo work for eighteen years in over 40 countries. He originally studied at the London Contemporary Dance School and then went to Paris where he studied and worked with French performers.

Glass, 42, has created and performed in over 13 solo pieces, including Glassworks and The Shrinking Man, before establishing the David Glass Ensemble in 1989 to produce pieces for mid-scale theaters. The ensemble includes Jane Arnfield, Valerie Berdaa, Al Nedjari and Tara Herbert, according to Antara.

In 1997, the ensemble created The Lost Child Trilogy, an international coproduction which tells the stories of lost children. In the past three years they have worked in more than 15 countries, including Vietnam, China, Columbia, the Philippines and Indonesia in 1999.

"Indonesia is a beautiful country. It has all this wonderful energy, new ideas, new ways of doing things, but combined with unhappiness over the past," Glass said of the reason why he chose Indonesia for the ensemble's current performance.

British Council spokesman Jim Hollington said the other activities include workshops for NGO staff from West Kalimantan, Maluku and beyond on using drama techniques when working with displaced children.

Another activity is A Child's Eye Photography Project, in which Jonathan Perugia from the Indonesian charity, A Child's Eye, will conduct week-long workshops in West Kalimantan next week. The workshops will involve disenfranchised young people to use cameras to express their feelings and find their voice.

"Children who are often marginalized and ignored are then encouraged to explore their creativity and individuality in an environment where they are respected, where their opinions are valued," Hollington said of the photography workshop.

Some of the photographs collected will be displayed during the performance on Sunday.

Perugia will also build a library and exhibition of photographs depicting the children's lives in Pontianak, Sambas, Singkawang and Jakarta starting Nov. 20, Hollington said.

Another activity planned as part of the Voices of the Next Generation series is a publication of storytelling posters. Agus Mulyono, an Indonesian children's author, will work with children in Kalimantan to help them produce artwork.

The artwork will form the basis of a series of posters to be distributed to schools throughout Indonesia to increase awareness of the meaning and importance of children's rights.

Some 60 percent of up to one million displaced people scattered in various refugee centers in Indonesia are children, many of whom have not only witnessed armed conflict but have also been victims of violence.