Russia: drama summer camp

This post is so ridiculously overdue. Like many of my posts! In the three weeks since I got back from my first ever trip to Russia I have sat down a total of six times to try to write this post, and each time I’ve come up with nothing. Not because there was nothing in my head, but there was too much. How to put into words one of the most memorable experiences of my life? Impossible. But I had to write something, so here goes…

This was my second trip with Oxford World Theatre (the first being Sicily), and this time I went with a fellow team member, the amazing Olive Supple-Still. It was a huge comfort and support having her there – not only could we bounce ideas off each other, but it made the experience even more special having someone to share it with.

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We worked with teachers and kids from CLASS, an English language school in Rostov-on-Don, catching the sleeper train with them from Rostov down to the summer camp near Nebug, on the Black Sea. On that train I experienced just how hot Russian trains can get in summer, and I got well acquainted with the first of many mosquitoes. It turns out I am allergic to Russian mosquitoes, as we discovered when one bite caused my whole ankle to swell up.

Over the first few days of camp we adjusted to the pace of life there – we had 24 days ahead of us with no days off and only really two hours of free time a day. The rest was mostly spent with the kids. This took a few days to get used to, but once we were in the swing of things it was fantastic.

We ran drama workshops with two groups of children – one for the first week and a half and then a second group for the latter. These groups were divided into three smaller groups based on age. Check out the Oxford World Theatre Facebook page for pictures and clips from the sessions. With the first lot, I worked with the oldest group (13-16), Olive the middle (10-13ish), and we worked together with the younger ones (7-8). With the second lot of kids Olive and I swapped age groups. I’d never worked with children in the middle age group before so this was a great chance to gain some experience.

At the end of each group’s stay they performed short pieces of theatre they’d devised with us to their peers. It was fascinating seeing the different ideas they all came up with, and how two groups of the same age could have such different approaches and be interested in completely different subject matter. In the first older group the sketches varied from a horror story to the 1960s, with a brilliant piece about Harry Potter and how social media has taken over our lives, with such delights as Voldemort deleting Harry Potter’s Facebook account, Harry and Draco taking a selfie mid-duel, and the boys inventing a whole new social media network. In the end, however, the message shone through that we all need to spend a bit more time talking to our friends in person rather than constantly through a screen, when Harry and his friends decided to throw their mobile phones on the floor and be done with that social media business. (I would like to add that no mobile phones were hurt in the making of this play, thankfully! The guys had the brilliant idea of taking the less breakable backs off their phones and throwing these instead.) Olive’s older group explored some pertinent issues in their pieces, including bullying and prejudice. By creating a safe environment of trust and respect, Olive managed to explore some very difficult issues with her students and create some deeply affecting and important work.

In my sessions I tried out some new games and was thrilled when the kids responded so well and really got involved. You can see pics and a few clips of their work in the sessions and their performances on the Oxford World Theatre Facebook page.

Aside from the sea of young, smiling faces, the sunshine, the beautiful surroundings and the pure awesomeness of being in a new country (I went to RUSSIA!!! Woop!), what made this project really special was the warmth and generosity of my colleagues. I was so lucky to meet some of the funniest, kindest and most inspiring women I have ever encountered. The teachers I worked with from CLASS are super-human, I swear! (Though of course, being the daughter of a teacher, I know as a fact that all teachers are.) And with Olive, I couldn’t have asked for a more open-hearted and talented partner in crime. Sound like I’m gushing? Well I am, and rightly so.

Long weekend in Prague

Beauty. Chaos. Intrigue. Delicacy. Strength. Prague embodies all of these things, and more. As part of my 30th birthday present from my boyfriend, I got the chance to visit this magical city, and it has left a lasting impression on my mind, my body and my senses.

Staying in an apartment about five minutes away from the castle, we had a beautiful view of Petrin Hill and a monastery from our balcony. Each day we wandered down the hill into the main part of the city, crossing the infamous Charles Bridge. The guide books all tell you to avoid the bridge during the middle of the day, and with good reason – the crowds make it nigh impossible to get from one end to the other at anything above a slow plod.

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Charles Bridge

There’s far too much to write about to fit in one blog post, which is partly why this post is so overdue – I’ve started and stopped about five times over the past few weeks, struggling to decide what to mention and what to leave out. The architecture was one of the main delights, but I’ll leave it to the many photos I’ve posted to give you a flavour of that. Needless to say, it’s beautiful. The food was perhaps our least favourite aspect, with one exception, as the traditional dishes were quite heavy on our stomachs. (The wine, however, went down much better!) The exception was the trdelník, a pastry made from rolled dough grilled on a long metal stick, with sugar and walnut mix sprinkled all over. We saw them being made in little shop fronts all over the city, and my god they were delicious.

On the Saturday night we saw a play in Czech at the Estates Theatre, where Mozart conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni. I was thrilled to be experiencing theatre in a different language, but I think my boyfriend was a little less so – ah the joys of dating an actor! He sat through it though and did enjoy most of it, though the finer details were rather lost on us, due to the language barrier. The play was Mikveh by Hadar Galron, so we saw an Israeli play performed in Czech!

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Sadly we didn’t get to see a performance at the National Marionette Theatre as all the weekend shows were booked up. BUT I did buy my first marionette (see right). Handmade in Prague, she wasn’t cheap, but it was some of my birthday money well spent!

I had a wonderful few days in this city, and highly recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful architecture, a buzzing atmosphere and a good dose of ‘culture’. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more!