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Acting for Change: Hall students in Cameroon trip

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A group of second-year Teddy Hall students and members of the John Oldham Society recently returned from Cameroon where they took part in an innovative community drama project. They joined forces with local volunteer organisation La Liberté, who use interactive theatre to encourage discussion amongst school and community groups on a wide range of topics, from voter apathy to ante-natal care.

Below: members of La Liberté and the John Oldham Society wait in the studio audience while The Monday Show is rehearsed.

Members of La Liberté and the John Oldham Society wait in the studio audience while The Monday Show is rehearsed
Members of La Liberté and the John Oldham Society wait in the studio audience while The Monday Show is rehearsed
The Hall students had two objectives – to work collaboratively with La Liberté on drama projects and to help raise awareness of the group’s work across Cameroon, ideally to help win them increased funding.  The students’ own trip was made possible thanks in large part to funding from the College, including the JCR and the Amalgamated Clubs’ funds.

The students spent the first two weeks in the north-west region, practising and then taking part in several forum theatre performances, in which the performance is part-scripted and part-improvised.  Action is directed by a co-ordinator who brings in discussion and acting participation from the audience and enables them to play out different scenarios.  Thomas Bailey (2011, English and French) tried out the co-ordinator’s role, which was “scary at first, but brilliant when it worked.  There was one secondary school, for example, where the forum theatre performance began this incredibly lively discussion among the students on topics that would have otherwise been very difficult to talk about.”

Below: Frankie, Clive and Bernard during a forum theatre performance at a school.

Frankie, Clive and Bernard during a forum theatre performance at a school
Frankie, Clive and Bernard during a forum theatre performance at a school

In their third week, the group moved to the capital Yaoundé, where they received an impressive amount of media coverage, including features in The Post, which has a readership of 1.3m, and on ‘The Monday Show’ on a national Anglophone TV channel, something the students describe as “a bit like ‘The One Show’ ”.  La Liberté’s President, Akumbu Jones, was delighted with the publicity and received many new enquiries from volunteers interested in getting involved with the group’s work.

Emma D’Arcy (2011, Fine Art) said, “We’d really like the project to have some kind of longevity. I didn’t think that would be possible before we went, but I do now – people were so happy to host us and generous with their time, and the press coverage for La Liberté was amazing.”

Below: the final collaborative stage-play performed by both groups in Bamenda.

The final collaborative stage-play performed by both groups in Bamenda
The final collaborative stage-play performed by both groups in Bamenda

The drama collaboration first came about thanks to the contacts of DPhil student Roxana Willis, who had previously lived in Cameroon, doing legal work. So, the Hall now has excellent connections with lawyers and media organisations such as radio stations, as well as a strong link with La Liberté, if other students wish to take advantage of this for future projects or internships.  Both Tom and Emma would be happy for other students to contact them for more information.

There will also be the opportunity to find out more about the group’s experiences in Cameroon, as they are planning an African evening this term when they will be screening a documentary about the trip.

Below: Bernard, Miguel and Emma act a short extract of the play on 'The Monday Show', while Akumbu and Thomas wait to be interviewed.

Bernard, Miguel and Emma act a short extract of the play on The Monday Show, while Akumbu and Thomas wait to be interviewed
Bernard, Miguel and Emma act a short extract of the play on The Monday Show, while Akumbu and Thomas wait to be interviewed.