|| Trundling along dusty roads late at night in a local
tractor, the sound of singing carries across the newly ploughed fields.
It is very late, but the actors do not care: they have just performed
for a fascinated crowd who had never seen theatre in their lives before.
Now that they have some experience behind them in making theatre,
the team are getting more confident every time they play. They are
especially happy if the audience participates fully in the discussion
after the performance, as this means that they have enjoyed and understood
Their story tells of a young man who starts taking amphetamines “just
for fun” and who ends up addicted and crazy, and of how his
family tries to help him. The play encourages people not to take “Yabaa”,
by showing that “starting is easy, but stopping is not”.
The drug dealer is shown as an opportunist, making money at the expense
of other peoples happiness. It suggests that the community should
give drug addicts and their families help within the village, and
make it difficult for dealers to operate there.
The play always makes most of the audience laugh, and usually makes
some people cry. The discussion afterwards makes them think –
not just about the drugs problem but also of ways of solving it in
their own community.
The theatre team stops at the next village, which does not have any
electricity, so they set up the lights with the aid of candles and
get the small generator running. Already some villagers have gathered
round to get a better look at the newcomers. Surprise and delight
comes to the kids’ faces as the theatre players address them
in their own language. The word spreads like wildfire: the play will
be in Hmong. Soon the village square is full of spectators.
The rustling of bells, in the village hall behind us, local women
and men are getting dressed up in traditional finery by candlelight,
ready to perform a welcome dance. The dancers come together every
night to practise, explains the mayor, and they are happy to have
the opportunity to perform for visitors. Quick and modern are the
steps, a mixture of traditional Hmong and new Lao style. Then the
villagers and the visiting theatre team dance and sing together.
It is late. The theatre lights are taken down, there is not a star
in the sky and it is pitch black as the team packs the tractor. Some
villagers are still with us and they talk about their interest in
training their own theatre team – come back next year, they
say; maybe we’ll even have a play ready to show you by then.
The mayor shakes us warmly by the hand, as the tractor pulls away.
Some villagers follow for a short way, smiling, the kids laughing
and whispering all the way until we reach the boundary of the village
and trundle off into the night. Out on the bumpy, dusty road, the
actors are soon singing again.