A play all the class can get really stuck into

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Gwyn Morgan watches an innovative schools craft-and-theatre project with an environmentalist message.

For me to learn how to make simple masks is great. I'll be able to use this time and time again." Teacher Susan Morahan, of St Bernadette's First and Middle Schools Kenton, is surrounded by Year 4 children gluing masks and painting their faces in the way of the Amazonian Yanomami people. This is a visit from Kazzum Arts Project, whose play-in-a-day involves 60 children in the production of Sticking with the Rainforest, a 15-minute performance which is created, rehearsed and mounted in one school day.

The project is sponsored by Pritt Stick, and there is no shortage of glue with which to put the masks together. Half the children have opted for a craft workshop, half for a drama workshop. Those who chose craft are directed by Kazzum's designer, Ali McNab, who teaches them about the Yanomami, showing pictures of how they decorate themselves and telling the Yanomami myth of the birth of fire.

McNab is anxious to balance authenticity with the children's creative flair: "Everything I show the children is researched and accurate - but it's very important that the children create the masks themselves."

The mask-makers enact the myth in the final performance for their families and friends, performing alongside those children who have chosen the drama workshop. Like McNab, drama leader Emma Ghafur tries to keep a careful balance: the show must be of high quality but her ideas are not imposed.

Equipped with information about the topic, the actors devise short tableaux vivants depicting the animals in the forest and the life of the Yanomami. Advice is given on pace and order.

The final show is direct, simple and surprisingly polished. It also includes all 60 children singing "The Rain Forest Song", which they have learned before the day of the performance: Kazzum provides a teacher's pack which contains enough curriculum-related material to fill an entire term.

During the day itself, the leaders break off to teach the children as much as they can: an occasional quiz reveals that there are 45,200 gold-diggers on Yanomami land and that an area of rainforest equal in size to six football pitches is destroyed every minute.

Sticking with the Rainforest can also take the form of a week-long residency by the company. With prices greatly reduced through Pritt's sponsorship, Kazzum is now booking well into 1997, with residencies in the pipeline as far apart as Gateshead and Cornwall.

As well as craft and drama, the residencies also teach puppetry and set-building. "Over a week you can build up quite an amazing production, " says Ali McNab, "We make a whole forest and a section of a Yanomami village. "

Kazzum's education officer, Tom Ashton, is thrilled with this aspect of its work:"I always have a meeting with the teachers at the end of a residency. They say that the children learn a lot in terms of confidence. At the beginning, they feel they can't do it but they always reach a performance. The teachers are able to say 'Remember how you felt when Kazzum came? By the end of the week, you could do it.'" Kazzum Arts Project, Selby Centre, Selby Road, London N17 8JN, tel: 0181 808 6793. Play-in-a-day Pounds 225, week's residency Pounds 475. Both running into 1997.

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