Sunday, 8 November 2009

ABC Group.

Friday 6th November: Back at MADSOC Jack and I spent the morning working with the ABC group of sex workers from Mchessi in a workshop led by Togo, a Malawian actor, who'd travelled up from Blantyre. I'd met these women eighteen months ago when they were first forming their group. They put together a fantastic forum performance which we took to play outside a local police station. It caused quite stir. Buoyed by that and the continuation of Tfac workshops they've grown from strength to strength and now each woman has their own focus group of further sex workers, some as young as 12 years old - all of whom are exploring through drama the strategies and alternatives to improve their lives. The ripple effect of this empowering work is clear to see.

The drama too is more sophisticated. Ryan is looking to take some of their work to an international AIDS conference in Vienna next July and Togo's work this morning is designed to help the group see some strategies for theatricalising their stories.

Quickly we're turning inanimate objects into life. A bar is set up, Gift plays a bowl of nuts, whilst I join Bettina, Hawa and Mabel as bottles of beer. Soundscapes are created and the objects dance with each other, only to freeze when a man walks into the bar. It's playful, subversive and all the time offers new perspective, new ways of seeing. We laugh shed loads.

At the end of the session condoms are distributed and the women pile into their mini bus back to the township. This afternoon they'll run their workshops. It's all been incredibly inspirational.

Back at the Tfac office in the British Council we have a debrief meeting about the base lines. Jack is sharp and honest, questioning whether the improvisations set up to observe current behaviour are effective.

'Surely we're not seeing how the participants really feel and behave,' he says 'aren't we watching them perform what they think we want to see? I'm not sure the results will be accurate. Role play isn't about personal reaction. It's about perfecting a character.'

The comments take us into debate. One proposal is not to announce the intention of the improvisation, but have a member of the Tfac team lead it. With training the leader could tease out a whole range of attitudes and opinions. There's still no guarantee that participants won't escape into character however, but there's less opportunity to avoid the focus if you play against a trained antagonist.

Claire, who interprets the data, questions the morality keeping back information from the participants prior to their participation, but as we don't reveal the specifics of the questionnaire before it's being answered this new idea seems a direct parallel of effective practice elsewhere on the baseline. The debate will continue on Monday.

The week over we head to a bar in the animal sanctuary and enjoy a couple of Kuche Kuche beers whilst another lightening storm sweeps across the park. It's been a wonderful week.

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