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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Stories from the children

Stories from the children

MOVED TO TEARS

Vat Phat, 15: "Their parents abandoned them... they might think they will be abandoned again." A sugarcane vendor, she was injured in the March 30, 1997 grenade attack but is now back in school.

"THE parents have decided to abandon their children in the jungle because they

are so hungry and they are not able to feed them. Maybe they don't want to see their

children die in front of their eyes."

Hunger, loss, abandonment - these are the themes which a group of disadvantaged Cambodian

children seized on while discussing the European tale of Hansel and Gretel during

a workshop with a visiting theater troupe.

The five-day workshop, run by the David Glass Ensemble, was based around the play,

but the children were encouraged to discuss the story and reinterpret it in their

own words.

The children's comments and ideas were woven into a Nov 20 ensemble performance of

the tale - rechristened "Sam and Sopheap" - with the troupe and 30 of the

children themselves. "We're celebrating their stories, their inner life,"

said ensemble director David Glass. "This is about confidence and self-awareness."

The children said they enjoyed the workshop both because it was fun and because it

was an opportunity to meet kids with similar lives and talk about them.

"I am very happy at the workshop because it is a place where I meet many kids

from other places and I can share my answers with them," said Vuth Seng, 14.

"I never had a chance like that before."

Through trust exercises, songs and games, the children were encouraged to relax,

open up and speak freely about how the Hansel and Gretel tale made them feel.

"They're very imaginative, they have a lot inside," said Val Berdaa, the

troupe's press officer.

Although the workshop produced laughter and fun as well, the children - orphans,

former prostitutes, trash-pickers, vendors - also spoke tellingly of feelings of

fear and loss. One girl, Vat Phat, was moved to tears during the discussion of how

Hansel and Gretel felt when their parents left them in the forest.

"Their parents abandoned them ... they might think they will be abandoned again,"

the 15-year-old said. A sugarcane vendor, she was injured in the March 30, 1997 grenade

attack but is now back in school.

The children's emotions and reactions helped provide dialogue and detail for the

final performance, which also included performers from the National Theater and the

Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Through the children's words, music and the actors' movements and interpretations,

the European tale became a vehicle to give a voice to these disadvantaged Cambodian

kids. "It's a celebration of children," said Glass in his introduction.

ALL ABOUT TRUST

A boy is asked to have confidence in his friends, holding him as he falls backwards and forwards.

Audience members were receptive. "The play was very good; I enjoyed it very

much," said Yon Phong, 25. "I think the performance is a mixture of Khmer

and European style," he added.

The London-based David Glass Ensemble has been running such workshops and performances

with children all over the world, as well as performing "The Hansel Gretel Machine",

their own visual/physical interpretation of the journey to adulthood.

The children's reactions to the Hansel and Gretel story will help form the second

and third parts of the ensemble's "Lost Child Trilogy", of which "The

Hansel Gretel Machine" is the first part.

The critically acclaimed troupe's visit here was sponsored by CfBT Education Services

and a number of local companies and NGOs. The actors hope to return to Cambodia for

the later parts of the trilogy.

The child actors, for their part, were thrilled with their stage debut. "I am

very happy with the play because children from different places participated,"

said Yin Ivalis, 17. "We are proud that the Khmer children are able to act with

foreigners on the stage," she said.

"I am very excited now as I was able to perform well," said Ly Saline,

13. "I was so worried that I might smile at the audience instead of making a

sad face, but my trainers advised me just to take it easy," he said.

Van Path also admitted to a few backstage jitters. "Before the performance,

I was a bit worried because I felt that I could not perform it like that," she

said, but her fears were unfounded.

Her earlier tears forgotten, she spoke through delighted laughter. "I am very

happy now after I performed."

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