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Teaching Values through CHILDREN’s THEATRE & the Teacher who Learnt from it

Bob, outdoors.
Bob, outdoors.

 

I hate the outdoors.

Isn’t that a weird thing to see written on a website about travelling and seeing wonders.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the environment. Without it we’d be one step closer to the Mad Max dystopia (the new one. Not the originals. Even I have taste enough to stay away from anything Mel Gibson). However rather than doing a protest under the hot sun which makes me sweat and brings out insecurities I have regarding my body odour, I’d rather save the environment indoors, and I do it through the power of theatre.

My name is Bob Morshidi. By day I’m teaching some of your children how to act. By night I’m a theatre practitioner. This is my story of how arts for children can save the world.

 

A bit about me.

As you can guess from above, I’m a narcissict. I grew at first wanting to be an accountant, only to realise that I didn’t like accounting, was not good at it and nobody would know if I ever did a good job. I then tried to become a screenwriter. I was much better at that. I went to study broadcasting, first locally, then abroad in Australia. It’s at Australia that I realised I was meant to do theatre.

During my time there I did nearly three dozen shows over the space of four years or so. I loved it. It was in my being. I connected in it the way that I’ve never connected to anything before. I made and lost friendships and relationships from it. I felt alive.

 

It helped that the shows I did touched on the issues of humanity. I did shows about racism, animal abuse, prostitution, friendships, wars, love, greed and joy. However, my best work has and always will be: Children’s Theatre.

Curtains Up on Children’s Theatre

Zak Zebra's African Safari, Nexus Theatre, 2013
Zak Zebra’s African Safari, Nexus Theatre, 2013

 

In the show above, Zak Zebra’s African Safari, I played Zephyr Zebra, the father of the main character who……

Oh who cares what the storyline is. It was a great show (directed by the wonderful Professor Jenny De Reuck, who at the time of writing is putting on her final show before retirement. All the best my theatre mother) with great music (by my personal friend and international award winning composer Nick Choo).

However the kids loved it, not just because of the great story, but the great morals they could learn. The moral of this show was friendship. The two previous Children’s Theatre shows I did was focused on the themes of family and togetherness. Some of the children would do drawings based on the show and we were always touched that they remembered the morals.

 

Flashforward a few years…

I‘m back in Malaysia and theatre here is different. I don’t know anybody so I went around looking for jobs around the industry. I was lucky enough to network with Razif Hashim, excellent actor and wonderful TV host (look for a show called Best In The World and feel hungry watching it). He had an acting school for young adults called FTalent (they do free acting classes twice a month. Check them out on Facebook. You might even see me come in and teach a couple of classes) and I was hired as the administrator of the school.

It was fun and I worked there for a year or so and did a couple of shows but then decided to flap my wings to see what else I could do around here. Luckily during my time with FTalent I met this bloke called Az’farr Baginda, who had a speech and drama school for children called BluBricks (I found out later that he’s also one of the most respected people in the theatre industry, which was epically cool). I gave him a call and this is what happened next…

 

Shakespeare Goes Bollywood, KLPAC, September 2016
Shakespeare Goes Bollywood, KLPAC, September 2016

 

The first class

Az’farr calls me on a Tuesday and says my first class is set up for the very next day. The way BluBricks works is that they hire trained and educated actors and send them to schools to teach them speech and drama. I meet him before my first class for a quick meeting and training session and then I’m off to my first class.

After introducing myself to the school staff and principal I’m whisked to a hall. After about 5 minutes the students, Year 3 (9 year olds) come in…

 

 

 

…And start screaming and running around the hall. It took me a whole 10 minutes to get them to settle down and make a circle (we don’t do tables in acting, unless the character requires it). This was a bunch of rowdy nine-year-olds not listening to what I say. What on earth do I do? After metaphorically clawing and dragging them to follow my lesson plan for that day, the class ends.

And then the next class enters.

Luckily they were more obedient.

I found out later that my first class is also the rowdiest class in school.

What a way to start a career eh?

After a few months of teaching, training, re-training and relearning, I started to get a hang of it.

And then show season started.

Let Me Explain

Unlike other subjects like Maths and Science which focuses on exams, speech and drama classes focuses on shows and improvements on communications (there are exams, but that’s another story). I then had to curate the shows based on the students level, progress and capabilities. The younger they are, the simpler the show is.

It was pretty chaotic. Trying to get them to walk to the right spots, remember their lines, not move around unnecessarily etc. However, after I ended my first year, I got it.

 

 

At the end of 2016 I had facilitated 17 shows for my classes. Those shows had stories touching on the issues of family, friendship, love and the environment in one way or another. When I acted, I told the student these stories with these issues. By getting them to do these stories, they were able to embody these issues. I saw my students become friendlier, confident, kinder, more emphatic about the people and things around them.

 

How The Tapir Lost It's Colours, Part of the BluBricks showcase. Kuash Theatre, 2016. Photograph by Thevi Ramalingam
How The Tapir Lost It’s Colours, Part of the BluBricks showcase. Kuash Theatre, 2016. Photograph by Thevi Ramalingam

 

I now know why people do this.

 

Mousedeer & Tiger. Part of the BluBricks showcase. Kuash Theatre. 2016. Photo by Thevi Ramalingam
Mousedeer & Tiger. Part of the BluBricks showcase. Kuash Theatre. 2016. Photo by Thevi Ramalingam

 

Now

As of writing, I have officially been a speech and drama teacher for 18 months now (I counted. It is exactly 18 months this week). I’m curating about 15 shows or so for the end of this year. My oldest class is doing a show regarding the issues of racism, orphans and Jim Crowe in 1950s America (I’d like to also add how disgusted my students are that racism still exists today. Come on people. If 9 year olds can get it, why can’t you?). The days are getting shorter, faster, more furious, more tiring, and way more fun. Who knows if I’ll be a lifelong teacher or the universe sends me somewhere else to do something else. All I know is that this is by far the most emotionally rewarding job I’ve ever had.

Actually I lie.

I was once a hippo puppet for a theatre show. That was equally rewarding.

Son of the Nile, Nexus Theatre, 2012
Son of the Nile, Nexus Theatre, 2012

 

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