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Creating a Musical Drama in Haiti via Skype

There’s a growing realisation among teachers who use Skype that this versatile tool can be used to bring excitement to students in many new ways.

We recently found out how few limitations exist in this new combination of technology and education when we wrote, directed and produced a major musical in Haiti via the internet.

It all began last year. The play was developed for one of our Teach the World Online advanced English classes. We started the project, ‘Our Haitian Cousins’, so the students could learn to use dialogue and pronounce words correctly.

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TWOL students in Haiti reviewing the play script with Karl Purnell.

Each week, we added more dialogue to this bitter-sweet comedy about an American-Haitian family visiting their cousins in Port Au Prince. Soon the students began memorising the lines, and suddenly we realised we had a wonderful play ready to show to earthquake refugees throughout the country. The students wrote extra dialogue and added traditional Haitian music to create a full-length production.

We then arranged for a translation of the play into Creole and began serious rehearsals over the internet via Skype video. Despite the language problems – and the difficulty moving the students into proper “blocking” positions via a webcam – we were finally ready for opening night. We arranged for a performance at a refugee camp at Parc Hen Plassa in Delmas.

On a Sunday afternoon in early May, the actors appeared on a make-shift stage and performed the play, entertaining hundreds of refugee Haitians who had emerged from their tent city to see the presentation.

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Refugee Haitians enjoying the recent performance of ‘Our Haitian Cousins’.

I flew to Haiti that weekend to see our play in person, after months of work with the actors. The results were astonishing. The audience roared with laughter at the jokes and gave a standing ovation to the cast during the serious scenes, as well as the ending.

The entire event was a huge success, and now the student actors are raising funds in hopes of holding performances throughout Haiti. They also are working to create an acting troupe, to be called The National Theater of Haiti, which would give them paying jobs as part of a permanent theatre.

Anyone interested in or wishing to contribute to this project should go to teachtheworldonline.org.

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