From Coventry to Kumamoto: A Creative Exchange for Schoolchildren
In April 2016, Kumamoto prefecture, in southern Japan, was shaken by a huge earthquake
which destroyed hundreds of houses and displaced thousands of people, many of whom
are still living in temporary accommodation 7 months on. It was in the wake of this
disaster that the British Embassy in Tokyo and RSA Japan Fellows’ Network teamed up to
run workshops with 300 high school students in the areas that had been worst affected.
We wanted to do something that would connect the students with a global audience and
we wanted it to be creative and fun. Our solution was to create movie messages that
would allow the students to have a “conversation” with children in the UK. The first
challenge was to find a school in the UK willing to take part. Having heard of the RSA
Academies, I contacted Adanna Shallowe, Manager of RSA’s Global team. Within moments,
the RSA networking machine was in action and it wasn’t long before I was skyping with
Minh Nguyen, a fabulously energetic teacher at Whitley Academy in Coventry.
Minh has a group of students called the School Reporters. She told me she would explain
the concept to them and see what they came up with. A week later I received a series of
videos from the Reporters, introducing themselves to the Kumamoto students, and asking
questions, such as “What is your name?” and
“What do you like to do in your free time?”. Most impressively, they were speaking in
both English and Japanese.
Now it was our turn to design the movie messages we would make in return. We were
scheduled to run 4 workshops, each with up to 90 students, and lasting only 50 minutes.
As a theatre director I am accustomed to working with short deadlines. But less than an
hour to create and perform a piece with a cast of 90 actors....?!
Luckily I had a technical and creative whizz on board - a Yorkshire lad called Henry
Morse who had worked with me on a recent theatre production. Henry and I met 4 or 5
times before the trip to Kumamoto, to discuss ideas, prototype them and rehearse with
some willing assistants (the students of the Montessori School in Tokyo and a group of
children from Japan Dance School in Kawasaki). With the help of these balls of energy we
were able to produce designs for the four videos which met our criteria of being both fun
to create and fun to watch. And so our team set off for Kumamoto: Jonathan Joo- Thomson and Ayaka Harayama of the British Embassy, our interpreter Noriko Tada FRSA,
Henry and I.
We’re unable to publicise the videos until we have clearance from the schools and
parents, but I will try to give you an idea. One of the designs was a sort of human pinball
machine involving Japanese taiko drums. This group was answering the question - asked
by an 11 year old boy at Whitley Academy called Ellis - “What do you love?”. The answer
began with a single drum beat. This triggered a relay of runners between three different
spots, followed by another student popping up in front of the camera and shouting
“Japanese food/washoku!”. Then two drum beats and another relay of runners, followed
by two students popping up in front of the camera and shouting: “ my family/watashi no kazoku” and “football/sakka” and so on...The videos will be shown during Assembly to the students of Whitley Academy. We arehoping they will in turn respond to the questions they receive, so that the conversationwill continue.The project had two main aims. Firstly, it was about connection. We wanted to infectthese young people with the joy of connecting with people of other lands and otherlanguages. Secondly it was about creativity. We wanted to show that there are many waysto communicate, including words, voice, body, action and rhythm. We hope that thestudents enjoyed it as much as we did. And we hope it will contribute to making ourworld more connected and more creative in future generations.We are deeply grateful to RSA for helping to fund this project through the RSA Network Fund.