My Reflections on the 2014 Flint Hills Children's International Festival Presented by the Ordway Theatre

To my not-so-great surprise, when we asked for volunteers to help introduce a group of Karen dancers to the stage at the International Children’s Festival, nobody stepped forwards.  Luckily, I had already recruited Eh Sher and Moo Bwe Say ahead of time, so I was okay with this.   But as we started brainstorming what we should say to introduce the Karen group, more of the kids wanted contribute.  Eventually, 4 more students stepped forward to volunteer to speak in front of a crowd.  Considering how shy these students normally are in front of strangers, this was quite  a pleasant surprise!  We worked together to brainstorm what we should share about the Karen people, about T2C, and about the done dance.  Most of the conversation focused on what it means to be Karen, and the students had a hard time coming up answers.  Because they are innately Karen, so involved in the tightly knit Karen community, living a Karen life so thoroughly; it’s hard to take a step back and come up with words to define what makes them different.  So I offered up my perspective from the point of view of an outsider.  We came up with several ideas: about how Karen people share alot, how they support each other endlessly and how some of that might have stemmed from all the trials they endured as refugees.  We also talked about the different types of Karen, but nobody felt they knew enough to speak to it.  We did however come up with a list of countries where Karen people live – literally all over the world.  One last idea we settled on, is the idea of faith.  Although Karen  practice different religions, many Karen have a very strong, steadfast faith.  I helped them put all these thoughts down on paper, and assigned each student a part.  Then we practiced.  Practiced.  And then practiced some more. 

On Saturday morning, I picked up some of the girls to meet at a bakery.  The idea was to practice one more time  J  but also to gather together and have some breakfast.  It went very smoothly, and I was very impressed.  All of them had definitely practiced at home!   We decided to go to the festival early, and that turned out to be a very good decision.   The festival had a lot of activities and attractions for children, and it was all free!  We wandered around to several booths and did some of the arts and crafts projects.  We also watched a few of the performances and ate some ice cream.  Finally, it was time for the performance!   There was a little bit of trouble meeting up with the dancers.  The festival was fairly large.  After about 20 minutes, we finally found them, but then the adults couldn't find the designated parking lot.  Mina went with them to help them find the parking lot, while the rest of us waited with the dancers.  At this point, the stage crew started peppering us with questions about acoustic equipment, how we wanted the stage set up, and stressed the need for a quick turnover once the current performers finished.  They also wanted to see the traditional drums beforehand to get an idea of what kind of sound enhancers were necessary, but the drums were with the adults who were looking for parking!  After a stressful 10 minutes, with 5 minutes before we were set to go on stage, the adults finally got to the stage with the drums.   I showed these drums to the stage technicians and thought that was pretty much taken care of.  However, due to some communication difficulties about how the stage should be set up, it did take longer than anticipated to turn the stage over. 

Finally though, it was time for the show to begin!  Just as we practiced, the girls walked onto the stage in the order we had discussed.  They might have been nervous – but they looked absolutely fearless.  They introduced themselves and calmly went over the well-rehearsed speech.  In the same calm manner, the girls walked off the stage in reverse order, and met me in the back.  I gave them all a big smile, and we quickly walked to the front of the stage to watch the rest of the show.  The dancers were also very well-rehearsed, and put on a fantastic, high energy show.  The crowd seemed to love it also, which was great.   After the show was over, the stage manager walked up to me and complimented me on how well it went.  I thanked him and assured him that I had little to do with it, but was pleased to hear how much he enjoyed it.  Then we lingered a little bit after the show, to mingle with the dancers, take some photos, and enjoy the rest of the festival.  But it was hot out, and I think we were all a little happy to go home about 5 hours later from when we had met.  As we were walking back towards the parking lot, Ann ( the youngest at age 7), was complaining that she was tired of walking.   But since we were all pretty tired, we just reassured her that we were almost to the car and encouraged her verbally.  To my surprise, Day Poh, another girl, perhaps 11 but hardly bigger in size than Ann, offered to carry Ann on her back.  This really warmed my heart.  Day Poh was equally as tired as the rest of us.  And she was the 3rd youngest in the group, but her selflessness and generosity surpassed all of us.  It was wonderful to witness, humbling and inspiring at the same time.  I felt very lucky.  A wonderful end to a wonderful day.