My recent experiences in China, Taiwan, and Japan by David Anderson - Report Part 2
Beijing Spring Valley, China
This year I started teaching in Beijing, working with students in the Beijing Spring Valley teacher training (on a biodynamic farm in the mountains west of the city). We looked at the development of the human being from the perspective of language, the power of naming, drama, and inner work and meditation. I also directed a group of people – youth and adults – producing a translation of the play “Joseph and His Brothers” by Colin Young (as a shadow play) and some scenes from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (in English), which all performed at a cultural evening. Then a tragedy in the community forced the budding Waldorf School and training to close down all operations until it was clear that this “unofficial” community could continue. I have been invited back in late December to continue some of the work we were not able to finish in August.
In Guangzhou, near Hong Kong in Southern China, I was invited by a cultural center to offer a 3-day intensive workshop on Drama as a Path of Inner Development or Drama as a Healing Art. This workshop attracted professional actors, dancers, therapists, and teachers. We looked at gesture and movement and play as a means for understanding how life moves and expresses itself in us, and how we might more consciously connect to this creative life in us.
In Guangzhou I also visited the Waldorf School that was started in a factory, for the children of the factory’s employees. The owner of the factory gave me a tour of two of his main facilities (which make kits for cross-stitching), with its assembly lines, and impressive employee dining area and employee housing. He was very proud to share how well provided for his employees were. “If any of the workers needs medical attention, they pay the first $10 of that cost, and the company pays the rest, for example.” The young school is a beautiful island in the middle of the large and welcoming factory complex, with a hall and a stage.
Taichung, Western Taiwan
Then I flew to Taiwan. In Taichung I worked with over 30 Kindergarten teachers for two days on drama and storytelling in Kindergarten. This group of mostly women reminded me how beautifully Kindergarten teachers are able to hold a space – their ability to be aware of everyone in a room. They showed the same openness and joy that can be seen in their children.
Last year some friends asked me to offer a part-time drama training. So this year we explored the beginning of this possibility through an introductory four-day intensive in Taichung. Twelve people – actors, young people, teachers, and people interested in developing themselves through the art of drama – came together to work on speech, movement, improvisation, ensemble work, gesture, and other elements of drama. We plan to continue this work next year.
Yun Lin, Southern Taiwan
In Taiwan the population is declining and the government has created incentives for people to have children (such as offering money). (This seems ironic considering that China has the one-child policy because of their large population, and that Taiwan, at least in the eyes of China, is a Republic of China.) Schools are getting smaller. In Yun Lin, the county Governor, responding to her shrinking school population and recognizing the success of Waldorf Education, transformed one public school (grades 1-12) in the mountains into a public Waldorf School within a few months last year. This drew students and parents from all over Taiwan looking for alternative education models and, in the case of more than a few: looking for a Waldorf School. Now this school, barely a year later, has grown from less than 20 students to over 200. Many people have moved their families to the area so their children can attend the school.
A week before school started I worked with the teachers at the school for two intensive days, deepening their artistic presence for the classroom and giving talks on child development and the drama curriculum in Waldorf Education. However, much of our work together was ensemble or “team” building for this new and young community of teachers. The next day I began three days with a group of students from grades 7-11 who chose to start school three days early to participate in a drama workshop together. Five different groups from this workshop performed stories for the opening day of school. The palpable sense of anticipation in the face of so much unknown and so much newness practically buzzed in the air (along with the cicadas). After weeks of preparation, painting rooms and moving furniture and supplies, suddenly these pioneering students, teachers, and many parents were sitting in a room together on the first day of school. I was asked to give a talk after the students performed their stories and some improv, and I could feel a room full of wonder and hope for their great odyssey together.
Ren Mei, Western Taiwan
The Ren Mei public school, according to one teacher, used to have 44 classes of 50 students each. It was one of the largest in Taiwan. Now the large school complex with its statue of Chiang Kai-shek (the founder and long-time leader of Taiwan) greeting you at its gate has a fraction of the population it once had. With all the extra room, the school is in a good position to develop a Waldorf School alongside its normal public school. Both schools share the same principal and the same facilities, but many of the Waldorf rooms look like Waldorf rooms, including two eurythmy rooms, and the students in the other wing wear uniforms. The Waldorf School has its own school manager and the teachers are striving toward Waldorf Education. The public Waldorf school now has over 200 students with classes 1-9.
I worked with this community for two weeks, giving workshops and classes for grades 4-9, and workshops and talks for teachers and parents, including a 2-day weekend workshop open to the public. With class 9 I directed their class play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Once again I saw the power of Shakespeare’s work transform a group of disparate interest and abilities into an ensemble of players sharing the life they were finding in a Shakespeare play.
On another note: Waldorf Education has become so popular in Taiwan that it is possible to study it at a public university near Ren Mei.
Yilan, Eastern Taiwan
In Yilan, Cixin, the largest and most established (public) Waldorf School in Taiwan (15 years old), has grades 1-11, with three classes each of grades one and two, and two classes each of grades 3-9, and a long waiting list of interested families. Its beautiful campus at the foot of a nearby mountain range has a large, new theater. Most of my time was spent in this spacious new building.
I have been working with students and teachers in Cixin for three years and it is a joy to keep growing with them, each year taking new steps together. This year I worked in the teacher training (which has 160 students) and with both class nines, and with the class 10 (with 35 students) on ensemble and drama skills. Class 10 dramatized stories which they presented on our last day. I also began preparing and directing class 11 in their class play: West Side Story (in English!). The 13 days at Cixin also included a 2-day weekend workshop open to the public and daily workshops with the faculty. The teachers, in addition to our art of teaching work together, also prepared some stories which they dramatized on our last day together.
The Kyotanabe Waldorf School is a well-established school with grades 1-12. The morning I arrived they had an assembly to welcome me and a new administrator to the school. Some classes also reported on their recent trips. I was moved by the atmosphere and the substance around and between the people at the school; the way they listened to each other, and the respect and appreciation they showed. I worked with class 11 on basic drama skills, spent time with classes 1, 6, and 8, and gave a talk and a workshop with the teachers, focusing on directing plays with young people.
At one Waldorf School in the city I worked with classes 9 and 12 and at another school in the mountains I gave a talk and weekend workshop to teachers from three different Waldorf Schools before travelling back to the US.
View the Report from Asia Photo Gallery
Visit Walking the dog Theater in Asia on Flickr