dAnCe & drAmA! Robin Hood of Mabira Forest starts TOMORROW

You'd never know it by the looks of this blog, but almost all I seem to be doing is writing lately...

I've been trying to write briefings for various people on various issues with regard to the organizations I've just retired from. The thoughts spill out until I think I've explained something thoroughly, then I read it the next day and see that there's just too much information to be useful. So after a week of garbledy-gook I finally managed to get an email out today that broke about 25 pages of thought into 4 main points. Don't know yet if I've they were understandable by all of the parties concerned, but it's a relief to have at least piled up all the scattered thoughts and cleared my mental desk of them for a while. Especially since tomorrow night is opening night!

Yes - in between the typing and pacing there has also been singing and dancing, in preparation for the Holiday Pantomime play that's put on each year at the National Theatre by the Kampala Amateurs Dramatics Society. It's always a very silly show with men playing women's parts and women in men's roles, candy thrown to kids in the audience, pie in the face to a well known personage in the audience, and lots of jokes about local happenings written into a spoofy script.

This year, it's Robin Hood of Mabira Forest. The Mabira Rainforest became a hot political topic in Uganda this year when local sugar barons wanted to cut it down to plant more sugarcane. The sugar barons are of Indian decent, so when the environmentalists brought the problem to light some racial tensions in the Ugandan population got out of hand for the first time in a long time. Luckily that part of the conflict simmered down as soon as it erupted, but not before 2 innocent people (both of Indian decent) died at the hands of angry crowds. Eventually the sugar barons were defeated, and Mabira Forest won't be cut down. (By the way, I've written about Mabira Forest before - we stayed in that amazing rainforest lodge there after our horseriding adventure along the Nile.)

In our play, Robin Hood and his "Merry Women" live in Mabira Forest, where they steal from the rich sugar barons to give to the poor people of Kampalaham, like me and my children (who play one of 2 poor families in the show). I play Mama Wine, and my youngest kid is named Bobi... here in Uganda Bobi Wine is a very popular local musician. He wears a t-shirt wih "Ghetto President" on the front, lots of bling and an oversized cap - my Lucas, who has lately decided to become a hip-hop king even offstage - is totally in his element in the Bobi Wine role.

The other mama and I share the lead vocals on a rewrite of the old Katrina and the Waves song Walking on Sunshine, and Lucas gets to have a breakdance spotlight during part of it. TWICE! (in both the opening and closing scenes) . The kids are so sick of it they don't want to ever hear the song again, but it's always been one of my old favorites so I'll probably keep it shuffling in my mp3 collection even after this over. (It was popular in clubs when I was 18 years old and lived in Finland as an exchange student... a certain friend of mine there also loved it, so we always boogied together whenever it came on.) Learning to sing it well has been quite the ordeal (!!), but I think we've got it now and plan to have lots of fun with it onstage. The woman who plays the other mama is loads of fun to work with.

Christina (N's 16 year old niece who also lives with us) inherited a couple of new lines TODAY (on the night of the final dress rehearsal) when it became clear yesterday that our Robin Hood was just not getting it, and got kicked off of the cast! So a girl Christina's age who was playing the 3rd child in the other poor family has jumped into the lead role at the 11th hour. The rest of the cast is completely relieved and rejuvenated at this last minute change, risky as it might sound. We're all excited about performing again, which made a huge difference in tonight's mostly great dress rehearsal. Christina absorbed some of the other girl's lines in the kids' scenes and did just a great job. There's a song she gets to do with Maid Marion that's just darling.

They say you're not supposed to wish cast members luck but say "break a leg" instead. Today my third child in the play, Thomas, quite literally broke his leg. OK well it's not broken, but his knee got injured at school and he's now limping and with an ace bandage on it. Nothing a costume can't hide, but it's hard to find time to get him to the doctor right away. We've identified a window of opportunity during his PE class on Friday, and decided he won't be break-dancing with his brother in the play after all. Which might be for the best, as they were still having a few synchronicity issues yesterday. The good thing is, the bad leg didn't keep him from being able to throw the pie tonight!

So - we've already broken a leg, and there's lots of drama within the drama, but we're still walking on sunshine and ready to get started with the 8 show run! My very hardest challenge with this fun family undertaking has been orchestrating FOOD - rehearsals are right at dinner time, so we have to take our meals with us. And since I'm taking dinner for me and 3 teenagers (and I'm really worried that they aren't eating well enough) guess who everyone else in the cast comes to if they are hungry?! I don't mind sharing actually - it's fun to play the mama role to the rest of the cast offstage. Makes me feel useful, even if my voice still cracks on that one line in the song.... I'm thinking tomorrow might deserve a cake or something. Hmmm, though I doubt that will do our singing voices any good. Maybe some sliced mangoes for everyone instead?

I haven't done something like this since my early high school years. It's been interesting and fun to do together with the kids - we've learned a lot together about theatre and how it all works behind the scenes. Not sure I'll do it again right away, but maybe I'll feel differently afterwards.

N. will be in tomorrow's audience, by the way, so I'll try to get him to take some pictures.

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