Theatre creates magic for students, community

Russian play was a big hit

The erosion of tradition. The breakup of families. The destruction of an ancient, longstanding community. Passionate politics. Music that captures the soul. The struggle to make ends meet. Just another day in the Marshall Islands? No, this is the 1905 village of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia and the story that gripped Majuro audiences was the latest play directed by Professor Andrew Garrod of Dartmouth College and Youth Bridge Global, “Fiddler on the Roof.” The stage production involved over 40 actors mostly from Majuro high schools, playing to thousands over five nights in early March. The many obvious and subtle parallels with modern-day Marshall Islands gave Fiddler extra meaning to Marshall Islands audiences. With the exception of the songs, which were sung in their original English, all dialogue was in Marshallese language.

This was the tenth play Garrod has directed in Majuro since 2004 — eight have been Shakespeare plays and last year’s and this year’s musicals — and possibly the last as Dartmouth College is ending its 15-year sponsorship of a very successful volunteer teaching programme in the Marshalls. Dartmouth, under Garrod’s leadership, began bringing a group of seven-to-ten Dartmouth students to Majuro for a ten-week teaching programme, allowing them to get real-world experience under the guidance of experienced local teachers.

Enthusiasm for the undergraduate programme generated a spinoff program of Dartmouth graduates being hired by the Ministry of Education to staff local elementary and high schools since the early 2000s. Garrod launched his first Shakespeare production in 2004 in an environment where just about no one had a clue what he was up to. “The students had never seen or been in a play,” he said. They didn’t have a clue what it took to make it happen and this meant Garrod was challenged to keep their attention at the daily practices. “I had to station a Dartmouth football player at the door to prevent the students from leaving the rehearsals.” That first year was an eye-opener for the performers as well as the audiences, building momentum for the plays that have become a much-anticipated community event in March.

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