Thailand 2016 – Weeks Three & Four

February 9, 2016

Interact Thailand for the weeks of January 24-February 5, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)








Sun is smiling for The Dream Keeper photo shoot

On Sunday – week three – the sun finally came out, but everyone still wore four or five layers of clothing. I was in shorts and a t-shirt of course. There was a significant fear that I would get sick. Well…I didn’t get sick, but everyone else did. As week three went on, the number of student performers and staff dwindled until Friday when there were only about five of us here. Luckily, the plague seemed to pass over the weekend and everyone was back in action the following Monday.


Photo shoot for The Dream Keeper

Throughout weeks three and four, we completed several songs including a fantasy song based on the question: If I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? There were many ideas including stretching like a rubber band into the sky, racing a turbo bike around Mars and eating at restaurants in every city in the world. We took all the ideas and combined them into a story about a little girl who turns into a balloon, takes a turbo bike into the stars and then plays badminton with a moon-rabbit. It’s a radical adventure and I’ve included the words for the song below.



Photo shoot at Chiang Mai University.

On Wednesday, the students enjoyed a costumed photo shoot at Chiang Mai University. The weather was perfect and it shows in the photos. The light really grabs the luk thung-inspired color scheme.


We were also joined by several energetic new performers including Milk, Guitar, Bo, Mark and Sangtong. It was nice to add some new perspectives to the song-writing process.

2016-02-05 11.03.11

The performers rehearse The Baker’s Song with music director Pong

Director Gaew supplied us with lyrics and the new students composed a song about the joys of baking. We also community-composed a new song about going to college, finding love and finally getting a job that made “real money”.



2016-02-02 16.34.03

Newt shows some of the clay creations

Newt works in the Visual Arts area of the RICD Music and Drama.  (I have to apologize here.  I’ve been remiss in featuring the visual art staff at RICD and since half of Interact Center in Minnesota is visual art, I think it’s about time.)

Newt has been working at RICD for a little over a year. She studied at Rajabhat University in Chiang Mai and has degree in Art Education.

Newt wasn’t planning on working with people with disabilities. She assumed she would take a typical teacher track and be assigned to an elementary school, but one of her professors recommended that she intern at RICD.

“At first,” Newt confessed, “I admit I had NO idea what I was doing.  I didn’t understand disability at all.

2016-02-02 14.04.29“So I thought I’d stay at RICD for a little bit to bolster my resume. Time passed and my advisors were continually complimenting me on my work and the progress the students were making. The parents kept bring their students back to my tutorials and they added more students to my roster. Finally, I recognized this was something I was good at because I loved what I was doing.

“When I started, there were certain students I was afraid to work with – they appeared to be uncontrollable or aggressive. It turns out – because I’m patient and always consider long-term goals – I’m good with the most challenging students so now I look forward to getting to know them.”


Meet Aomsin II and Jamesbond.

2016-02-01 11.08.21

Aomsin II and Jamesbond create melodies for the song ‘Badminton on the Moon.’

Aomsin II loves singing and all forms of music-making. Someday he would like to have his own album, but more than that he would like to play drums by himself all day in his room.

Aomsin II is a huge fan of the show Kom Faek.  He would love to play the lead character Saen because “he’s attractive and a good martial artist.”

Jamesbond has always loved watching performers and, at 32, is excited to finally try performing himself. He has always dreamed of writing songs like the Thai singer James Ruengsak so he’s excited to try the community song-writing exercises.

When he’s not song-writing, Jamesbond is at the races – motorcycle races to be exact. His father works at a car and motorcycle dealership so many of Jamebond’s lyrics revolve around vehicles.


On Saturday, I cooked a meal for May’s Mom. May is my collaborator Pong’s wife. May Mom (which is how I know her) is a great chef and makes time for a cooking lesson every time I’m here. This years cooking lesson included tam makua – grilled eggplant mash with shrimp paste, grilled peppers, mint and boiled egg.  (I’ve included the recipe below.)

File Aug 25, 1 19 32 PM

Making biryani in India

For May Mom, I decided to cook a masala I’ve prepared regularly since I was in India. I brought the spice blend from Kerela where my Indian cooking teacher Linda “Chechy” Nicko hand-selected, mixed and ground them together. If you’ve haven’t been lucky enough to taste this mix, it’s perfection. Every time I taste this masala, I am reminded how fortunate I am to have such profound international experiences.

Throughout the day, I discovered that more and more people were coming to eat so it was exciting trying to estimate how much I would need to feed everyone. (I failed to get enough coconut milk even though I bought a huge bag.) To my surprise, I felt very comfortable with the backyard wok, the ingredients and cooking in front of an audience.

2016-01-30 21.05.27

Linda’s masala at Pong and May’s

The food turned out really well and everyone complimented me by finishing their plates and eating their fill.  May Mom doesn’t eat at night so we saved her a healthy serving for breakfast.

Somehow between 11pm when we departed and morning when May Mom awoke, her masala was eaten by several ravenous individuals who will remain unnamed. Monday at RICD Pong told me the story and said: “This morning May Mom did that thing – what’s it called in English… you know, that thing just below yelling.”

“Shouting?” I said.

2016-01-27 21.48.43

One-year-old Please (Pong and May’s daughter) HOW AMAZING IS SHE???

“Yes. That’s it. This morning May Mom shout very loud,” Pong said.

Sorry, May Mom!  I promise to return to Thailand and rectify this injustice.

Tam Makua (Grilled eggplant mash)

3 Chinese eggplant (long, thin eggplant) – grilled, then peeled

1 clove garlic – roasted then peeled

3 shallots – peeled then grilled

¼ cup capi (shrimp paste) – grilled in banana leaf or foil

4-6 long hot green peppers (like Anaheim) – grilled, then peeled


4 Tbsp Fish sauce

2 eggs (boiled)

Fresh mint

Mash together grilled garlic, shallots and shrimp paste. Once blended, add peppers and continue to mash. Then add eggplant and mash until desired consistency. Add salt to taste. Plate the mash, the quarter the eggs and add as garnish along with sprigs of mint. Serve with sticky rice.


I can not think of enough exclamations to describe the culinary adventure that was the Friday Night Muslim Market in Chiang Rai. Every single sample was bursting with flavor and pristinely presented. Several of the standard dishes like noodle soup or Burmese hushpuppies I had enjoyed elsewhere, but this small street of cooks achieved a whole new level of culinary delight. The piece de resistance was the fried sour rice salad with sour beef, green mango and betel leaf. After the meal, we spent an hour trying to figure out if I could go back before my flight the following Friday night at 9pm. Thank you Pong and May for always introducing me to the most exciting food experiences Chiang Mai has to offer.

2016-02-04 17.48.28

Century Egg Som Tum

2016-01-29 19.28.50

Thai Noodle Bowl

2016-01-29 19.54.19-2

Sour rice salad with sour beef, betel leaf and green mango

2016-01-29 20.17.59

Thai grilled steak

2016-01-29 20.29.35-2

Burmese hushpuppy



When I float to the moon

No one notices me

My body stretches out like a balloon


I glide over houses and skyscrapers

Then my magic turbo bike appears

I grip the handlebars and sail through the stars in top gear


We land on the moon and I take my first moon-step

Everything glows in the earthlight


In the moon-dust I see a hundred of tiny pawprints

Zigging and zagging everywhere

Leading to the feet of the Moon Rabbit


In his front paws he holds a mortar and pestle

Containing purple rice powder

“If you eat this, you live forever.

Want to try?”


“’I’m not sure,” I say.

“I would rather play badminton.”


“Will you teach me, please?” he says

Setting down the mortar.


“Sure,” I reply. “But my swing is slow

On earth I always lose.”


“Don’t you know,” said Moon Rabbit

On the moon slow is fast. Fast is slow.

Here, you can move how you choose.”


“Also, I have only one racquet,” I say.

“We need two to play.

I’d offer you mine, but what will I use?”


“This will work fine,” he says,

Pestle in hand. “Please, serve.”


And so I serve.


Badminton on the moon

Is a wonderful time

No winners or losers

Only the joy of the game


“Can we play forever?” Moon Rabbit asks.

I reply: “That would be so much fun.”


“But my family will miss me too much.

And I failed to tell them where I’ve gone.

I will return. I promise you that.

Moon-minton is my new favorite game.”


“No, you will forget me. I know you will.

Forget me like everyone else has.”


“How could I?” I ask and pack up my bag.

“Every night when I look up, I will see you.”















Thailand 2016 – Week Two

January 25, 2016

Interact Thailand for the week of January 17-23, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)







Learning Dream Keeper Theme

The staff teaches the melody for the Dream Keeper theme.

This week in Chiang Mai the weather swung from 98 degrees on Saturday to 49 degrees on Sunday night.  Everyone put on layers of sweaters and couldn’t stop talking about how it snowed in Laos. I kept silent, considering my friends back home in MN.

This week also included writing a new song for The Dream Keeper, hiking up a mountain and welcoming Ryan Evans (and friends) from the Wilder Foundation. The Wilder Foundation will be working with Interact Theater in MN this coming year on a variety of agency strategies and other related projects including the translation of the project summaries from Thailand.

On Wednesday, my translator DJ and I took Ryan and his friends for a three-mile hike to the top of Doi Suthep to enjoy Wat Phra That Doi. The hilly terrain was challenging, but ultimately worth every step. The weather was heavenly – sunny and cool.

On Friday, Ryan and Co. visited RICD where the staff provided them with a generous array of Northern Thai foods including keaw gi (roasted sticky rice), ho nin gai (chicken “stew” steamed in banana leaf) and sai ooa (Northern Thia sausage). Breakfast was followed by a tour of the piano building and some shopping at the Mae Rim street market. In the afternoon, Pong and Tan taught them a part of The Dream Keeper theme in Thai and that evening we all enjoyed a traditional kantok dinner.  Everyone was very grateful they took the time to visit and explore the programs offered by RICD Drama and Music.


2016-01-21 14.17.31

Fluke and Gaew

Gaew is the newest member of the RICD staff and will be directing The Dream Keeper.  Originally from Bangkok, she earned a degree in Mass Communications from Kasesart University.  Her love of theater began at Kasesart where, each year, her department put on an original large-scale theatrical production. Over her four years, she performed a variety of roles and eventually began directing. In her final year she worked at a television station as an assistant director, but decided she preferred the theater.

After university, she became a company member at Moradokmai Theater in Bangkok. Moradokmai is a Buddhist theater focussed on social action. It’s director, Khru Chang, is a well-known Thai theater-maker who uses both traditional Thai and non-traditional forms to create original work – often used in educational environments to illuminate marginalized rural perspectives. Gaew’s experience with Khru Chang helped her “study how theater can change people’s behavior – in the actor and the audience.”

2016-01-25 09.40.21

Gaew leads a physical warm-up

When asked about her new role at RICD, she responded “I’m very excited use the skills I’ve learned to help a disadvantaged group of people gain the ability to better communicate their stories.  I have taught theater to typical actors for a long time and see the opportunity to work with disabled performers as the ideal challenge.”



Progress continues to be made every day. Like in the U.S., all the staff artists have several jobs so I a lot remains in flux. Admittedly, there are times I get confused as to whom I should be collaborating with, but it all works out in the end. I have found it’s best to always have a back-up plan so if everyone has suddenly gone missing, I can work on Plan B.


The Dream Keeper gives a dream

In The Dream Keeper, a magical spirit called visits young people who are struggling to figure out what dreams mean and why they are important. Each person’s case is different: sometimes he gives dreams, sometimes he takes dreams away, sometimes he explains what a dream means and sometimes he creates confusion.

This week we worked on a section of the show where a young man with cerebral palsy struggles with his dream of being a musician.  He loves the sounds of the trumpet and guitar and piano, but his muscles won’t allow him to play an instrument.  The situation is made worse by the fact that his father is a famous conductor and is disappointed with his disabled son.


The Dream Keeper takes dreams away

When the Dream Keeper visits, he tells the young man that the answer is “right in front of his face” but then the Dream Keeper disappears.  With this information, the students, staff and I composed a fun song in which the young man interacts with an orchestra – almost like his conductor father would.  In the end, the young man remains frustrated that the Dream Keeper didn’t fully answer his question and decides to go on a quest for the answer.

2016-01-16 12.48.49OTHER ADVENTURES

Last Saturday I returned to Dulabhatorn Foundation where I lead a community-driven song creation session. The students chose to write a song about dancing. We only had an hour-and-a-half, but they reached their goal with enthusiasm. The Dulabhatorn staff then wrote some fun guitar chords and the students were able to dance and sing their way out the door. You can listen Dancing Kids by clicking here.


The staff mentioned they thought the song would be perfect as an anthem for their summer camp program starting in March, but I challenged them to keep writing and refining. A lot of the melodies they used were from modern pop songs or well-known folk songs – which is fine – but I challenged the staff to help the students write songs exploring their own melodies and styles. If only we had more time! Hopefully, they feel empowered to experiment more with some community-driven techniques.


Of course, more delicious food was et this week including some of my old favorites. The food at the kantok dinner was excellent and, because the owner was muslim, we ate things like naem gai (sour chicken) instead of naem moo (sour pork). Maem gai was equally good in my opinion although couldn’t help but wonder what my American friends would think of raw chicken left out to ferment for three days. One of my favorite discoveries of this trip is that they now have sour pork with the chilies and ginger available at the Seven-Eleven up the street.

2016-01-13 09.14.47

Northern Thai sausage


Naem moo (sour pork)

2016-01-21 12.43.16

Thaiyai noodles with cabbage, tomato sauce and fried tofu

2016-01-20 17.04.13

Fried and marinated pork in spicy sauce

Thailand 2016 – Week One

January 17, 2016

Interact Thailand for the week of January 10-16, 2016.  

A weekly update of the international collaboration between composer Aaron Gabriel (Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and the artists at Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development (RICD) as they create new musical theater in the spirit of radical inclusion.

The famous piano building at Rajanagarindra Institute for Child Development (RICD)








The pagoda and temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Saturday night, after a smooth 32-hour journey, I was welcomed back to the verdant hills of Northern Thailand. As we exited the plane, many Thai passengers stopped in the glass walkway and paid their respects to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the golden temple high on the hillside that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai.

I was greeted by my colleagues Mr. Ronasingha and Pong. As soon as I stepped outside, I paused to enjoy a huge draught of mild tropical air – an indulgent treat considering everyone back home in Minnesota was suffering through sub-zero wind chills.

Pong and Mr. Ronasingha then delivered me to my accommodations for the month – the new hotel at RICD hospital. People travel from across Southeast Asia to benefit from RICD’s modern technologies and holistic approach to disability therapy. The very comfortable RICD Hotel offers the families of young patients a convenient place to stay during treatment.

The Love Show Thai:English

The poster from last year’s The Love Show

For the past six years, RICD Music and Drama and Interact have collaborated on ways radical inclusion and community-driven theater can creatively engage the people of Chiang Mai (and beyond) with the disability community. I have had the privilege of helping create music for the past two shows and this year am overseeing the staff while they create the music themselves. It has been thrilling to watch this program blossom, mature and become more self-sustaining. Past shows include Wake-up and Dream, Searching for Sanook, The Song of Songkran and last years very successful The Love Show. (NOTE: You can read about our experience creating The Love Show in my 2015 Thailand blog.)

2016-01-14 10.53.58

Dance auditions


Radical inclusion  invites people with and without disabilities to create art side-by-side. It does not ask to make disability invisible, rather it focuses on the inherent talents of every individual and believes the sharing of those talents contribute to a deeper understanding of the world around us. Interact Theater has been a pioneer in this field and 2016 marks its 20th year “creating art that challenged perceptions of disability.”

Community-driven theater leads with the idea that everyone has a story to share, but not everyone has the opportunity, experience or resources to share that story. The participants help shape how their story is told – through songs, scenes or movement – and can choose to perform the work themselves or have others perform it for them.

This year’s show The Dream Keeper follows a mystical “sandman”-esque figure who lives inside people’s dreams. The show poses the question: will the dream keeper help the dreamers achieve their dreams or will they have to do it themselves? The story will be told in the Luk Thung style – a very colorful, highly romantic Thai musical form popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. (Click here or the link under the audition notice to listen.)

I was truly thrilled to see that team at RICD had completely laid the groundwork prior to my arrival. The concept and theme were decided, audition notices were posted, a new director for the performance had been appointed and the staff was busy making a production calendar. When I expressed my excitement to Mr. Ronasingha, he said: “I listen carefully and do little things one step-at-a-time.”

2016-01-14 09.30.53

The mighty production calendar –  a mighty achievement!

Any fledgling arts organization must dedicate a lot of time to arts advocacy: convincing donors, administrators, government officials and community members why the creation of art is important and how it benefits the community. And we need to do this while continuing to create the art that needs to be validated. It’s exhausting, but the staff at RICD (led by Mr. Ronasingha) has risen to the challenge.



Fluke and his brother Film singing at a rally for mental illness awareness

This week’s auditions were very moving. The performers who have been with the program for several years showed distinct improvements.  One of my favorite personalities, Fluke (who has cerebral palsy) is now walking up steps, sitting up in his chair without the support of his elbows and – for my musical friends out there – is able to easily sing a four-bar phase without sneaking breaths. Thanks to the continued work of his parents and the RICD staff, his diaphragm and lungs (which have been weakened and compressed from years in a wheelchair) are finally able to support his rich beautiful singing voice.

2016-01-14 10.24.45

A group of friends audition together. #safetyinnumbers

There were many new (and precocious) personalities as well.  A number of students had spent considerable time preparing material for their auditions. There was doo-wop, interpretive movement, breakdancing, rapping and more.

NOTE:  No one who auditions is turned away from a community-driven program. The “auditions” are more a chance to observe a person’s general comfort or willingness to perform. There are several people who expressed interest in being involved, but asked not to be performers.


2016-01-11 18.07.43

Click here to watch Amazing Mona’s inspiring audition.

I was particularly moved by one young girl named Mona. At first, she appeared too anxious to perform, but then she opened her mouth and produced a huge ROAR. She then proceeded to show us some pretty sophisticated dance moves. Mona doesn’t have a disability but auditioned because she wants to “be to perform with other fun and talented people” – the very spirit of radical inclusion. Perhaps the most inspiring thing is that Mona came to audition even though, last week, her dad died from a motorcycle accident. What a role model!

This week I lead the RICD production team in a song-writing workshop where they learned a variety of techniques to help the participants write their own songs.  The staff were asked about their own personal dreams and then challenged to write poetry, melodies and musical accompaniments.  Once completed, their song will become the theme song/finale for the show.  We had a lot of fun and ended the song with a challenge to the audience:  What are you doing to achieve YOUR dreams?

2016-01-16 12.48.49On Saturday I visited Dulabhatorn – a center for disadvantaged and disabled youth about 30 minutes outside Chiang Mai. Here they offer activities in performing and visual arts, martial arts, farming and eco-sciences.

Dulabhatorn reminded me so much of visiting Siddhartha Central School in Kollam, India last fall. In my opinion, the focus on the arts, sciences, sustainability and community should be a model for schools around the world.

Hopefully, next weekend I will be able to do a small song-writing workshop with the young people there as well.


As usual, I had the time of my life trying all the amazing food my Thai colleagues offered. By now, they are fully aware of my adventurous palate and generously prepare food, buy samples of interesting local delicacies or take me to exciting restuarants. This week we ventured out to have khanom chin – special fermented rice noodles that you can top with a buffet of fresh or pickled vegetables, nuts and curried sauces.  It was spectacular.  This trend needs to make its way to the Twin Cities tout de suite.

2016-01-10 15.07.24

Raw corn and green papaya salad

2016-01-13 09.14.09

Spicy pork skin

2016-01-13 09.14.29

Curried pork “terrine”

2016-01-13 13.47.33

Khanom chin

2016-01-10 19.07.36

Kaew Soi

2016-01-13 09.23.59

Spicy Thai eggplant spread




INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

August 24, 2015

INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

Roughly 70% of the earths surface is covered in water. 96.5% of that is salt water (undrinkable). Of the 2.6% that is drink-able (mostly stored in underground aquifers, glaciers and polar ice-caps) 02% is in rivers, lakes and streams and – depending on where you live – 90% of that .02 percent is polluted or contaminated. 750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. 

In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.  

The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum ( Most major world leaders, scientists and scholars believe that World War III will be fought drinking water – a basic human need.

File Aug 23, 10 50 02 AM

One of our collaborators, Beth, and the workshop participants at Sacred Heart College











[NOTE: For more information about the Water Cyphers project, the collaborators or Folded Paper Dance and Theater, please see below.]


File Aug 18, 10 01 16 AM

The Poster from Sacred Heart College.  CLICK HERE to listen to “Let It Flow” – from Water Cyphers.

This week we traveled back to Kochi to conduct workshops at collaborator Sen’s alma mater, Sacred Heart College.  Again, we worked with the students to gather and share water stories, help them create several movement and music pieces and integrate some individuals into our piece, River to River.

On Friday night, August 21, the students performed their water creations and we performed River to River (with the students).  On Saturday, August 22, the students did a public sharing of a separate piece called Water Cyphers which included a game they created with our director, Kanta. We performed our second piece called The River is a Line and between the two performances, Sacred Heart College conducted a round table discussion with several local water experts.

File Aug 23, 10 49 39 AM

The students perform one of their water stories at Sacred Heart College

The morning of the Saturday performance, Kanta asked me and the student musicians if we could create or improvise some music during Water Cyphers.  One of the students, Aravint, had a song he composed and gave us permission to work as a group and adapt it for the show.  We called it “Let it Flow” and it is very catchy and unifying – a lot like a campfire song. If you click here or the “Water in Kerala” Poster, you can listen to it!

TELLING YOUR WATER STORY: The Kerala Folklore Museum

File Aug 21, 2 56 18 PM

A large wooden dragon sculpture (unlabeled)

On Wednesdays, the American collaborators had the opportunity to explore the Kerala Folklore Museum whose mission is “to promote and preserve the culture & heritage of South India.” The museum houses thousands of masks, elaborate tanjore glass paintings, ornate musical instruments, statues, carvings, pottery, even beautifully crafted hand-tools for making the art itself. The museum is also home to a 17th C. wooden theater that hosts a variety of traditional and ritual folk performances like Theyyam, Kathakali, Ottanthullal and Mohiniyattam Kanjadalam.  

The following is my own personal reflection on that experience.

As I walk through the museum, I am inspired by the handiwork of thousands of artists and artisans and- as with any museum – I become easily overwhelmed. There is so much to absorb and I can’t help but contemplate my impact as an artist or the impact of our water project here in Kerala.

What is my place in all of this? What far-reaching effects might this project create? Is it merely a drop in the proverbial bucket?
I am drawn to the depiction of a flower on one of the enormous hand-carved doorways displayed in the Main Hall. I find the intricate, delicate craftsmanship calming and reassuring. It catches my attention and won’t let go. I even walk away and am compelled to return to it.

Why? After all, the carving is not its own piece. It’s a decoration. A small part of a larger piece of artwork. Right? Am I ignoring the big picture?

I look closer.

File Aug 21, 2 55 36 PMI notice the simplicity of the flower – concentric circles radiating outward from a single source. The circles flow for a brief moment and then end at the border carved around them.  I can feel my eyebrow furrow.  Suddenly this carving I found so calming is challenging me.

Is this sense of borders, of barriers, true for me?  For the project?  Is our drop in the bucket limited by the bucket itself?

Then I think of the students we are working with on this project. Like the artists and artisans whose work is displayed in the Kerala Folklore Museum, I am inspired and provoked by the students and community members with whom we collaborated. The students at Amritapuri and Sacred Heart are not studying performance necessarily–they are studying biotechnology, mechanical engineering and medicine.  Their lives have the potential to change the world in so many ways.  So, when we share our water stories with each other, we release multiple drops of water.  And not in a bucket, but in an ocean where the circles are allowed to repeat endlessly, intermingle and stimulate change in all directions.

The principal of Sacred Heart College, Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil challenged the students by asking: Dance, theater, music and the arts help you to have a creative mind.  What will you do with your creative mind?  How will your creative mind find solutions to our water problem?

One of the main goals of this project is to form bridges between our subject – water – and everything that relies on it.  By listening to and telling water stories we create awareness and through awareness we can find the most far-reaching, equitable solutions. So, when you ask the question: “What is your water story?”, it starts a ripple effect that only ends when the question stops being asked.  It makes us aware of where our water comes from, our reliance on it, and our future relationship with it.

What is YOUR water story?  

Why don’t you ask someone this week?


File Aug 23, 10 47 03 AM

Sreekesh stands in front of a mural featuring the great Indian leaders, Nehru, and Naidu.

This week I asked Sacred Heart student Sreekesh Kumar to tell his water story.  Sreekesh was fundamental in helping making this workshop a success and according to his teachers “showed great dedication and was actively involved from beginning to end.”

“I want to tell you about the origin of Ganga (the Ganges).  According to Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Himavat (Himalaya) and her sister is Parvati, the wife of Shiva.  Ganga had a great affection for Shiva, but could do nothing about it because Shiva was married to her sister Parvati.

“It is said that the People were praying for Ganga to bring her waters to Earth and so Shiva ordered her to oblige them. Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to rush from Heaven to Earth in a torrent and wash away the people with a great flood. In his benevolence, Shiva decided to spare the people and break her fall.

“Shiva placed his head in her way and calmly trapped her in his hair which fell to earth in the form of rivers and streams.  The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga’s waters. These streams remain on earth as a link heaven and the underworld. The streams remain on Earth to help purify the souls of the people.

“This is why we go to the Ganga. Because she purifies us and helps us and our ancestors find the way to Heaven. But now the river is sick and we are asked not to go there because it will make us sick. If we want things to change and save Ganga, we need to be that change.”

Thank you, Sreekesh!

Hindu scriptures say that when the Ganga finally dries up, it will end the Era of Darkness (the current era) and begin the Era of Truth.


File Aug 23, 10 46 30 AM

Rag, Sen and Jebin (far right) perform a scene in The River is a Line

Jebin JB is a freelance theater director and actor currently working on his Phd at Calicut University. He helped create the film sequences for our performance and created a short play for the piece The River is a Line. Jebin’s creative focus is on the environment and social justice issues.

“There are many water stories that I have in my life, but one that sticks out regards the Mullaperiyar Damn. Built in 1895, the damn was made from rubble and lime stone and designed to last only 50 years. It’s purpose was to redirect water from the state of Kerala to the state of Tamil Nadu. Because of an age-old agreement between two states and the Indian government, the responsibility for maintenance and reconstruction has been fraught with controversy and red tape.

“The damn is now 115 years old (65 years older than recommended) and in disrepair. It would not survive an earthquake of more than 6.0 magnitude. There are holes in the damn that are leaking water. There is breakage to the overall infrastructure and the maintenance on the damn has been shoddy. It’s like trying to hold water in a glass with a piece of bread.

Mullaperiyar Damn

“Everyone who lives around the damn lives in fear of the damn collapsing. In fact, most of Kerala worries about the health of the damn. If the damn breaks, 70% of Kerala will be under water – that’s 3.5 million people!

“Last year, I had an opportunity to perform a site-specific street theater piece for the people who live in the communities around the damn. Hundreds of people from the area attended the event. I was surprised that no one talked politics or pointed fingers. Instead, everyone I spoke with shared their personal story of how life would be forever changed should the damn break.

“I couldn’t sleep for weeks after hearing those stories.  Natural disaster could come at any moment.  What happened during Hurricane Katrina could easily happen here.” 


File Aug 23, 10 47 54 AMBetween the performances on Saturday Sacred Heart College hosted a round-table discussion that included Principal Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil, Botanist Dr. Joy P. Joseph, Indian High-court Lawyer Dr. Vincent Panikulangara and our director, Dr. Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren.

It was a very thought-provoking round-table with so much information to consider, I couldn’t record it fast enough. Here are some highlights.

It’s not my water.  It’s not your water.  It’s OUR water. There are no boundaries where water is concerned.

We need to thinks about water cautiously, not casually.

Of all of the forty-four rivers in Kerala, there is not ONE you can bathe in.  This all changed in my lifetime.  In ONE lifetime.

We need to stop thinking of humans as a supreme creation.  We need to become geo-centric.

It’s important to tell stories from where we THINK we came and build a connection between that and where we are now.  

Transformation needs to happen at a micro-level.  We need to take responsibility for how we treat water.  There really is no macro-solution.  

It is not either/or.  It is not us/them.  It’s India AND U.S.  Its you AND me.

The question shouldn’t be WHERE do we put the waste, but why do we create it in the first place.


File Aug 24, 8 31 25 AM

The team eating biryani at Sen’s house. Delicious.

For our “cast party” and company debrief, we were welcomed into the home of our collaborator Sen.  His family spent a great deal of time preparing a traditional (and exceptionally delicious) biryani for us.

According to Indian chef Pratibha Karan, biryani is of South Indian origin, derived from pilaf varieties brought to India by the Muslim traders and rulers. She speculates that the pulao was an army dish in medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became biryani due to different methods of cooking with the distinction between “pulao” and “biryani” slowly becoming arbitrary.

File Aug 24, 6 55 46 AM

Homemade biryani at Sen’s house

File Aug 24, 6 56 13 AM

Mango, papaya, pomegranate

File Aug 23, 10 50 46 AM

South Indian Tali

File Aug 21, 1 57 54 PM

Masala cookies


Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances at Amrita University on August 12 at 4:30pm, August 14 at 3:30pm at Siddhartha Central School in Kollam in and at Sacred Heart College in Kochi on Aug 24 at 6:30pm and 25 at 7:30pm.

The project director is Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water Cyphers focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN)

Blog at