Strong without violence

Author: Marta Karabova

When I had heard Gen Rosso was coming to the Czech Republic, I was more inquisitive than excited about it. A couple years ago I happened to be the audience to Gen Rosso show in a packed stadium and this year I decided to take part in it, although it meant my final exam preparation would be very much neglected. Still, I was attracted by the notion of volunteering in a project that serves a good purpose.

The arrival of Gen Rosso is the finale after teachers’ months-long work with pupils at the Elementary School of Křídlovická in Brno, the second largest city in the country. Gen Rosso is an international performing arts group comprising of amateur enthusiastic musicians who have made the performance more a personal commitment than a professional career. It has 18 male members of 9 nationalities from all over the world – from Brazil through Italy, Kenya to Philippines. These guys cruise the world with an elaborate project of theirs called Strong without violence. As the name implies a bit, the project aims at schools that are troubled by bullies and school violence. The school that has been picked out is then involved in a long-lasting program for teachers and pupils. Trained teachers present topics tackling bullying and anti-bullying practices during special, but even regular classes.

One would say that there is nothing extraordinary about a youth violence prevention program: they all include training and lectures on a regular and obligatory basis. But, here, the cream of the crop was yet to come – the project week with Gen Rosso – a busy week for performers as well as for coordinators and us volunteers. It was time when Gen Rosso was to oversee the creation of a musical called Streetlight and what I mean by creation is starting off from scratch.

Why Streetlight? Streetlight is a true story about a Streetlight band trying to come through with their gig and a ghetto gang caught up in the whirl of violence. There is one boy named Charles in the middle of the fuzz. In the band he learns the true values of friendship, reliability and unity between people, whereas his roots in the ghetto are difficult to abandon. He suddenly has to make a choice about where he is going with his life. To spice it up, his best friend Jordan is in love with a gang leader’s sister who gets killed in crossfire. And naturally, the musical comes with original songs and lyrics by Gen Rosso and might I say catchy ones.

When performers hit the place on Sunday, there was an introduction evening and volunteers were assigned to each of the performers, depending on the language they needed to translate from. There were full three days of workshops with children ahead of us when we were translating and basically, enabling the communication between the guys and the pupils.

I was assigned to Adelson from Brazil who was in charge of dancing and choreography workshops, but I had a chance to look through other sites and observe how Gen Rosso was working with children. Crowds of children could choose the type of workshop and this way each one could participate in the creation of Streetlight. In addition to dancing classes where the choreography to each part of the musical script was being taught, there was a lighting workshop, props production, sound engineering, band rehearsals and above all, a big workshop of fun and unity between classes, between boys and girls, between older and younger, stronger and weaker. Their biggest advantage in communication was the actual goal of cooperation, the mutual effort towards the evening show and each individual of Gen Rosso, their charismatic characters, their psychological skills and a natural devotion of what and with whom they do it.

Even though Gen Rosso is not made up of professional actors or singers, they could motivate kids and be evenly responsive to the needs of each kid, even the outsiders – the usual target for bullies in such an environment. The project week with Gen Rosso is a kind of experience pedagogic technique when through experience of a person’s own value he/she can be taught assertiveness and how to deal with oppression.

What children had learned was soon to be tested in the real-time show. After two days of hard work, there came the performance day. All the preparations were being held already at the concert site, one of the halls of Brno Exhibition area and all of us – guys from Gen Rosso, volunteers, teachers, pupils joined in these. The stage was set up, the props installed, lights prepared, the auditorium placed and the buzz of last rehearsing bits could be heard in the back of the hall. The show was anchored by Honza Musil, an anchorman of Czech Television and it consisted of two parts – the musical Streetlight and the program before – introduction of the project by the lead coordinator and the principal of the Elementary School Křídlovická, dance and music performances.

My task at the concert hall was to be a manager of merchandise shop, so I was selling Gen Rosso brand products – printed T-shirts, badges, belts, autographed cards, CDs, DVDs and others. I had a good view on the stage, so I could clearly see the result of our efforts and also, I could talk to parents, kids and get the immediate feedback from the audience and children during the show.
Suffice it to say that the whole evening was successful, the audience as well as pupils were thrilled and finally we all could watch the complete musical and the result of Charles’s decision in the Streetlight.

This volunteering – from doing small tasks at the elementary school and exhibition hall to constant interpreting during the time with Gen Rosso – was exhausting, yet enriching in so many ways. Having seen their vocation and dedication to teaching children and how many different people can cooperate to create a magnificent project has fired me up and taught that once you choose to do something and you do it with effort and love, even one person can succeed in changing the world. But not alone.

The project week took place from 11th to 14th April with the musical Streetlight staged on 13th April, both in Brno, Czech Republic. Have a look at the webpage and get inspired.

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