Creativity and innovation

Creative play leads to innovative solutions – this post is written as a storyteller and coach of a robotics Lego team.

I have been silent on the blog for a while. Work and life tick away and continue to offer me opportunities, surprises and much joy. One of the new adventures I have embarked upon is Robotics Lego.

Robotics Lego is pretty much as it sounds. Making robots from Lego MindStorms Kits. It is a worldwide activity and the official name of the competition is FIRST Lego League – you can learn more here www.fll.org

A brief overview, for those whose life hasn’t been overtaken by FLL. 20,000 teams worldwide. Approximately 250 teams in Australia and growing fast. Think AFL for the mind. The kids design build and program robots from MindStorm kits (Lego). That’s the super fun bit. In our club we meet once a week and have a range of activities lined up for them to work on – build a sumo robot and then compete against each other – build a road runner, ladder climber, catapult and then pitch them against each others. The kids are hands on engaged, receive immediate feedback from the robot, not an adult. That is they see the robot fail. Then they race to repair/redesign/rebuild/reprogram till they get the success that they are aiming for.

The link between a storyteller and a robotics coach is – creativity. Our group of kids age between the 8 and 13. They are open creative thinkers and I encourage any and all ideas to be tried out. Anything. Basically I see it as the perfect opportunity to fail, laugh, even enjoy the spectacular nature of the failure and then work for the recovery. Love the recovery.

I am one of the coaches of the competition team – Komplete Kaos Inc (http://kompletekaosinc.weebly.com/)– these are a core group of kids that have competed at national level for the past two years only. In year one they won the rookie of the year award. In year two they came second in the country and received an invitation to compete at The Open European Championships in Pamplona. We fund raised like crazy, worked as hard as we could and these kids earned a first place for innovation.

The competition has four categories overall. One; the robot game (how many points their robot scores on an international table), two; the robot judging. The kids ONLY answer any question about the robot design and programming when faced by 3 judges. Three; a innovation or research project. Every year there is a theme. This year was Natures Fury and the kids have to choose a real world problem (floods for us), research it and create an innovative solution. Komplete Kaos Inc designed and created a working prototype of a smart phone app to assist people to prepare and stay safe in a flood emergency. They also designed and created the social media campaign to go with it. (Because for kids – these are all immediately connected). The fourth category is called Core Values which means how they work as a team and within/amongst their community.

At the Open European Championships there were 95 teams from 47 different countries and our team achieved a first place and in innovation! For me, this is a huge achievement and one to be very proud of as they have been recognised for their creativity, a way of thinking and an approach that will serve them well into the future. After a long trip there were many reasons to feel proud as a coach (and a mum of two team members) but in particular I wanted to note the beauty of an artists approach to science and learning and the ability of kids to flourish under that approach.

I put it down to creative play, the artist’s approach – where nothing is wrong. Give it a try, fail, redo, retry, persist. This approach will give us creative thinkers and innovations in the future. Heres to the importance of the arts in all life – including programming, robotics, science and design amongst 10 to 12 years olds.

Overcoming fear in Peru

One of the most unexpected aspects of touring has been undertaking television interviews. For some reason I did not foresee this AT ALL. The first TV interview I agreed to was in Colombia. I showed up at the theatre at the appointed time. Two other artists were there and my interpreter was not – (a recurring feature of my interpreters ‘work’). We walked to the television studio – no interpreter there either. I walked into the studio room and fear took over. A camera man, a live show and a tv host that spoke so fast that I found myself blinking 60 times to the minute.

I was able to answer her first question – my name and country, but it was a rapid downhill slide from there. Something about parenthood and kangaroos? I think? I had to ask her to repeat the question a few times and Im pretty sure she didn’t understand a word of my answer and moved on to ignore me for the rest of the interview – thank goodness there were two other artists.

I wasn’t asked to do any tv or radio interviews after that. Until, ofcourse, I got to Peru. My first task was a tv interview. Overall I did three interviews and I have to admit they got better and better. In the first place Peruvians do not speak as fast as Colombians (I’m not sure anyone in the world does!) and my three weeks in Colombia had done wonders for my Spanish.

Mainly though, television in Peru is fascinating. Peruvians are highly political and have free speech. Their president had just been imprisoned and opinions and emotions were flying high. Every time we got to a tv station the hosts were espousing interesting, ruthless, honest commentary. I was in heaven. Australia certainly lacks this form of in-depth, open conversation regarding politics. What a joy to step into.

I talked politics, culture, and told stories and put to bed my fear of the tv interview. Thank you Peru.

ImageImage

Cuzco, Peru

From the large-scale professional festival of Abrapalabra, from living and sharing with numerous performers from around the world I embark on ‘the other side’ of touring. My arrival in Cuzco heralds a shift in my travels. Firstly it is cold. Very cold. I have to put on most of the clothes that have with me. Cuzco is high altitude and I was unsuspecting of all that entails. Thankfully my bag did arrive!

On my arrival in Cuzco I am met personally by the director of this festival, Wayqui. The festival is in its 3rd year and growing. It is a touring festival and a creation from his heart. Overall we are a team of 5 or 6 and we will become like family.

Wayqui, Cuzco

Wayqui, Cuzco

Miguel, Cuzco

Miguel, Cuzco

Nino Mirones, Storyteller, Mime artist Cuzco

Nino Mirones, Storyteller, Mime artist Cuzco

I have a day for acclimatisation, so we take the chance to walk, look, share and eat. Peruvians LOVE their food and with good reason.

Cuzco touches you with colour, smiles, indigenous faces, history, destruction, survival and pride. Walking through the streets of Cuzco I was struck by the dignity of the cultures here. Peru has managed to maintain historic and cultural identities with strength. Not everyone speaks Spanish and the Indigenous freely speak their own language with pride: in the market place, in the streets, amongst each other.

I feel buoyed by the sound of their language floating above and around me. I feel comfort in not understanding rather than stress that can occur in other countries/situations. The beggars, the sellers, they do not accost. They smile. They draw you into their world with a smile and warmth and then introduce you to what they have to sell – a photo with them, a doll, or information about the rocks you are standing on. The market stall holders were gorgeous. I have a video of one explaining the significance of symbols, stones, giving me gifts.

My welcome to Cuzco is heartfelt, with warmth and openness by the local population. I feel the weight of history around me and a multiple examples of how it can be negotiated. Overall I feel the strength of culture. I am very happy to be in Cuzco.

Serpent rocks, Cuzco

Serpent rocks, Cuzco

Mercardo, Cuzco

Mercardo, Cuzco

Mercardo Centro de San Pedro, Cuzco

Mercardo Centro de San Pedro, Cuzco

Goodbye Buca

Nostalgia. The dominant feeling of the moment is nostalgia. Yesterday I said goodbye to people who I have known for only 10 days. Some of them will be friends forever, some I will see again one year and others not.

A number of things stood out when I look back at the trip overall. These include;

Sharing a small hotel room with two others has some drawbacks (think snoring, three women – one shower, sheer quantity of stuff laying around) but it makes for solid strong fast friendships. Some of the conversations we shared as women, storytellers and travellers will feed me for years.

Sharing the one hotel and common room with storytellers from around the world meant we ate together, were scheduled to travel to gigs, near and far together and secure a bond aided by mishaps and successes. Some of the conversations I will hold close for a long time include;

In what language do you think?

In what language do you dream?

In what language do you love?

What is the place of humour in our work?

And offcourse what array of regional swear words can we teach the foreigners?

The spontaneous music and song that floated through the garden and hotel rooms. The sound of a voice ringing out in joy and pain according to the songs lyrics.

The children, who hugged, kissed and gave me gifts. The smiles on the faces of the audience and staff. The love and attention they paid to the stories.

The loving smiles and assistance of all the workers. What a joy they were. Also the magic of receiving the photos from Nelson (photographer). I hardly knew he was there but he has a magic eye and a gift for performance photography.

Being invited into peoples houses for a meal, for a walk, to just share some time together. Having a conversation over lunch and having the chance to learn more about the family life was very special.

Time moves on and now I am in Cuzco. Ill keep you informed but first impressions are just fantastic. This is going to be good.

(NB: This is a bit late and no photos as the connection here is not so strong. I have plenty of photos on facebook if your interested – Lillian RodriguesPang)

Zapatoca

There are times in your life that contain magic, and words cannot transfer the sentiment or heart felt experience to another. This was my experience of Zapatoca. From the moment the transport arrived I knew this trip held something special.

Two artists one assistant, one driver, one old lady, and loads of packages squeezed into a sedan filling the interior, the roof top and the boot. Over the following two hours we left the city limits and embarked on some spectacular mountain passes. I love the way the scenery changes, in particular the dogs. From the pampered pooch in the city, to the household pet who is out on the suburban streets, to the street dog surviving by its whits in the countryside. For me they serve as an allegory for the wealth, density and access of a region.

Bucaramanga is in the Santander province of Colombia. According to Wikipedia it is the fifth largest economy in Colombia, and has the sixth largest population in country, (1,212,656 people in the metro area alone). It has the nickname of the ‘City of Parks” it is very green and it does not feel like a rushed or busy city. On this day we travelled to Zapatoca, which is to the northeast and at altitude.

Image

It was built in the early 17th century by the Spanish conquistadors. It remains preserved by strict building regulations. More so, it remains preserved by the residents pride and tenderness. There are living flowerpots on the external walls of the houses and shops. The town is clean beyond belief. The church is spectacular with carved wooden doors and holding a position of pride at the top of a hill and in front of the central square where everyone congregates.

ImageImage

Most striking is the warmth of the people. All the people. I have to say that this show was performed to some of the sweetest teenagers I have ever met. Ofcourse some came to see the curious foreigner, to help, to be close, others hung back. When it came to participating, sharing and enjoying stories all were in it together – teens, parents and children. They stayed back to talk, to touch the puppets and to spend time. They laughed, hugged and joked freely and made me feel relaxed and happy to be here. At the end of my time here my only thought was; “This is a place I could live.”

ImageImage

There are numerous little towns in this world and I feel privileged to have visited this one as a storyteller, to be received with warmth and to be continuing my adventures.

Opportunities

Ok lets be honest, my first day/night here I was a bit of a sook. I felt inferior as the only real non-Spanish speaker and I doubted my ability to pull this off.  A good night sleep and contact with my family helped me to return to a much healthier perspective (thank goodness).

Events of the past two days that make my heart beat deeper, slower and feel fulfilled.

Breakfast

Someone else cooks me breakfast everyday. For a mother of three this is, in its own right, a holiday. Not only that its eggs and arepa (tortilla). I am one happy girl.

Family audiences

I have now done two families shows in the park. The kids, parents and grandparents are ridiculously warm, accepting and gracious. I am telling in Spanish (no translator) and they help with words when they can. They get involved in the songs, they accompany me in the story repetition. The sharing and connection is simply amazing.

ImageImage

My language

I am telling in Spanish – well Spanglish and LOVING it. I am enjoying it as a challenge that both scares and excites me, prior to each event. The sense of satisfaction when I have finished a show is deep.

The festival community

There is easy and immediate warmth between the storytellers and the organisers/workers here at the festival. From day one I have felt friendships begin and grow. There is a lot of music, laughter and warmth. One of my roommates has lent me a dress to wear as it’s too hot for jeans. Another plays guitar or mandolin for us all while we eat or chat. We walk together, travel together and support each other. The organisers and the people who transport us, make sure the tent is set up, the sound, bring water, take us for coffee, etc, etc. They are tired, working very hard and always incredibly kind, smiling and personable. It’s this community they have created nurtures and inspires me personally and in my creative ventures.

ImageImage

Rediscovering my nature

And finally the most important. This is hard to explain but I am a touchy feely person by nature. It is something that I have to suppress, as most Australians are not comfortable with it. Here all people are touchy feely, men, women, children. It is great. I can feel myself loosening up and responding from my heart as every minute passes. I had not realised how much I hold back.

Image

Bucaramanga, Colombia

Whilst travel offers many moments of magic it also creates challenges that test your perception of self. This has been my ‘arrival’ experience.

My flight from Buenos Aires to Bogota went very well. I had four seats to stretch out on and I slept soundly. Bogota was my entry into the country of stay so the place where I face customs. Well, the place I would have faced customs, if I received any bags. Yep, the lost bag scenario.

Speaking in Spanish is a challenge for me. One that I love. Filling out official forms and dealing with organisations is also a challenge. One that I do not love. Put them together on top of 27 hours of transit … Well lets call it a lesson in the art of acceptance.

On to Bucaramanga. with no bag. That’s no clothes to change into, no shampoo, no musical instruments and worst of all, no puppets and I have to get on stage in three hours. By this time I have had 36 hours in transit in total and only a few moments of sleep. 

Needless to say I go to the hotel, meet my room mates and have myself a ‘princess moment’. I mean, really, right now I would like a room of my own to have a personal breakdown in. I want to Skype my family who I am missing and I want to shower and have clothes to change into and id like to lay down on a big bed and have a siesta.

Instead I am given a festival shirt, change and to the shops with me. Now truth be known, I hate shopping malls. Give me a market any day, things that are hand made, crafted, where you meet and buy from those that care. Shopping mall hell armed with a coffee ensues as I buy underwear, toiletries and look for something to wear that night on stage. I am taller than most Colombians and flatter than ALL Colombianas. There were no clothes. A new shirt and same old jeans and to the theatre with me.

I am fourth on the list and have not done a sound check but there is no time for that. I have not eaten but there is no time for that. The theatre is packed. Absolutely packed with lovely warm, welcoming people. I take my spot when the time comes and my interpreter doesn’t. I present my first story in Colombia to a totally Spanish speaking audience in my Spanglish. And the main thing I can think is “Why didn’t I study harder before I came?!”

So here’s to all the bilingual, trilingual and amazing linguists of the world. I salute you. When I get home I promise to study harder.

Image