Baobab Study Guide
Baobab is a story that centres around the great Baobab tree and Amondo, a young child who changes the history of the world. Théâtre Motus’ production is told through the magic of shadow puppetry, where shadows and light bring this West African folktale to life. Baobab explores YPT’s 2011/2012 season theme of “The Power of Change,” with particular emphasis on the capacity of children to find the strength within in order to change the world in which they live.
This study guide aims to introduce children to the concept of storytelling and oral history. Students will gain an understanding of the ways in which different cultures and communities share stories, specifically ancient West African folktales, as well as the value of oral tradition. Through the pre-show activities, students will examine storytelling through shadow puppetry, interpreting and communicating the main events within the narrative. Students will also have the chance to study the elements of traditional African folktales and will learn, in particular, about the role of the Griot and the centrality of the storyteller in this culture and others. The post-show unit delves more deeply into the themes of community and interconnectedness explored in the play through a variety of dramatic and music techniques.
Baobab shows us what can happen when one child courageously overcomes challenges for the sake of his community. We hope this story, in connection with these activities, will inspire young people to recognize the need for change in their own lives and, following Amondo’s example, will work to make a difference in both the local and global communities of which they are a part.
Strands and Curriculum Connections
- Social Studies
- French as a Second Language
Character Education Connections:
- Overcoming Challenges
- Rhythmic Storytelling
- Community Concern
Le Théâtre Motus
Where does the word “motus” come from? From the Latin, “to move”. Movement is a central tenet of Théâtre Motus, a company that strives to create theatre that shakes things up. Founded by Hélène Ducharme and Sylvain Massé, Théâtre Motus’ distinct artistic style comes, in part, from combining the talents of a new generation of creative artists with those who are already established in Québec’s theatre community.
Through a vibrant blend of shadow theatre, puppetry and music, Théâtre Motus offers its young audiences exciting and original dramatic works. In connection with its research and productions, the company is always looking for ways to interact with and learn from young audiences. Through post-performance meetings, shadow-puppet workshops and developing partnerships, every effort is made to forge a relationship with young people.
The company welcomes a variety of artistic approaches and remains open to new knowledge. Informed by past and contemporary theatre practice, Théâtre Motus is committed to the continual development of original dramatic works and has carved out a special place for itself in the Québecois, Canadian and international theatre communities.
The Griot, The Monkey, The Witch Ralph Prosper
Amondo’s Puppeteer, The Ancestral Boa Mireille Tawfik
African Percussions, The Crocodile, A Villager Aboulaye Koné or Lasso
Kora, The Marabout, A Villager Nathalie Cora
The Creative Team
Writer and Director Hélène Ducharme
Playwright Collaborator Hamadoun Kassogué
Assistant to the Director Annie Bélanger
Scenography by Ismaïla Manga and Hélène Ducharme
Puppets and Mechanisms by Jean Cummings, Sylvain Racine and Claude Rodrigue
Music by Aboulaye Koné, assisted by Nathalie Cora
Shadow Theatre by Marcelle Hudon
Costume Designer Louis Hudon
Lighting Designer Michel St-Amand
In this story, inspired by West African legends, an ancient baobab tree stands tall amidst a persistent drought. One day the tree brings forth an egg and from the egg is born a little boy. The villagers recognize that this little boy is the only one who can undertake the quest to bring water back to the land. But there are four formidable tasks to be completed before success is possible. Can a little boy change the history of the world?
Often referred to as the “Tree of Life”; a large tree, native to Africa, with an extremely thick trunk capable of storing water, providing shelter and producing fruit for animals and humans
a period or condition of unusually dry weather within a geographic area where rainfall is normally present
a West African storyteller whose job it is to keep an oral history of the community and to entertain with stories, poems and songs
a method of keeping and passing down from generation to generation a community’s cultural and historical traditions by word of mouth or example, rather than using written or recorded media
a small figure representing a human being or animal, moved by pulling strings attached to its limbs or manipulated by the hand, rods, wires, etc.
a dark figure or image cast on a surface by an object that is placed between the light source and the surface
a silent and motionless group of people arranged to represent a dramatic scene
A Note From the Director, Hélène Ducharme
The baobab tree fascinated me and I wanted to create a play about it. One day, Aboulaye, a friend from Burkina Faso, told me: “you must go and meet Africa”. I then travelled to Senegal, where I met my friend Ismaïla, and afterwards to Mali, where I met another friend, Kass. They helped me discover this mythical tree and I fell in love with their culture. Then, they came to Quebec, where I live and where other friends also fell in love with our baobab tree project. What I did not know yet then was that since the very beginning, behind the baobab tree, hid a small boy who enabled me to unite all these friends and to create this play with them. I will now let the griots – the storytellers – of his village tell you the story of Amondo, the one who unites, a story which has been told nearly 400 times now, a fact which testifies to how well Amondo unites us all by the baobab tree!
Units of Study
By participating in these activities students will:
- Develop empathy for others; acknowledge and respond to each other’s feelings
- Explore sounds, rhythms and language structures with guidance and independently
- Demonstrate an awareness of a variety of works of art from diverse communities
- Engage in dramatic play and role-play, with a focus on exploring main ideas and central characters in stories from diverse communities, times and places.
- Express thoughts, feelings, and ideas about drama experiences and performances in a variety of ways
- Plan and shape the direction of a dramatic play or role play by building on their own and other’s ideas, both in and out of role
- Dramatize rhymes, stories, legends, and folk tales from various cultures, including their own
- Identify, using drama terminology: the elements and conventions of drama used in shared drama experiences and theatre and describe how they help communicate ideas and feels and create interest
- Retell stories in proper sequence that have been read by and with the teacher
Using pictures in the book and/or props
- Sing unison songs in tune and/or play simple melodies and accompaniments for music from a wide variety of cultures styles and historical periods
- Explore different elements (i.e., beat, sound quality, speed, volume) of music
- Describe ways in which the elements of music are used for different purposes in the music they perform, listen to, and create
- Identify reasons why people make music in their daily lives; identify and describe ways in which music can be used in the community
- Identify, through performing and /or listening, a variety of music forms or pieces from different communities, times, and places
- Identify and describe forms of moisture in the environment; recognize that water exists in three states on earth
- Use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about similarities and differences among family traditions and celebrations
- Explain how the various cultures of individuals and groups contribute to the local community
- Outline traditions of various cultures that are passed down from earlier generations; identify ways in which heritage and traditions are passed on
Pre-Show Questions – All Grades
- Who tells you stories in your life?
- When do you usually hear stories?
- Why do people tell and listen to stories?
- What can we learn from sharing stories?
- What can we learn about ourselves? About our communities? About the world?
- What is a puppet?
- What different kinds of puppets are there?
- Why are puppets sometimes used to tell stories?
ACTIVITY 1: EXPLORING FOLKTALES
Through this activity, students will gain an understanding of the different forms of storytelling used by communities around the world. By hearing this particular story, students will be introduced to West African folktales.
A copy of the folktale Why Anansi Has Eight Long Legs (Appendix A)
- Before reading the story, conduct a discussion with students on the different types of ways we hear stories, who tells us stories, and why stories are an important part of our lives.
- Share with students some information about West African Storytellers.
Years ago, after the evening meal, with the moon shining down, the people of a village in Mali might hear the sound of a drum, a rattle, and a voice shouting, “Come! Hear! Come! Hear!” These were the cries of the Griot, the storyteller.
When they heard this call, the children knew they were going to hear a wonderful story, which would surely include music, singing and dancing. The stories the griots shared were stories the people loved to hear over and over. Some stories were about the history of the tribe. Some were about great wars and battles. Some were about everyday life. There was no written language, so the griots were really important in keeping track of the history of the people.
There was usually only one griot per village. Griots were extremely valuable. If one village attempted to steal a storyteller from another village, it was cause for war! Griots were that important. Of course, the griots were not the only people who could tell a story, but the griots were the official storytellers; their job was to tell stories and to tell stories very well.
Discuss the following as a class:
- What is an oral tradition?
- Why do we like to listen to the same story more than once?
- Do stories teach us anything about ourselves or about our community?
Explain that you will be reading an example of one of these folktales together.
Read students Why Anansi Has Eight Long Legs (Appendix A)
- What animals did we meet in this story?
- What special food was each of the animals cooking?
- What happened to Anansi at the end of the story? How did this happen?
- Do you think Anansi changed at all at the end of the story?
- What do you think is the moral of the story?
Teacher Prompt: You may wish to read the story again and instruct students to do certain actions associated with characters in the story. For example, every time you say the word “Anansi’“, have students put their hands out and wiggle their fingers like spider legs.
ACTIVITY 2: MAKING SHADOW PUPPETS
Using the folktale from the previous activity, students will create shadow puppets based on the characters in the story. Students will explore shadow puppetry as a traditional form of theatre used commonly in ancient West African cultures and in a variety of theatre traditions around the world today. By using puppetry to tell a story, students will explore the various ways we can tell stories, expanding beyond oral communication. Students will also be exposed to the concept of oral history and the value of oral traditions.
- Animal Puppet Template (Appendix B)
- Popsicle sticks or bamboo skewers
- Tape or glue
- Markers or pencil crayons
- As a whole class, brainstorm the many ways stories can be told. Do stories have to be told with words? Or can they be told through movement, music or puppets?
- Discuss with students that various different types of puppets with which they are already familiar.
- Explain that shadow puppet plays were used to tell traditional West African folktales, including the story of Anansi. Shadow puppets can be made by manipulating your hands into figures and shapes or by constructing puppets using craft materials.
- Tell students that they will be creating their very own puppets of the animals featured in Anansi’s story. They will then use these puppets to recreate the story, Why Anansi Has Eight Long Legs
- Review the animals in the story and write these on the chalkboard or on a piece of chart paper.
- Organize students into groups of 4 and assign a different animal to each of the students in the group. There should be one of each of the 4 animals created in each group.
- Provide each student with their assigned Animal Puppet Template (Appendix B)
- Have students cut out their animal figure. Remind students that the audience will only see the outline of their puppet, as it will be a shadow, but invite students to design or decorate their puppets as they wish.
- Attach a popsicle stick or bamboo skewer to the back of the figure using tape or glue.
- Then, working individually, in small groups or as a whole class, have students experiment using their shadow puppet by exploring how their animal might move, walk, run and speak.
Pre-Show Culminating Activity: Shadow Puppet Masterpiece
Using the story and the puppets created in the previous activity, students will create a retelling of the story of Anansi in the form of a puppet show and perform it for their peers. Students will focus particularly on dramatizing the beginning, middle and end of the story. This activity will encourage students to critically think of the main ideas within the narrative and communicate them, working co-operatively in a group to create their own interpretations.
- Narrative Worksheet (Appendix C)
- Writing utensils
- A large, white sheet (to use as a screen)
- A large flashlight or overhead projector
- Student-created puppets
Creating a shadow puppet theatre in your classroom is easy!
Simply hang a white or light coloured sheet and place a lamp, projector or flashlight in front of the sheet. The puppets would then go in between the light source and the sheet, projecting a shadow on the sheet, with the audience facing toward the hanging sheet. If hanging or holding a sheet is not an option, you can always use an empty wall in the space you are working in to project your shadows on.
- Provide students with the Narrative Worksheet (Appendix C) and, using this worksheet, give them time in their group to plan out their puppet show. This can also be done as a whole class.
- Using the Narrative Worksheet (Appendix C) to organize their ideas, students will record the beginning, middle and end in the boxes provided. They may use pictures, words, or a combination of the two to do so.
- Then, they will work in their groups to create their puppet show.
- The Narrative Worksheet (Appendix C) is designed to help students put together their puppet show following the narrative structure of the story, with each scene representing the beginning, middle and end of the story, respectively.
- Once students have planned their show and have had some time to practice, demonstrate, using your own puppet or body as an example, where they must stand and perform their show so that their puppet’s shadows can be seen.
Students will present their shows.
Extension: As an extension to this activity, students can create their own folktale and create a shadow puppet play for that narrative.
Post-Show Questions – All Grades
- Can you describe how the characters in the play felt when it finally rained? Why did they feel like this?
- How do you feel when it rains? Why do you feel like this?
- How did the music in the show help to tell the story?
- What instruments were used in the play?
- What was the role of the Griot in the play?
- Why was the Griot such an important part of Baobab?
ACTIVITY 1: MAKING IT RAIN
Baobab ends when Amondo enters the Baobab tree, finds the source of water and makes it rain over the village. In this activity, you and your students will create a rain storm right in your classroom. This activity allows students to explore and apply certain elements of music including beat, volume and speed. Students will be required to listen to the pattern and follow the rhythm set by who ever is leading the action.
- None required; space for students to sit together in a large circle.
- Have students sit on the floor in a large circle. You are going to be creating a rainstorm together.
- Begin by rubbing the palms of you hands together, making a swishing sound. Have students join in.
- Once all the students are mimicking this action, you can begin to introduce another action, snapping your fingers in the rhythm of falling rain. Again, have students join you in making this action.
- Next, begin slapping you hands on your lap, imitating the sound of louder rain. Again, students will gradually join you in making this action.
- Finally, stomp your feet on the ground. The rainstorm reaches its peak once all of the students are stomping their feet.
- Once the storm has reached its peak, you should begin to wind down the storm, doing the actions in reverse. Starting with clapping, snapping and, lastly, rubbing palms until the storm is over and everything is quiet.
- How did you know when to switch to a different action?
- Why was it important for the class to watch each other and be aware of when the teacher switched the action and rhythm?
- What did it feel like at the peak of the rainstorm?
- What was your favourite part of the rainstorm? Why?
Extension: Watching It Rain
- Students can actually witness rain being made like in the play, by conducting a science experiment that uses a kettle, ice cubes, hot water, and a pan to create moisture condensation.
- Have students sit and observe while you conduct this experiment.
- Pour water into a kettle and allow the kettle to steam. Once steam is coming out of the kettle, hold a pan with ice cubes on top of the kettle and allow the ice cubes to melt a bit.
- Soon you should see condensation take action as droplets of water appear on the bottom of the pan.
- Thee droplets will get so dense that they will eventually fall just like rain!
ACTIVITY 2: RHYTHM AND THE DJEMBE
The djembe instrument is used throughout Baobab and is a popular West African instrument. Through this activity, students will discover how different communities and cultures use music in their every day lives for a variety of purposes. Through playing the djembe, students will work on following the beat and playing in unison. Elements of music, including tonality and rhythm. are used in playing and listening to the music being created in this activity. Students will also be given the chance to respond to the music that is popular in this particular culture.
- Two cups (styrofoam, plastic or paper) per student
- Masking tape
- Coloured pencils
- Chairs (enough for each student)
- Ask students to brainstorm and review together the various types of instruments they saw being used in the play.
- Why do you think so many different instruments were used in the play? What purpose did they serve?
- Go through the various instruments (the kora, djembe, shekeres and the balophone.)
- Explain that in West African culture, the djembe is the most popular drum used to help tell stories and to play traditional music.
- When playing the drum, it is important to keep a good rhythm.
Teacher Prompt: In order to introduce students to the concept of rhythm, you may wish to make a few simple clapping patterns and have students echo them back to you. You may also want to use the concept of a human heartbeat to introduce students to this idea.
Explain to students that they will be making their own djembes and using them to play and sing a popular song.
o Have each student place one of their cups upside-down on a table. Have them place the second cup right-side-up directly on top of the other cup.
o Wrap masking tape around the area where the two cups meet to secure them.
o Then, stretch the masking tape flat across the openings of each cup, so that there are no holes.
o Once the whole form is covered with masking tape, students can decorate the drum with markers, paint or and coloured pencils.
o To test the djembe, tap on top of the drum to ensure that the tape is strong enough to withstand drumming.
- (Once the drums are complete, have students sit in a circle with their drums.
- Generally, the djembe is played sitting down on a chair with the drum placed between your knees.
- Have students practice proper djembe playing positions.
- Invite students to explore drumming using the palms of their hands and then with the tips of their fingers.
- Do a “follow the leader” type game where you drum a rhythm with your hands and the students repeat the exact same rhythm on their own drums.
- Then, have different students play a rhythm of their choosing for the class to repeat back.
- Once they are comfortable using their drums, bring out a song with which your students are familiar, and start a drumming pattern while you sing.
Teacher Prompt: With the added rhythm, this may be challenging, so break down the song: once you have sung and played the first line, have the children echo the line back before moving onto the next one.
- What did the drum rhythm add to the song? Did it change it at all?
- Was it more challenging using the drum when singing the song? Why or why not?
Extension: Walk the Walk
As an extension to this activity, you will need only one drum (for you to play). This will allow students to work on their understanding of rhythm and movement and to practice their listening skills.
Play a rhythm on your drum as students walk around the room. Invite students to make their feet do what the drum does. For instance, if you drum loudly and slowly, students may stomp around the room. If you drum more lightly, students may skip.
- How did the different rhythms change the way you moved?
- How did the different rhythms change the way you felt?
Post-Show Culminating Activity – Tree of Life
Students will apply and build on the skills they have learned in the previous activities to dramatize the creation of the great Baobab tree. This activity will allow them to work together to explore the theme of community by creating “the tree of life”.
- Chart paper or chalkboard
- Markers or chalk
- Djembe (one)
- Discuss with the students the importance of the Baobab tree in the play: What did we learn about the Baobab tree from the play? Brainstorm a list of important facts about the Baobab tree they already know from watching the play.
- Introduce new facts to supplement what students already know.
Teacher Prompt: You may wish to bring in pictures of the Baobab tree for this discussion.
Another name for the Baobab is “The Tree of Life”.
The trunks of large Baobab trees have been hollowed out and used as restaurants, stores and houses!
The bark of a Baobab can be used to make rope.
The fruit of the Baobab is called Monkey Bread.
Baobab trees can grow to be 100 feet tall and 35 feet wide!
Baobab tree trunks look swollen, because they are filled with water. The Baobab can store up to 120 000 litres of water.
The Baobab can live to be up to 6000 years old!
- Explain to students that we are going to use our bodies to create a Baobab together. We will use the dramatic technique of tableau.
- Form a large circle.
- In the centre, have one student begins by becoming the tree trunk. They freeze in position and say, “I am the trunk.”
- Students may jump in at any time and add on to the tree.
- With each new addition, that student should freeze their body and say, “I am the _______” out loud.
- Remind the students that there are many elements to the tree (roots, branches, bark, etc.). They can even become an animal that lives in the branches of the tree or the sun that gives the tree light.
- Once everyone has participated in creating this tree, invite students to sit back down in a circle.
- Explain that they will create the Baobab tree again, except this time you will drum a beat on the djembe and they must walk around the room to the beat of the drum.
- If you drum the beat fast and loud, they must walk at a fast pace while stomping.
- When you stop the drumming, the students must find their way back to their Baobab tree formation, assuming their role as a part of the tree. (They do not need to speak their role aloud this time, but simply refreeze in their original position).
- Encourage students to do this without talking and by remaining focused on the tableau they are creating as a class.
- What kinds of rhythms did you hear during this activity?
- How did the rhythm I was playing affect how you moved and felt?
- How did each part of the Baobab tree work together in this tableau?
Reviewing a Play
Jon Kaplan’s Introduction to Student Reviewers
Theatre is, for me, an art form that tells me something about myself or gets me thinking about the world in which I live.
Whether going to the theatre as a reviewer or simply an audience member, I think that watching a play is an emotional experience and not just an intellectual one. I always let a show wash over me, letting it touch my feelings, and only later, after the show, do I try to analyze those feelings.
That’s when I start to think about some of the basic questions you ask when you’re writing a review – what did I see (story, characters, themes); how did I respond to what I saw; what parts of the production (script, performances, direction, design and possibly other elements) made me feel and think what I did; why was I supposed to respond in that fashion?
When you go to the theatre to review, take a few notes during a show if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t spend your time writing the review during the show; you’ll miss what’s happening onstage.
Writing a review doesn’t mean providing a plot summary. That’s only part of the job; you have to discuss your reaction to what you saw and try to explore some of the reasons for that reaction.
I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a totally objective piece of criticism. We are all individuals, bringing our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs to a production. In some fashion, every one of us sitting in the theatre is a critic, no matter whether we’re writing a review or not; we all react to and form judgments about what we see on the stage.
When I go to a production, I always keep in mind that the people involved in putting it on have worked long and hard – weeks, months, sometimes years – getting it onto the stage. Even if I have problems with the result, it’s important to respect the efforts that went into the show.
Jon Kaplan is senior theatre writer at NOW Magazine, where he’s worked for the past 30 years.
Why Anansi Has Eight Long Legs
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a spider named Anansi. Anansi, like most spiders, had eight legs. They were quite short and sturdy. Anansi’s wife was a very good cook, but Anansi still loved loved to taste the food that others in the village made for themselves and for their families.
One day, he stopped by the house of his good friend, Rabbit.
“There are greens in your pot,” cried Anansi excitedly. Anansi loved greens!
“They are not quite done,” said Rabbit, “but they will be soon. Stay and eat with me.”
“I would love to, Rabbit, but I have some things to do,” Anansi said hurriedly. Anansi knew that if he waited at Rabbit’s house, Rabbit would certainly give him jobs to do, but Anansi did want to taste the greens.
“I know,” said Anansi. “I’ll spin a web. I’ll tie one end around my leg and one end to your pot, Rabbit. When the greens are done, tug on the web, and I’ll come running!”
Rabbit thought that this was a great idea. And so, it was done.
Anansi continued to walk through the village. “I smell beans,” Anansi sniffed excitedly as he ambled along. “Delicious beans, cooking in a pot!”
The smell grew stronger as he neared Monkey’s house. “Come eat some beans with me,” cried Monkey. “They are almost done.”
“I would love to, Father Monkey,” said Anansi. Again, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the big bean pot.
Father Monkey thought that this was a great idea. And so, it was done.
“I smell sweet potatoes,” Anansi sniffed happily as he walked along. “Sweet potatoes and honey, I do believe!”
“Anansi,” called his friend Hog. “My pot is full of sweet potatoes and honey! Come share my food with me.”
“I would love to,” said Anansi. And a third time, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the sweet potato pot.
Hog thought that this was a great idea. And so, it was done.
Anansi continued walking along, visiting his friends in the village. By the time Anansi arrived at the river, he had one web tied to each of his eight legs.
“This was a wonderful idea,” Anansi told himself proudly. “I am getting hungry. I wonder whose pot will be ready first?”
Just then, Anansi felt a tug at his leg. “Ah,” said Anansi. “That is the web string tied to Rabbit’s greens.” He felt another. And another. Anansi was pulled three ways at once.
“Oh dear,” cried Anansi, as he felt the fourth web string pull.
Just then, he felt the fifth web string tug. And the sixth! And the seventh! And the eighth! Anansi was pulled this way and that way, as everyone pulled on the web strings at once. His legs were pulled thinner and thinner. Anansi fell right into the river and the water washed all of this webs away. Anansi pulled himself painfully up on shore.
“Oh my, oh my,” sighed Anansi. “Perhaps that was not such a good idea after all.”
Anansi never got any food that day and, to this day, he has eight very thin legs.
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