along with the previous post that shares an article featuring Happy Valley, i also wanted to post this profile. Drukpa magazine also wanted to do a profile story on one of Happy Valley's founding members, Tshering Dorji. this young man is incredible. often times, when freg and i speak with him we leave the conversation wondering where in the world he is ACTUALLY from. he is full of insight and he has a really incredible understanding of the way things function, they way the should function, how he wants them to function and how to get them to function that way. he scorns the meer thought of passing judgements on people, truly believes in democracy and equality and always ends his paragraphs with a joke and some laughter...even if he is discussing the heavy duty nature of the details of the Bhutanese youth situation.
on several occasions he's told me and Freg, "the situation is a very frustrating one in Bhutan. things are just this way...they shouldn't be, but the system functions in such a way that its very difficult to fix things....especially if you're young and don't work for the government." the look on his face tells me he wishes he could fix it all, but the words he uses tells me he knows all he can do is work with the opportunities he is given...and try to make new opportunities everyday for Happy Valley.
Freg volunteered to write a profile on Tshering. I also wanted to share that with you all...
Tshering Dorji was born in 1981 in the village of Jagarthang just outside of Paro. He graduated from high school but received poor grades- an experience that he feels strengthens the argument for having creative as well as academic career paths available to young people in school:
‘That’s why I feel bringing more art and drama into Bhutan would be so useful, to provide a pathway for people like me that are meant for this discipline, rather than a more academic path. It would also be wonderful to convince parents and others that by choosing performance as a profession, their child could contribute to society just as much as if they were a doctor or engineer’.
Tshering had a passion for acting from an early age, but did not pursue the profession immediately upon leaving high school- instead he began work as a tour guide. Working as a tour guide he was able to earn enough money in three months to buy a car. But at the end of a day of quick earnings, fancy dinners and fancy hotels, he would go to bed feeling that this wasn’t what he was born for. But he is thankful to the profession for giving him the financial base to pursue his passion for theatre- and having a car is very useful for dropping off fellow performers- without one it may have been much harder to convince them to stay for late night rehearsals!
In 2005 Tshering took up an opportunity to receive training from visiting Fillipino drama specialists in a workshop program organised by Tshering Gyaltshen- the result of the training program and subsequent performance tour, sponsored by ‘Save the Children’, was ‘The New Theatre Company’. Tshering is grateful to Tshering Gyaltshen for providing this initial spark for street theatre in Bhutan, and continues to admire the new ideas and social messages that Tshering Gyaltshen promotes in both his films and theatre work- the beneficial impact of this work in the lives of youth in Bhutan is an inspiration for Happy Valley’s own activities.
Tshering’s first cinematic acting role was in the movie ‘Layngon Bum’. He had learnt during his time studying drama of the differences between live drama and film, but only came to truly understand this distinction by experiencing it. He has subsequently decided not to pursue a further film career until he writes a film of his own, but is still very grateful for his first onscreen acting experience. As he describes it:
‘Life is a field of experience- wealth will go away and friends and family will die but experiences and memory will always remain- until you get dementia at least’
Tshering lacks the legendary temper of his fellow Parops, and this evenness of temperament has assisted greatly in dealing with the daily difficulties of working in a co-operative. In Tshering’s opinion, so many youth groups have fallen apart in Bhutan because of the failure of members to move beyond ego clashes and petty disputes:
‘‘If you argue with another person, don’t hold on to your anger. Next time you see the person, let your mind be blank, and start anew- how else can you expect to be able to work together?’
This pragmatic approach is essential in a co-operative, especially a theatre co-operative, where creative disagreements are a daily occurrence. But if ego is put aside, creative clashes can be a spark for unexpected and exciting ideas rather than personal vendettas.
Tshering had an opportunity for further education, an acting course in Pune, India, early on in Happy Valley’s development, but he made the choice to commit to the group rather than pursue his study options.
Before his training, Tshering had thought he could be the best actor in Bhutan or the world- but once exposed to training, in his words, ‘you realise your cup is so empty- that you can always learn so much more.’ Having started off his career just wanting to act for its own sake, Tshering now realises the profession can also be important for society- live performance can be a uniquely powerful medium to spread social messages.
‘I have seen so many workshops, lectures and public moments where people are just sleeping in the audience,’ Tshering explains, ‘But when we do our street theatre performances, the audience might jeer and heckle, but no-one is ever sleeping!’
The novelty of street theatre in Bhutan has led to plenty of difficulties: taken aback by the confidence of the group, audience members have approached the Happy Valley troupe after performances to ask whether they have been drinking. But despite the jeering and misunderstandings, these street theatre shows do offer moments of genuine connection with the audience, and it is in these moments that Tshering gets that surge of fulfilment that his tour guide work never gave him.
He first felt the sensation whilst performing in the first street theatre in Bhutan, at Yangchenphu Higher Secondary School. He felt this feeling again when Happy Valley did their first performance together, a social advocacy show on HIV/AIDS sponsored by the Ministry of Health. He recounts how one of the shows messages was that the common myth that wearing two condoms is safer than wearing one is not scientifically correct- the friction between the condoms is more likely to break them. People jeered at the risqué subject matter, but the fact that the performance got such a strong reaction was evidence enough that the audience would remember the message. Tshering describes these moments with the fondness and fervour of a performer who recognises both the beauty and power of his craft: