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Cavanaugh Lecture: Dr. Shook's 'Playwriting in the Jungle'

Released: 10/15/2009

Dr. Rhonda Shook’s inspirational and sometimes perilous educational mission among the Karen people on the border of Thailand and Burma will be the topic of the first event in this year’s Cavanaugh Public Lecture Series on Oct. 21 at LSU Alexandria. The free lecture will be held at noon in the Science Building auditorium on campus.

Shook, an assistant professor of theatre at LSUA, learned of the plight of indigenous people in the area through her daughter who went to Thailand in 2006 to rebuild tsunami-damaged schools and churches. A year later Shook and her husband visited the Thailand village of Thoo Mweh Khee and through an interpreter, Juler Wah, became acquainted with displaced Karen students.

“Many of their parents, teachers and friends were murdered and persecuted by the junta in Burma, and they are desperate for an education,” Shook said. “They are afraid that they will become invisible and their people will disappear. The students begged us not to forget them. It would be impossible to do so.”

In 2008 Shook returned to the village with LSUA theatre major Sarah Swart. They taught English and theatre to the Karen students at a school cloaked by a teak forest. A recording from Shook’s musical adaptations of Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Lion and the Mouse” performed by the students will be presented at the lecture. Shook’s presentation is titled “Playwriting in the Jungle: Adapting Literature for Refugee Performance.”

Meanwhile, Wah, Shook’s interpreter three years ago, has been granted political asylum in the United States. “This time I was his interpreter as he became acclimated to America,” Shook said. “He wants to be educated here and return to help his people.”

Shook plans to return to Thailand next summer if funding can be secured. “This time I plan to help the Karen students make music videos. They love to sing, and they do it well. I consider it my job to help them voice their stories, to prevent invisibility.”

The Cavanaugh Public Lecture Series, named after former LSUA chancellor Dr. Robert Cavanaugh, is sponsored by the Department of Arts, English and Humanities. Additional information is available by calling 473-6581.