Ask Kamel Zouaoui what he does for work, and the answer is simple.
“I am a storyteller,” he says. “I travel the world to tell stories and teach. I consider my hometown to be the world, as if I were a tourist.”
Zouaoui is an artist, and though he’s lived in Paris for the last 20 years, he spends most of his weeks on the road, telling stories to audiences in theatrical settings and leading creative workshops for students. He spent this week with students from the upper and lower campuses of Dallas International School, first with the younger ones at Churchill, and then with the older ones at both the Waterview campus and those participating in this week’s Multilingual Theater Festival at the Dallas Children’s Theater.
His first goal when he set foot on the Churchill campus was to help the students come out of their shell. He accomplished this by helping students write, act out and record their own play, and then leading them in voice exercises that let them be heard.
“I always ask students to write stories in the class,” he said. “We made two shows for all the children to see, and they went really well. Their stories were incredible. That and the voice exercises help them consider the importance of speaking. Sometimes they have very important things to say but they don’t say them with any volume. And we want to hear them. It’s for them to think about the importance of being heard by others.”
Zouaoui has recorded these class plays in 17 different locations around the globe, and he loves letting the students see the work of their peers in other countries. He especially enjoys hearing the students perform in French, some for the first time.
“It’s amazing because they have the capacity to listen and to have a French show,” he said. “Some of them had never heard or seen a French show before.”
Once the fun was done at Churchill, Zouaoui performed one of his stories for the students at Waterview and then joined the upper school theater students at the Dallas Children’s Theater for the Multilingual Theater Festival the next day. Gathered there were students from six different schools across the country, participating in various theater workshops to improve all facets of stage performance.
For his workshop, Zouaoui taught the young performers about life as an artist and led them in various exercises to improve their speaking technique and storytelling chops. He also emphasized the importance of teamwork in a theatrical group.
“I teach them and remind them the importance of being together,” he said. “The groups are in solidarity with each other. We did an exercise where one student pretended to be blind and the others had to guide him to walk across the room using only their voices. They couldn’t touch him or help him in any other way.
“It’s a great way to teach them how to use their voice and use the space,” he continued. “They spoke French and English and have different backgrounds but they were all working toward the same goal”
Zouaoui, who utilizes a special French program to help fund his artistic pursuits, said that learning about art and artists is important for a young person’s development.
“Being an artist is important for humanity,” he said. “When they’re acting, it’s a good opportunity to be someone else. You have an opportunity to have a different eye for the world. And it’s an opportunity for the students to enjoy themselves.”
After the festival is over, Zouaoui will fly out to his next destination. But he had one last request he wanted to pass along to the parents of the young artists he taught at DIS.
“Tell your children stories,” he said. “There is a magical link between people and stories. Tell them a story and then have them tell you one.”
After their week with Zouaoui, they should have no trouble doing that.