Author: Fiona Ledger, May 29 2015 - There’s more to a cup of tea than meets the eye - it’s not just wet, hot and thirst quenching, it’s also a media vehicle for promoting tolerance and social inclusion.

This week, BBC Media Action Burma proudly launched its new weekly radio drama, The Teacup Diaries (in Burmese La Pa Ye Ta Kwe Ye Diari), to an audience of 120 people including the media, our donors, USAID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives (OTI) and broadcast partner, Myanmar TV Channel (MRTV).

Launches are never easy - I’ve done a few. They involve an incredible amount of work, however you cut it: branding, logos, publicity materials, guests, finding a location and deciding how much audio and video to include. There’s also diplomacy and etiquette to consider: who should speak and in what order?

All in all, the run-up to a launch is defined by simmering anxiety and last minute panics. But there’s no doubt that a launch event is an efficient way of announcing to the world a new media project.

House of Memories

The launch of The Teacup Diaries took place at the beautiful and ancient House of Memories, where around 70 years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father secretly met fellow nationalists to plot the overthrow of British colonial rule. It’s now a restaurant but retains the patina of old age in its wooden structure and captures the past in a gallery of old photos.

By contrast, our drama is set in a hum drum tea shop, decked out with the usual small plastic tables and chairs. It’s run by a dreamy but eloquent man and his sharp tongued but industrious wife. Their children have reached the age where anything seems possible and the practical demands of being in the catering industry holds little charm.

The teashop staff have their own problems. The Tea Master, an unfit, former martial arts regional champion, detests the weight-lifting cook and the waiters tease each other endlessly.

Why a teashop?

But why a drama set in a teashop? Well, teashops are one of the few institutions in Myanmar (also known as Burma) patronised by all, irrespective of religion and ethnic identity. Everyone likes a cup of tea.

The drama is funded to support peace and inclusion. These concepts cannot remain hovering above the project as glorious abstractions; they have to be rooted in the reality of people’s lives. If our characters sound a bit quarrelsome, bear in mind peace has no meaning without exploring the conflict and resolution that precedes it. So, the teashop is where inclusion, conflict and peace all get played out in an entertaining and realistic way.

As the deadline for guests drew near, we were challenged alternately by sound without pictures, then pictures without sound. But in the end everything fell into place with minutes to spare. The guests came, they talked, they laughed, they drank and ate, and they went, each taking away a branded cup and diary, along with a CD of the drama. The donor and broadcast partner were happy.

Just as important, the Media was interested in our programme and Lead Producer, Maung Maung Swe, was interviewed by Kamayut Media and MRTV 4, scriptwriter, L.Lay Min Pyae Mon was interviewed by MITV, while fellow scriptwriter, Yu Ya was interviewed by MRTV. The Myanmar Times wrote a generously illustrated article.

The launch is over; the fun is finished. Now the real work begins. We’re on the production treadmill, which will only stop in October, writing, recording and editing one episode a week. But at least we’ve spread the word and put The Teacup Diaries firmly on the media map in Myanmar.

Episode one broadcast 15 May 2015 on Myanma Athein/MRTV. The drama will run for 25 episodes between now and November 2015.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Myanmar.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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