(Pictured: Closing ceremonies at Theatre Without Borders Conference, Acting Together On The World Stage)
Here at the TCG Circle, we’ve been going global through our recent interview series with the international theatre artists who participated in Theatre Without Borders recent conference, Acting Together On The World Stage.
Now for the big picture: Marcy Arlin of Immigrants Theatre Project rounds up the exciting events of the Conference itself!
Round up, Theatre & Peacebuilding, by Marcy Arlin
In places and times of great suffering, there are still reasons to celebrate.
– Ali Mahdi, Albugaa Theatre, Sudan
It has taken me over two weeks to absorb and understand the magnitude of the conference ACTING TOGETHER ON THE WORLD STAGE: A CONFERENCE ON THEATRE AND PEACE BUILDING IN CONFLICT ZONES, organized by Theatre Without Borders and hosted by La MaMa E.T.C. in New York City from September 23-26 2010. From the Thursday night September 23 premiere of Brandeis University’s Peacebuilding and the Arts Program’s Acting Together on the World Stage documentary, to the Sunday afternoon September 26 performance of Albugaa Theatre’s joyous and heartbreaking celebration of the peoples of the Sudan, this conference brought together many of the theater artists who work – in conditions often dangerous, often frustrating, and always rewarding – creating theatre that hopes to improve the world one workshop or one performance at a time. The four organizers: Roberta Levitow, Daniel Banks, Catherine Filloux, and David Diamond, put out a worldwide call for practitioners to come to join them at La MaMa, a home for international theater founded by theatre visionary Ellen Stewart. Not only did over 50 artists (from Romania, the U.S., Cambodia, Native America, Peru, Iraq, Iran, Argentina, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Palestine, India, Israel, Cuba, Australia, Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Germany, Belarus, Serbia and Afghanistan) speak on panels and run workshops, but the audience of over 300 every day for four days included additional artists from all over the world who met, schmoozed, exchanged war stories, learned techniques, and talked about healing through theatre in the world’s conflict zones.
What we all learned is that the human response, good, bad and indifferent, is universal. We looked around and saw other artists who care as much as we do, and who have devoted their lives to tikkun olam, fixing the world.
The panels were organized thematically rather than geographically. This innovation in international theatre conferencing had the advantage of allowing the guests to speak on where they perceived their societies to be in specific relationship to a cycle of violence: Conflict Under Repression; In the Midst of Violent Conflict; Aftermath and Human Rights; Rebuilding.
The first keynote speaker, Dr. Barbara Love, spoke of some prescriptions for healing, most notably the concept that often societies that oppress have often been oppressed themselves, and that the cycle of violence must be broken by healing, however that can be accomplished. The previous five years of collaborations between TWB and Brandeis University, led by Dr. Cynthia Cohen, had clearly created a common language for theatre people and peacebuilders to understand and collaborate with each other. A high note for the future was an acknowledgement by Devanand Ramiah, a Conflict Prevention Specialist with the U.N. Development Program, that theatre can be a viable and effective tool for peacebuilding and that professional theatre artists should no longer be consulted as an afterthought when peacebuilders are assessing action in a conflict zone.
Another interesting note for this writer was made by the African theatre practitioners. While grateful and moved by Western theater artists’ involvement in African issues and cultivation of theater artists, they reiterated that Africa has its own theatrical traditions, valid, familiar, intelligent and appreciated by the population. They hoped for more integration of African forms into the theatre methodologies being brought in from the outside. It was also mentioned that they loved hip hop – a form that was born out of exchange between Africa and the U.S.!
There were performances: Naomi Newman from A Travelling Jewish Theatre had us share a group “oy”, Dawn Saito delivered a moving dance theatre performance about a trafficked woman. The Belarus Free Theatre moved the audience to tears during a performance about a love lost to a forced disappearance and Dah Teatar of Serbia showed how women’s stories of loss and survival from all sides of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia can move even the most hardened combatant. There were interludes of just being silly with Kwesi Johnson of Kompany Malakhi in the UK, and later Playback Theatre. There was an invitation to participate in the international readings of The Gaza Monologues, organized by Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah. There was a lesson on responsibility and unwilling participation in post-theatre workshop violence, demonstrated by James Thompson’s sensitive performance about his work in Sri Lanka.
Everyone I spoke to had worked internationally, no matter where they came from. There were tales of small triumphs, as when Joanna Sherman of Bond St. Theatre spoke of a war-traumatized child finally moving an arm in response to music, and there was the remarkable bravery of a Kurdish-Iraqi performance and visual artist, Adalet Garmiany, who survived the massacre of 90 percent of his family, or when Pauline Ross spoke of bringing Catholic and Protestant former combatants together at Derry Theatre in Northern Ireland in spite of bomb threats, or Ella Fuksbrauner recounting how at Colombia’s Bogotá Theatre Festival the audience returned after a bomb went off, or when Pakistan’s Ajoka Theatre’s Artistic Director Shahid Nadeem told of women who braved domestic violence to come to a rehearsal. An American woman in the audience had spent 3 years in Bosnia after the war; another just returned from Zimbabwe, and a young American man worked in theatrical forms in his community where no one had ever seen a traditional American play. There were talks on methodology, how to get started, and much much more.
The whole remearkable conference is documented with follow-through on www.theatreandpeace.com or you can learn more about the Theatre Without Borders Theatre & Peace Building Project at www.theatrewithoutborders.com and you can see interviews and comments by some of the participants in answer to questions posed by TCGCircle at www.tcgcircle.org.