Global Connections Begins

by August Schulenburg

in Global Citizenship,Global Connections

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In the spirit of World Theatre Day on March 27th (have you watched Jeffrey Wright’s moving message?), we’re sharing a more in depth look at our recent Global Connections grantees. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a teleconference meeting where the participating artists shared the genesis of their plans, with a contagious enthusiasm building with each shared vision. Though the work of the grantees varied in both geography and content, shared themes of sustainability through reciprocity and the embrace of differing perspectives emerged.

George Bartenieff and Karen Malpede of the Theater Three Collaborative (Brooklyn, NY) went first, describing their collaboration with National Theater of Kosovo (Pristina, Kosovo) on two new plays about “what happened to the world after 9/11″. Based on the playwrights’ direct experiences with the aftermath of trauma, the plays tackle “torture, Islamophobia, and violence from two different perspectives. Both plays are surreal, satiric and use poetry of word and action.”

That friction of differing perspectives also ignites the work of Chicago artists Seth Bockley and Devon de Mayo. They’ll begin performance research with clown artist Artus Chavez of Mexico City to develop an original performance that wrestles with the violence in Northern Mexico, exploring “how we interpret and understand violence that happens in other cultures.” They hope using the art of clowning will create “a productive tension between a very serious theme and an irreverent medium.”

Also exploring shifting cultural perceptions are playwright Rebecca Gilman (Chicago, IL) and Sven Benediktusson (Gothenburg, Sweden). Through interviews with Swedish Americans in Minnesota and Swedes in Växjö, they’ll create a documentary theatre piece that plumbs the impact of Swedish migration on both communities, asking “which country is now the promised land, America or Sweden?” The finished play will perform in both countries and in both languages.

That collaborative reciprocity is part of Tricklock Company’s DNA. Co-Artistic Director Juli Hendren described how the Albuquerque based company uses their own international touring to discover artists, seeking out “as many other theatres and collaborators as possible.” Tricklock then brings those artists to New Mexico for their annual Revolutions International Theatre Festival. That was the way they met Dah Theatre (Belgrade, Serbia) while touring in 2004, and after hosting them for Revolutions Festival 2009, Dah is bringing Tricklock to their Passing The Flame Festival this June. Their Global Connections grant will thus provide fuel for many new reciprocal relationships, while at the same time, allowing them to deepen their ongoing collaboration with Teatr Figur Krakow (Krakow, Poland).

This spirit of reciprocity can be especially sustaining when artists are working in communities recovering from trauma. Jeanne Calvit and Sandy Moore of Interact Center for the Visual & Performing Arts (Minneapolis, MN) shared a compelling story from an artist in the Congo. Injured by violence, this Bantu artist “fled to a village on the edge of the rainforest where he thought he would most likely die. There he was adopted by a tribe of Pygmies, long oppressed by his own Bantu people, and threatened themselves by their vanishing homeland. Despite their situation, they protected him from the bombings for two years, immersing him in their remarkable rituals, stories and songs.” Interact will collaborate with the Congo artist and Pygmy tribes to create a theatrical event inspired by the story, documenting that process on film, and constructing “a sustainable set that will become a part of the community when we leave.”

That urge to build something sustainable that lives beyond the American artists’ direct involvement also fires playwright Erik Ehn’s (Providence, RI) vision. Traveling to East Africa for eight years now, Ehn is ”looking to develop sustainable partnerships and collaborations”  by expanding the third annual Centre x Centre Theatre festival (Kigali, Rwanda), to include Ugandan theatre professionals. Ehn dreams of developing the festival to sustain itself locally, so that one day soon he’ll “be invited to it and just be a guest.”

Issues of sustainability take on primal urgency with the work of Adam Fristoe from Out of Hand Theater (Atlanta, GA) in their collaboration with spectacle theatre The Lunatics (Utrecht, Netherlands) and the NASA/NSF Center for Chemical Evolution. Together they’re developing a new outdoor location theatre event called  Group Intelligence, a mass MP3 experience, which will give 300-1,000 people at a time “an interactive journey dealing with issues around water sustainability and the origins of life.” They hope the process will work towards a water-free production so they can share the play in communities struggling with drought.

The sustainability and relevance of theatre itself is at the heart of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s (Washington, DC) vision. Howard Shalwitz spoke of the “profound impact” his recent travels through several Eastern European countries had on him, leading him to imagine new models for  ”the processes, the finances, the rehearsal time” of Woolly. They will share not only artistic but new administrative practices in dialogue with their Russian partners.

Also from Russia (with love), playwright Richard Nelson (Rhinebeck, NY) will collaborate with acclaimed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Paris, France) on a series of new English translations of major Russian plays.

Reciprocity of opportunity; sustainability of practice; translation of vision; these are some of the themes that unite the exciting work of our grantees. Stay tuned to the Circle as the artists themselves share postcards from their travels, and insights from their work, as Global Connections begins.