The GTP Diaries: #3

  • June 13, 2012 4:52 pm

Of Rape and Strike

In 2008 we decided to participate in the global VDay initiative created by Eve Ensler.  Bringing together over 40 US and international students, community members and theatre artists we created 6 events throughout the city which brought attention to the issue of violence against women.  There were exhibits, readings and children’s puppet shows.  The major centerpiece of the week was a production of Ms. Ensler’s ‘The Vagina Monologues’ which we performed in Italian and English with 28 women from 8 different countries.  The majority of whom were Italian and US university students.

The mission behind this project, raising money and awareness to eliminate violence against women and girls, was an easy one for everyone to stand behind.  But it was the creation of the play, the delving into the emotions, the building of a community that was going through a creative process, which solidified a group of people who never would have met, let alone spent this type of rich and valuable time together.  Some of the women spoke both languages, some only one.  But bonds were made regardless and a common commitment to creating and then sharing their work was palpable.

This event did something else however, it brought US students into relationship with the Florentine and international expatriate community.  It helped erase some of the perceptions about American students so deeply held in Florence.  There was respect for the girls which was a new experience for many of the adults of the group.

On closing night, after the performance, the set was being struck.  Everyone was in the theatre and the lobby packing up and working together.  It was 1am.  I was in the lobby packing a box when a student came up to me:

“Bari, there is a girl in the piazza with a guy and he is trying to kiss her.  She is drunk.”

A few of us went to check out the situation and, indeed, there was an American student with long blonde hair, the typical very short skirt and very high heels being slowly dragged into the alley by a man in his 30’s.

We chased him away, grabbed the girl and brought her into the lobby.  We would have sat her into a chair, but she was too drunk to wait for that.  She slid to the floor unable to say her name, unable to hold up her head.  Her wallet had no ID.  I had seen girls this drunk before.  It is terribly common in Florence.  And terribly dangerous for them.  They drink like they are on an extreme sport team for alcohol consumption, then they loose all their senses and they loose something else…. control of what happens to them.

This one was lucky.  She was saved.  This time.

And who was she saved by?  American students in Florence at 1am doing something quite different.  Striking a set with a community of residents who respected them and came to hold affection for them.  People who built something together of value and made an impact together in the community.

We all stood over this girl with no name who was blurting out her inner chaos to us in inarticulate phrases and I thought, ‘how ironic.’  Here we were: myself, American students, Italian actresses and the theatre manager staring down at the sterotype.  Until this project came into their lives this is exactly how the actresses and theatre manager thought all Americans behaved.

But now they knew better.  Now they had the experience to break a stereotype.  They could never have a conversation again with their friends or family which went ‘all American students disrespect our city and don’t care about other cultures.  They are all so self centered.  They all come here to drink and not to learn.’   They couldn’t have that conversation without their new response which would go something like: ‘No, not all are that way.’

Because, as we stood over the inebriated lump on the lobby floor, we knew she was only one person with a problem.  Not ‘all’ of anything.  So we called for help, poured her into a cab home with her roommates, and went back to striking the set.

 

The GTP Diaries: #01

  • April 23, 2012 3:46 pm

Politics and Art

I remember, several years ago, I had a student in Creative Campus named Georges.  Georges was from Egypt and studying international law at the European University in Florence.  He wasn’t an artist.  But he was curious and passionate and he had an immediate understanding of the impact artistic experiences and collective experiences have on society.  He became very involved in a great deal of what we did.

One of his projects, which he created with a girl from the states, was in response to our Creative Campus project ‘the effects of the global economy on the environment.’  This was a theme one of the local professors was interested in seeing developed creatively and I was intrigued as to what the kids would come up with.  Georges and his friend stood in front of the Duomo (the main cathedral of Florence) and handed out a small sheet of paper to passersby in three languages with facts about the effects of smog from over abundant tourism on the over 500 year old architectural wonder.  Then they photographed the responses of people to the paper . . . reading it, throwing it into a ball, discussing it with others.  And these photographs along with their narrative of direct responses to them became their installation at our event.

What struck Georges and his partner most was a comment of an elderly Florentine man who read the paper, looked at them with tears in his eyes, and thanked them for bringing attention to something of such importance which, in his lifetime of living in his city, he had never heard asked before.

A few weeks after the presentation we had a Creative Campus gathering with an important local artist, Marco Fallani, who was speaking about the commitment to a creative life and a creative society.  Georges asked why it was that when dictators come into power they kill the artists first.

Little did Georges know that his creative inquiry in front of the Duomo was a part of the answer to his question. Or, as Robert Frost so aptly put it:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Not Able to be Re-educated

  • December 8, 2011 9:57 pm

Playwright Stefano Massini

“Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet.”

Stefano Massini, playwright of Act 1: A Stubborn Woman: a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovksaya sat down with Actress Carolina Gamini in Florence. Since the video is in Italian, Carolina & Bari translated it. For our Italian speakers, we’ll get you the video soon!

 

Q: What compelled you to write A Stubborn Woman?
SM: Simply, when I found out about her death, of which I knew absolutely nothing, the thing that struck me the most was that someone had decided to eliminated this
journalist’s voice so that nobody would hear about what she committed her life to
reporting. I thought, in my small way with my profession, that I would be able to
go against this plan by writing a theatrical piece that would increase the number
of people hearing the story and get to know the story of Anna Politkovskaya. As a
consequence I wrote this text to go against the plan of those that decided to silence and muffle her voice.

Q: Can you tell us something about some of your other works?
SM: Currently I am writing a text that is the story of a trio of women who are interpreted by the same actress and who changes her the role she is playing according to the light shifts. It is the story of three women: a Palestinian, an Israeli and a female soldier who find themselves living in the same situation, the same moment and who talk about one another. Other texts that have been on stage: an adaptation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the story of Van Gough when he was in the mental asylum, IL TRITTICO DELLE GABBIE which that takes place in a closed space allowing the audience to experience the internal life of three different inmates.

 

Florence performance last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Q: How did you become involved with The Global Theatre Project?
SM: I became involved when I was a part of the organization of Festival della Creatività in Florence and was put in touch with Bari Hochwald, the Artistic Director, through a mutual friend. After a long exchange of emails with her, I sent her the text on Anna Politkovskaya which she read the text and was moved by. So much so that she decided to work on it. I had an experience of working with the students from the Theatre Immersion Project with Bari here in Florence and from this, the possibility to stage the play in Los Angeles arose.

Q: Can you tell us something about the experience from last summer?
SM: It was a very particular experience for me, as it always is every time this text is approached. Usually theatrical texts have written characters. But this text, on the other hand was written as a very open text with no characters. There are just a flow of words that can be interpreted either as a monologue by an individual actor or by a chorus. For example I remember that also here in Italy it was staged by two actors, a male and a female, directed by me and they shared the role of Anna Politkovksaya and at the same time there was also a great actress, Ottavia Piccolo, who did the performance as a monologue. She continues to perform it this way. In Brussels an additional performance has been done with 5 actors. In Bavaria there were two actors. In Teatre d’Europe it was represented with 25 actors. So there are various ways of staging this text. I was also intrigued to see the way that The Global Theatre Project approached it last summer using both singular and choral voices.

Q: Did you like this approach?
SM: It was very successful and interesting for me to see how it worked in English. Because English is a very theatrical language and was very interesting to hear how it sounded in the English language. And the actors were very good.

Q: Why did you leave the text open in this way for interpretation?
SM: I didn’t want to limit it but wanted it to be open and free for any theatre artist to perform and interpret. This text is different from my other work. With this play, I have never controlled the environment of the presentation or given the rights to some people and not to others to perform the show. I want this text to be presented in any way possible so that Anna’s voice can be heard and appreciated by everyone.

Q: What struck you the most about Anna’s story?
SM: Simply her courage. We live in a period where each one of us, due to our extreme individualism, look toward ourselves too much of the time. And we completely forget the situations outside ourselves. We have just come out of an era where it is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. With that event ideologies have also fallen…. both the communist and anti-communist ideologies. Now we have entered into a moment with the collapse of the capitalist economy. It is very strong to see these people protesting in front of Wall Street. It is the collapse and breakdown of everything that had animated the 20th century ideologies. Ideologies that looked to taking care of what was not only individualist but collective. Including the working class, capitalism, economic growth, political and religious motivations and so on. Today we are witnessing a phenomenon which is completely opposite. We are witnessing the collapse of group ideologies and the rebirth of individual instinct. It is a selfish era that we are living in now.

While Anna Politkovskaya is exactly the opposite of all this. She lives for her cause in a post Soviet, post ideological

Florence last summer. Photo by Lucca Fontanella.

Russia. In a Russia that no longer has an ideology that unites it. But where the most anarchic, diverse tendencies are enacted (so much so that a war is needed for uniting the country). And her life demonstrates the value of living for a cause greater than herself. I find this something which is totally against the norm and holds great value in the sharing of it.

Q: Do you think that art has a power in the world?
SM: Yes, the strongest power that exists. In the sense that the human being differentiates itself from other animals because he is capable of creating art. Which doesn’t mean that the magnificent dams built by beavers and the beehives of bees aren’t extraordinarily artistic, but the Sistine Chapel or the Pergola Theatre, where we are now, are testimonies of the genius of man. Art doesn’t only have the possibility of communicating. Art is the strongest reason that man has to being on the planet. It is not politics, it is not economy, it is art that makes the difference.

I would like to also say something, which is that I have always been surprised by the translation of A Stubborn Woman, with the use of the word ‘stubborn’. The title is not exactly translated correctly. Because the title in Italian literally means ‘A woman not able to be re-educated’. But that doesn’t sound very good. That is what the title actually means, however.

Supporter Spotlight: The Italian Cultural Institute (IIC)

  • December 5, 2011 2:00 pm
Florentine Playwright Stefano Massini's play premieres this Sunday

Our supporters and partners are invaluable to the work of The Global Theatre Project and beyond. If we had a nickel for every wonderful deed or talent donated, there would be no need to fund-raise! From the very beginning, The Italian Cultural Institute offered their assistance, and we are grateful for the exposure to their…

Permesso

  • September 2, 2011 6:23 pm

In my last post I spoke about the challenges of Italian doors and the lessons they provide for that initial moment when we are facing the unknown of a new culture.  The step just after we must ‘observe the door’ in order to discover how to open it is, of course, to walk through the portal. 

However, in Italy you don’t simply enter another person’s space without saying a very important word: ‘Permesso.’  In other words you are asking permission.  Clearly stated, and expected. . . whether you are entering an office or a home.  You can not enter and be considered a respectable person without this word.  Whether the person is standing right in front of you, or you are slowly peeking around an open door and announcing your presence, that word must be said.

I have to admit it took me quite a long time to feel comfortable with this expectation.  And often times early on in my Italian experience I didn’t do it.  But in not doing it I was putting my discomfort and embarrassment (as well as my cultural habits) in front of what my hosts needed in order to believe I held respect for them.

It takes a great deal of courage to let go of our self-identity when entering other worlds.  It is, of course, the one thing we want to cling onto most (either consciously or unconsciously).  But that is why, as artists, The Global Theatre Project is positioned to bring a level of awareness and risk-taking to the collaborations and entries we make with our international colleagues, partners and audiences.  However, at times, we don’t always see that initial situation of  ‘permesso’ clearly enough in advance.

On the very first evening of our Global Voices project with University of Texas, we had a special dinner at a very ‘local’ type of restaurant.  Mixed among the 15 Texas students and 2 professors were 9 residents and artists of Florence.  The evening was going beautifully, everyone getting to know one another with the intention clearly focused on integrating the students and professors as quickly as possible into the world of the city. 

Close to the end of the meal one of the professors stood up and suggested the students sing the UT song for their new Florentine friends.  And, that before they sing, they should ‘hook ‘em.’  What she was referring to was making the hand sign of the Longhorns (UT sports team) and the sign looks like this:

The reaction of the residents and owner of the locale was immediate and very strong.  They were shocked at seeing 17 hands holding a sign that they interpreted as offensive.  Clearly they felt the need to educate the newcomers that what they were doing had a very different meaning to Italians and that they should never ‘hook ‘em’ in front of an Italian if they don’t want to be offensive, insensitive or disrespectful. 

The sign that the Italians thought they saw looks like this:

Too close for their comfort and close enough to see what they registered as a vulgarity.  But the energy of the room at that moment was quite ‘collegiate’ and over-rode the definitive clues that were being given by the locals.

It was a perfect, and of course in hindsight, humorous moment of culture clash.  But it was also an opportunity missed to realize that …. even as we enthusiastically want to share our pride of identity with our hosts, when they open the door we must ask ‘permesso’ and if we forget, or do something incorrect, when they try to guide us in a direction right for their comfort….we should pause, take a breath and realize we are in their home.  They actually are the perfect guides for us to take those first steps over their portal with confidence and openness. And with a sense of belonging.  We need to allow our hold on our sense of identity to loosen a bit.

The project ended wonderfully with many friends made because, as the sensitivity of the students grew and developed during their stay, many doors opened to them.  In their own ways each of them learned their level of asking permission. 

‘Permesso’ goes far.  In Italian or any language. 

 

Observe the Door

  • August 18, 2011 8:39 am

We just completed our 8 week collaboration with the University of Texas on our Global Voices project in Florence, Italy. 

For the work of The GTP, Italy could not be a more perfect entryway for honing and perfecting the processes and structures of our projects and initiatives.  Or a more perfect lesson for visiting students, professors and artists who either have never left the United States or have never created work abroad having to deal with a local ‘reality’ such as Florence offers.

Approaching a new culture, whether it is globally or within our own country, requires that we check our ego, our ideas of how things ‘should’ be, and our ideas of how we ‘want’ things to be at the door.  We need to let go, open our eyes, our ears… all our senses…. including our heart…. and allow the truth of where we are to enter in. 

In Italy, when you are standing in front of a door…. ANY door… it is unlikely there will be an obvious way that it will open.  Unlike in the US where, for the most part, we have a door knob which is situated at hip height to your right and one turn will give you access…. that is NOT how Italian doors work.  So what does that mean?

It means you have a choice.  You can either stare at that door and become terrified, angry, frustrated, confused, insist it be ‘the door you know’, or you can…. simply…. observe the door.  You know it is a door.  You know it opens.  You just don’t know (yet) HOW. 

And that is the key issue for entering a new culture.  And, most certainly, for creating something of any relevant value there.  Accept that you don’t know.  But trust that you will.  Italian doors are magnificent things.  Many of them are physically beautiful.  Some of them are huge old horse carriage doors.  Others are so small they are half the size of our own.  Some have opening mechanisms in the center, some to the left, to the right, some turn, some push, some lift.  Some open by looking away from the door to the wall on your right or left for a gold or black or copper or red button.  But the one thing that holds true…. it will open.

In order to truly enter a new culture.  You must ‘observe the door.’  There were so many moments with our group from Texas where this challenge was beautifully presented, both actually and metaphorically.  Healthy international engagement on a creative level… on any level …. requires a level of relaxation.  You must let go of the ideas you have of how things are done and, even, who you are in the doing of them.  The opportunity presented, in many ways, is for you to be brave enough to admit you don’t know.  Until you learn about where you are.  And who you are with.  Take a breath, let in that information, see the shiny copper button just at eye level waiting to be pushed, and then. . . walk through.

At that point, you can begin to collaborate.

 

Our Inaugural Night

  • March 7, 2011 12:30 am

On February 25th we held an event in support of Belarus Free Theatre and a free belarus.  However it was also an opportunity to invite those present to join the ‘movement’ which is The Global Theatre Project by becoming a Lifetime Member this first season or volunteering with us.  The following is the speech which I gave.

Welcome to the inaugural event of The Global Theatre Project.  My name is Bari Hochwald and I am President and Artistic Director.  I am ecstatic to see you all here this evening.  There is plenty of information about our organization and upcoming projects which you will find in your program.  But in short it’s an organization dedicated to the concept of art as diplomacy.
We are living in extraordinary times.  Egypt, Tunisia, Libya… tyrants are being brought down left, right and center.  It’s happening for many reasons, but I’m in the camp that believes that communication has played a major role in this.  Twitter and various social networking sites have made it possible for an auto mechanic in Egypt to communicate with a college student in Tunisia and a farmer in the American Southwest.  Art of course is all about communication.  It’s the very foundation of drama, going back to Aristotle’s “Poetics.”  Fear and pity.  Expressing our shared frustrations.  Celebrating our shared joys.  Understanding.  Empathy.

I was lucky enough to live and create theatre abroad for a number of years at the Florence International Theatre Company.  As an American expatriate, I had a unique perspective from which to observe fellow expatriates, American students, tourists and many representatives of the Italian and US government.  During that time, I noticed something.  Human beings currently live in a world of countless enemies and limited empathy.  I became fascinated with the notion that by bringing together artists of differing nationalities, religions and life backgrounds, and providing them with creative opportunities to engage with each other, we can help create art that helps promote empathy.  That promotes the idea that fuller understanding helps us, as global citizens, take informed action.
Nothing illustrates this idea better than the plight of the people of the Belarus Free Theatre.

Tonight we celebrate Belarus Free Theatre.  We celebrate their courage, we celebrate their artistry, we celebrate what they are teaching us.  Which I believe is to wake up.  To pay attention.  To move to action.  To engage with our world in a conscious manner.  To believe that theatre is an art form of enormous value which can create communities which span oceans as well as threaten dictatorships.

As for myself, what would I like to accomplish from this evening?

What I hope will come from this evening is that many of you will be inspired to stay connected to the work of The Global Theatre Project and hopefully become involved in something we do as we develop.  Again, you can learn about our projects and initiatives listed in the back page of the program.
But please know you have already taken a first step by making a financial contribution, and by simply being here.  Your presence opens the door for the development of a new collaborative work with Belarus Free Theatre involving American theatre artists and students and which will be brought back here to Los Angeles when it is completed.  Our goal with this project is to help these artists create a vision which honors human expression and dignity.  Both in Belarus and here at home.

I also hope that from this evening, and from the videos of support which we are creating throughout the weekend with the partnership of many of our local theatre organizations and the generosity of talent and time of Professor Blomquist and the students of Cal State Long Beach that we will make a difference by joining the international community and theatrical community in saying ‘free Belarus.’

And for those you who respond to what you see here tonight, please help us continue down this path.  See me or any of our board members afterwards to make an additional contribution, or to volunteer your time.

This evening could not have happened without the enormous commitment of many people and the generosity of our supporters.  I thank our wonderful Board of Directors, Alison Korman and Julia Long who coordinated our reception, Yassmin Sarmadi and Church and State Bistro, Gaby’s Mediterannean Restaurant, Paul Young Fine Wines and Jeff Welburn Selections for sponsoring our reception.  I also must thank our incredible cast who so kindly gave of their time and talent toward the heart of this evening.

To speak more specifically about the situation in Belarus I am pleased to present Kala Mendoza, Regional Director of Amnesty International.

Protecting the NEA: An Open Letter To Our Representatives

  • January 26, 2011 1:28 am

The following is my response to a call for action from Americans for the Arts.  You can do the same by going here: http://capwiz.com/artsusa/issues/alert/?alertid=13209311

Dear Representative,

As the State of the Union address ends tonight I am heartened with the hope that we will find a leadership which works across party lines to manifest the best future for our country.  However, I am concerned that the future the President mapped for us did not contain one mention of the arts or our culture. 

The NEA is a necessary aspect of the economic life of this country.  There is no argument against the fact that the arts are a major industry in our United States.  According to Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion annually supplying 5.7 million full time jobs and $12.6 billion in federal income taxes

The current leadership of the NEA, Rocco Landesman, knows and understands the value of the arts and is innovatively reaching out to other federal agencies to create collaborative projects and programs with economic impact and social value.  The grants which the NEA provides are not frivolous.  They provide infrastructure and ensure broad access to the arts for all individuals from rural classrooms to major symphonies.

It is, for me, a simple truth that a nation with out a mandate for support of its artists is a nation without a soul.  The innovation which President Obama spoke of also applies to those of us in the arts industry.  We represent a vital aspect of the future and the NEA is an unquestionable necessity to continue to see it realized.

Cutting the NEA is a long-time agenda which will not solve our fiscal crisis and which will only add to the financial burden on this country.  Jobs will be lost, opportunities will fall.  The nation’s future will be negatively impacted.  We must rise above the concept that the arts are the enemy of a healthy economic system and accept the REALITY that support of the arts industry is aligned with the health of an economy.  One need only look to our abandoned downtowns and neighborhoods, such as found in Los Angeles, which have been revitalized through growth of local businesses flourishing around a central pulse of the artists who built studios and theatres in abandoned buildings and structures.  Where art thrives, the economy blossoms.

I spent 5 years in Florence, Italy.  The mayor of that city, Matteo Renzi, looks to the United States and its relationship and support of the arts as it encourages economic growth as an example of what is possible for Florence.  He recognizes that we have found a healthy balance in our cities and towns to support the arts industry and revitalize communities.  He sees our model as the Florentine future.

There is no good argument for the elimination of the NEA.  Not a social argument and, certainly and without any question, not an economic one.

I urge you to stand for the future of our country, and protect the NEA from any attacks on its survival.

With respect and thanks,

Bari Hochwald
President and Artistic Director
The Global Theatre Project