No Longer Seeking Escape

  • March 24, 2016 1:25 am

When I was at Syracuse University we had a week of nuclear awareness events. There were lectures, there were discussions and films. I remember one night I watched ‘The War Game,’ a British drama-documentary filmed in 1965 dramatizing the effect of a nuclear explosion in Britain and the resulting end of their society structure. The film was so powerfully done that it was hard to believe it wasn’t a documentary. That these things didn’t actually happen.

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When I walked out of that building I literally thought the sky would light up at any moment. And, at 19, I wondered what I was doing at Syracuse University studying something so inane as acting.

When I called my mother in desperate tears and fear she said something that has stayed with me all my life. She recounted for me the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the belief they truly had that, at any moment, the world they knew would end. She told me that what was most important at that time was for them to escape that world of fear, to be entertained, to be reminded of the value of life through film, theatre and art.

I am thinking about that now. I have thought about it many times throughout the last three decades, and it comes again to me since the attacks on Brussels and the ongoing attack on Syria and so many other places or moments where humanity is not to be found and violence announces itself as king.

I am not 19 anymore. And the world has utterly changed in these 30 years. In such a way that I am sure it will never return. No matter how many walls we build, or fences we construct. We are now at a time where we can no longer believe in the safety of an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ We will only find our true comfort and our deliverance to a humane and peaceful planet through courageously exploring the challenging journey of embracing WE.

And this, I know, is where the artists come in. No longer to offer escape, but to offer a healthy pathway to community. No longer to only entertain but to encourage the spark of creative connectivity found in every human being on this planet. This is an imperative. Just as I am sure more attacks will come.

Clearly the way we have been heading has not established a way of living together that assures peace. Our leaders – our governments – will do what they will do. But while their actions either are improving our hopes for survival or diminishing them, it is time for the artist to take up the call and expand their personal mission to be responsible to all humanity.

It is a brave act to look deeply at one another. To embrace each other through the fear of our differences, our histories, and to arrive at the moment where we see our mutual beauty. That is a power that an artist can direct, shape and guide.

It is a call to arms for the sake of humanity and the planet on which we depend.

Beginning The Conversation

  • December 30, 2015 11:01 am

Rare Steaks“An Explorer’s Desire” which we did in 2013 in Los Angeles and Florence, Italy was originally conceived to demonstrate that immigration is not a ‘local problem’ but a common issue filled with one deeply specific human story after another. There is no ‘wave’ of immigrants, but there are drops of individuals who are either forced or choose to migrate from their home and each carries with them every human emotion, every care, every fear regardless of their skin color, their language, sexuality or religion. When we see them as a wave we forget this. But when we listen and feel their individual journey’s we can see our own. This is what we wanted to demonstrate in 2013. This and the fact that the exploration of the world is a glorious thing — that meeting each other on the stage of this planet is a rare gift.

Now, in 2015, we have come to a point, yet again, in our history where immigration and the immigrant is demonized. And because of this I could not stand by silently. It seemed to me — a second generation American — that some of us were forgetting our history, and that others were allowing the manipulation of words to shortcut logical exploration and discourse.

So, clearly the right thing to do was to re-examine “An Explorer’s Desire” in order to respond to fear and hatred which are rising both in the United States and Europe as many of our neighbors from various and troubled lands seek shelter and kindness – seek a new home where they are safe.

I have always said, and I will again say it here, that The Global Theatre Project does not do political theatre – we do social theatre. We look at social issues and seek processes and approaches which help our artists, students and community members to celebrate the inter-connectivity of humanity.  To find the way to guide others toward remembering we are one human family. That the world as well as our very neighborhood streets function better when we engage on this level. However, I am pointedly choosing to explore this issue during an election year because many of our politicians are using immigration as a tool and this is threatening a social fabric I feel we, as a free people, can not forget. The tapestry of our history.

Throughout the coming months I will share the process with you: What we learn, what challenges we face, what individuals and groups we engage and what art and conversation is created.

Please stay in touch. At some point we will want to include you. Your story is important, your history, your journey — all of it is intertwined through the centuries to this very moment.

Happy New Year,

Bari

Warriorship

  • April 9, 2015 5:05 pm

As terrorists destroy not only human life, but the cultural history of, in essence, all humanity, there is only one thing that comes to my mind.  Which is that we must fight warriors with Warriorship.

Because we are at war in these days.

That war is taking place in locations such as the blood-soaked terra of Syria, and Yemen, yes.  But when we look in shock and horror at what is being done by ISIS, can we also look to our own society and see where we engage in the destruction of Life’s value? Can we acknowledge the multitudes of children who go to bed starving or whose minds don’t develop with the privilege of education as an inequity that is also a dismissal of our collective value? Can we recognize that, in our mechanized cruelty to animals in science laboratories and in factory farms, we are saying that we have no regard for the sanctity of the miracle of Life which flows through them.

We live at a time when, in a myriad of efficient and effective ways, many lives are being sacrificed and destroyed for the benefit of a few, for the belief of a few.  Lines are being drawn physically, economically, socially and philosophically and war is declared on multiple fronts.

This violence against ourselves and our world disassociates us from experiencing the intimate knowledge of connectivity that allows for fulfilling our capacity for true progress and development.

Because of this, I have come to believe and understand that celebrating the sacredness of life is the most powerful social and political statement that can be made right now.

The process of becoming an artist takes years of training in order to become an expressive, creative instrument.  It requires trust in self, trust in your collaborators and your public.  It invites an energy toward the readiness for something unexpected and, surely, beautiful and uplifting to happen through a collective experience.

And then it does.

It does when we come together in a theatre, when we stand in front of a painting or sculpture and receive what was created for us . . . any conversation between the creator and the receiver is a sacred act.

And sacred acts are our call to battle.  This is why I believe so deeply that the only way out of this darkness is to create an corps of warriors who celebrate Life.  Warriorship defined through the artist and the artistic process.

With the destruction of the 3,000 year old archeological site of Nimrud, the director general of UNESCO called the action a ‘war crime’ that should be taken up in International Criminal Court.

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And she is right, it is a war crime.  But this war requires masters of culture and of life, not soldiers with military hardware or the ‘impartial’ arm of justice to imprison the perpetrators. Because the long term view of victory will require that we embrace a better understanding of who and what we are, and from that understanding take action and render justice.

I envision a world guided by young artists who understand that all lives are imperative.  Warriors that understand they cannot train, create or work in a void because they are needed and necessary in  the public spaces of this moment of human history. Their education and their work process should include another element contemporarily integral to becoming an artist: community engagement and social service.  Their Warriorship is the training to stand in the face of this violence and devastation and be a fully creative, expressive and celebratory human being regardless.

And, in doing so, remind us that we are – all – the same as well.

This, to my mind, is the only way we will win this war.

This, to my mind, is the only way we will win our human magnificence, sanity and dignity back from both the terrorists and the terrorism of our own societies and our world.

Defining Conflict

  • December 24, 2014 7:46 am

I have begun a collaboration with Human Rights attorney and professor of Sydney University, Rita Shackel.  Her work has, for many years, focused on sexual gender-based violence in the conflict zones of Uganda, DRC and Kenya.  We began exploring this partnership with the question of how we can create a theatre piece which not only brings attention to an issue, but affects both global and local policy.

As we deepen this query it’s become quite obvious that although Professor Shackel and I speak relatively the same language (Australian and American English) we don’t often speak the same language of profession.  Words can mean very different things.  Or the subtleties of what they do mean can be, at times, confusing and misguiding.

At a recent conference in Carrara, Italy we presented a workshop on how interdisciplinary collaborative relationships can be valuable in affecting global communities through creative works.    In preparing for this workshop Professor Shackel and I had to find a common ground upon which to stand.  We both want the same things – we want our work to have impact, we want to be of service to a horrific issue affecting humanity globally and locally, we want to inform, we want to motivate people to action.  And, not the least important, we want to learn from one another.  And then we ran into the word ‘conflict.’

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An important aspect of Professor Shackel’s work is observing and analyzing conflict. She is a researcher and this issue of conflict brings her very important information from which she can eventually make policy suggestions toward societal change.  So creating environments which will offer abundant opportunities for conflict to be present is desirable in order to draw useable data.

Conflict in theatre has a different value.  Although we use conflict to create drama – intention versus obstacle resulting in conflicting needs and wants then leading to action – we structure that conflict in a crafted manner either through a script or through delegation of roles in improvised scenarios.  The point of interest for us is not the conflict itself as much as how it was resolved.  And this may seem a subtle difference, but it is actually quite a vital one when we were structuring the exercises and approach for our workshop participants and when we were clarifying our individual and collective goals.

Both of us are interested in analyzing human behavior.  But the difference is that Professor Shackel analyzes behavior that is actual.  Theatre artists analyze human behavior in order to apply it to storytelling.  We create artificial environments which reflect human truths and then we ‘behave’ within that artificial environment depicting our humanity as specifically, intimately and theatrically as possible.

I was given the opportunity, once again, to be reminded of how very powerful the theatrical process is.  And how deeply necessary toward both engaging and analyzing human behavior.  In working to find a common ground, I had to consciously deconstruct the theatrical exercises and reframe them in order to communicate more clearly their value and power.  But, in doing this, I was also given the gift of seeing them from the window that framed the gap between conflict and the resolution of conflict.

And this gap offered me the opportunity to begin thinking about the actual future project that will be developed between us.  If in only looking at this one word – conflict – we might find that the process we develop will become more valuable then the final product.  And that, possibly, a final product will not best serve this project.  Possibly the presentation of a play only allows an audience to passively experience empathy.  But in designing a theatrical experience for the audience which is centered on the question of conflict – both personal and communal – we might be more affecting.

These are questions which arose during working with Professor Shackel.  No doubt they will unfold as we move forward.

Calling For An Evolution.

  • January 2, 2014 2:51 pm

Evo-lu-tion: A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.

 

46494_10151141618802569_929889223_nThere is a lot that theatre can do.  But I believe, at its best, theatre can evoke evolution in society. And, at this moment, we are in sincere need of exactly that.

We are living in a time when so much is at stake.  The global ‘community’ seems to function perfectly for mega-corporations, governments, the military industry, but not quite so much for the average citizen.  And yet we are affected by this globalization, both directly and indirectly. For us, the borders are becoming more closed and difficult to cross, our freedoms are being restricted for ‘our protection,’ our food supply is being poisoned for ‘our benefit,’ our wages are decreasing, our fears rising. The world is becoming smaller, yes, and we do connect through internet, this is true.  We learn about what is happening in other parts of the world.  We spend hours on Facebook and Twitter.  And we do credit these social media sites with instigating revolutions.  We recognize the power of collective action — even through cyberspace – to invoke change.  But is true human evolution possible relying only on this cyber-environment to connect us?

Without intimate contact, we cannot truly come to know one another. Without the glory of creating together . . . which is what human beings do best . . . we will not advance as individuals or societies.  We will regress.

It is not that I am calling for an elimination of our progress and advances technologically.  But I am calling for an active recognition that, at the foundation of it all, we need to know each other.  We need to experience directly and globally what we most value: compassion, understanding, joy, laughter, empathy, kindness, sensitivity, playfulness, celebration, self-expression, curiosity, imagination, patience, Love.

These instincts and faculties, I believe, we are all born with.  As Nelson Mandela said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart then its opposite.”

Theatre, particularly, explores the caverns of the human heart and the expanse of our collective and individual stories.  The live interaction between the artists and the sharing of their discoveries with the audience through language, visual art, music, choreography, passion and intellect stretches all involved toward the fullness of our miraculousness.  At its best, theatre gifts all those present with a unique moment of time which exists only because they are there together.  Never to be repeated exactly the same again.  We leave the moment better somehow, larger, deeper, more alive and curious about ourselves and our world.  We become sensitized and alert.  We evolve with a knowledge that only comes from an experience which invites us into a space where we sit elbow-to-elbow with those we don’t know and patiently, listen.  We let a world unfold into our eyes, ears, mind and heart.  We see other human beings, who look so much like ourselves, soar for us to heights of human expression.  To the joys, the humor, the loss, the weight of struggling with life as it is.  And we leave feeling more alive in our bodies and, if given the opportunity, in our communities, our world.

The Global Project is not a theatre company.  It is an offer of evolution.  It is a love affair with theatre from the knowledge that, in the world in which we live today, an art form such as this – – presented in ways that involve and engage, question and observe, will celebrate what we can become: human beings living in harmony on this planet.

It is possible.  But it requires an evolution.

And we are calling for it.

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.

 

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…

Belarus Free Theatre: NOW

  • December 1, 2011 8:53 pm

AN UPDATE ON OUR FRIENDS FROM THE BELARUS FREE THEATRE:

Early in 2011 the national and international theatrical community rallied together behind the Belarus Free Theatre as they struggled to find a way to not only continue their powerful work in the theatre, but bring awareness to the truth of the situation in their country of Belarus.

Human rights infringements, horrors of torture, disappearances, and unjustified imprisonment were brought to light as a result of these brave artists fleeing their country and arriving in New York to perform at the Under the Radar Festival.

That act of courage brought many of us around the globe and throughout the United States to add our voices to their cause. ‘Free Belarus’ was video taped and chanted in places and by people who may never heard of or given much credence to this country prior. But it was the passion and commitment of Natalya Kolyada and her husband Nikolai Khalezin who awakened many of us. These founders of Belarus Free Theatre brazenly put not only their art into the world, but gave shape, feeling and articulation to the cries of their countrymen who otherwise would have been silenced to international ears.

In New York, London, Chicago, here in Los Angeles and many other cities throughout the US and Europe vigils were held, readings of ‘Being Harold Pinter’ (created by Nikolai and based on the work of their supporter Harold Pinter) were staged in solidarity.

But relatively quickly, the focus moved from Belarus to the Middle East. And the members of Belarus Free Theatre could not return home without risking grave personal danger. And nothing changed in Belarus. Except that more of their friends and colleagues were arrested and put in jail. As Natalya once shared with me, Belarus has no value. Only people. No oil, no resources. So who will come and help a country whose leader has been called ‘the last dictator of Europe?’

However, they tirelessly continue to bring focus to the abuses of power and human rights violations. They meet with diplomats and politicians with hope that they will apply pressure on the Belarusian government to release political prisoners and bring an end to enforced disappearances. And, they make their art. They must. Because as long as they make theatre and tell the truth of this story, it won’t be ignored utterly. It will not be forgotten. As they have stated on their website: The Belarus Free Theatre is a “project” which will be ended when the situation in Belarus changes from dictatorial regime to democracy. Within the current political and world climate, that does seem unlikely any time soon.

So what happens until then?

c. They are also busy creating new pieces they hope will make a difference, one of which, A Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011 was presented at the Edinburgh Festival. It received a top award of the festival, “The Scotsman Fringe First 2011″ Award for “Innovation and Outstanding New Writing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe”, as well as The Guardian’s “The Very Weighty Topics Award.”

And what can we, the international theatre community, do to help them now?

Natalya and Nikolai are in the process of officially registering “Belarus Free Theatre” for charitable status (not-for-profit) which will allow them to grow their organization at a more substantial level. The goal of the first leg of this campaign is £9,000 (approximately $14,000) and they are more than halfway towards that goal. The deadline is December 12th—if they don’t reach the goal by that time, they will be liable for a high penalty.

We often have very weighty and interesting discussions of theatre and its relevance. And here we have one of the most relevant theatre companies in the world who need our help. Not only are they giving a voice to a country suppressed, they are artists of the highest caliber in our profession. I know that my association with them has opened my eyes and my heart to the true power of what place art and artists take within our world.

To learn how to help them on this next phase of their life, please click here

“This is the power of art” -Amnesty International

  • November 18, 2011 12:21 pm

Bari Hochwald, President & Artistic Director 

When the opportunity arose, in the support of the Belarus Free Theatre, for us to take our model of theatrical international engagement and apply it to essential issues such as human rights and free speech, I knew that I wanted to expand the experience by involving an organization that I have respected for years. I am thankful that they immediately understood and embraced what we were doing back in February.  And now, with our upcoming project, we have the opportunity to deepen and expand that relationship in a variety of ways all in one evening.  I am deeply grateful for this and feel sure that, as time goes forward, we will be creating innovative and exciting events together that are creatively, intellectually and spiritually provocative and that engage not only our artists but our audience into a participatory experience such as we will be doing in Association with Amnesty International on December 11th.
 
We asked Amnesty International Representative Jessica Farley to share why she’s involved with The GTP.
 
Amnesty International

JF: Amnesty International (AI) was founded 50 years ago to speak on behalf of prisoners of conscience, those who have spoken out and been detained, tortured or killed for their political or personal beliefs. Anna Politkovskaya was a heroic human rights defender and a prisoner of conscience. Her courageous investigative journalism in Russia and Chechnya did what AI activists all hope to do, be a voice for the voiceless and hold people accountable for human rights abuses. It is for this reason she won the 2001 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. The Global Theatre Project uses artistic expression to draw awareness to human rights issues around the world, now on behalf of Anna Politkovskaya, and those of us at AI supports this important work on behalf of human rights and are excited about our relationship with The Global Theatre Project. 

Amnesty has maintained a strong relationship with artists because it is easy to make the link between creative expression and freedom of expression. I grew up studying theatre and became a member of AI when I was 14 years old. I am an artist and a human rights activist. So, I know theatre has the potential to create an experience that provides us a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and live in the world. I love that The Global Theatre Project urges us to understand not only some of the darker human experiences that we must not forget, but also offers us the opportunity to be touched by the lives of incredibly courageous people.  

Q: How is Amnesty and The GTP’s work similar and how is it different?

JF: Amnesty and The GTP share underlying values. AI has over 3 million members in 150 countries. I believe most of our members consider themselves to be world citizens. Part of The GTP’s mission is to build and promote creative cross-cultural relationships. AI and The GTP advocate for human rights and global understanding with the participation of an international community. AI members and staff may spend more time writing letters and issuing reports whereas The GTP is primarily an artistic organization, but activism can take many different forms, though our vision for a more humane world is the same.

Q: Why is Anna Politkovskaya’s voice important to be heard?

JF: Amnesty International’s emblem is a glowing candle encased in barbed wire. This symbol represents those that shine a light for others in the darkness. Anna Politkovskaya was, and remains, a light for those in Russia and Chechnya. She sought the truth in the midst of a terrible war and then shared this truth with the world, knowingly risking her life. Human rights abuses are often justified by those who commit them, but Anna Politkovskaya reminds us that such abuses are never justifiable and should never be hidden. Her work is a stand for human dignity and reminds us to have the courage to speak out, even when governments or society would have us stay silent. Her voice reminds us that we are all responsible for each other and have a say in the kind of world we share.

Q: How did you feel after the first read-through of the script?

a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya by Stefano Massini

JF: I felt both excited to be part of this project and saddened by the reality exposed. I have heard many stories about human rights abuses, often first-hand. It is never easy. The script is moving and evocative. It gives us a glimpse of what Anna Politkovskaya’s life was like, what she discovered and the challenges she faced. This is the power of art. It brings things to life. The script brings Anna Politkovskaya to life along with those who were victims in the war between Russia and Chechnya; this is difficult to experience, but I feel it makes us better people.

Q: What about the panel interests you the most?

JF: We live in strange times. Amnesty has worked on many human rights abuses in the USA and abroad. However, we have the freedom to host a panel on human rights, and not everyone does. I am interested in the expert voices on the panel and the diverse perspectives they will bring to this discussion about freedom. I am interested to hear the questions from the audience because I imagine everyone attending will be part of a community interested in expression and humanity. 

Q: Can you please describe an Amnesty Action?

JF: Amnesty members spend a lot of time writing to oppressive governments and authorities who are able to directly make a difference for those suffering human rights abuses. We write on behalf of specific individuals or groups advocating for human rights to be upheld. It might be hard to imagine that such action would have an impact, but it does. Prisoners are often released or we receive information that their treatment has improved. We keep in touch with many former prisoners of conscience and they tell us our support gave them hope when they were alone in a cell or that their interrogators specifically mentioned calls, letters and campaigns by Amnesty International before their release. Our work shows human rights abusers that the world is watching. 

Our Amnesty action on December 11th will be for Majid Tavakkoli. Majid was studying ship building in Iran when he was imprisoned for giving a speech at his university criticizing the Iranian government in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. His charges included “participating in an illegal gathering” and “insulting officials”. He has been sentenced to serve more than eight years in prison. He is a prisoner of conscience who was jailed simply for expressing his opinion. Majid will be part of our Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon where we will join thousand of people around the world and call on the Iranian government to uphold human rights and free Majid Tavakkoli.