I was wrong

  • December 12, 2016 11:56 am

As Michelangelo said during a time of explosive human evolution: “I am still learning.” That is what I am doing.

I’ve been wrong about my definition of my work. I have to be wrong because the times we live in are demanding that I am not only wrong but dangerously so.

Creative Campus Student Tash Nouri

I have always thought that The Global Theatre Project does not do political theatre. I was against that idea. I stood on the premise that we do social-awareness theatre – theatre that woke people up to our world reality and encouraged personal responsibility and action. I believed that politics were for the politicians. About that last sentence, I was wrong.

In this moment of human history we are our politics. We have created forms of government tied just closely enough to the will of the people that our responsibility is to ensure those ties are never severed but made stronger. However, if they are not made stronger by a conscious empathetic citizenry, if they are ties of fear and ignorance, then what our politicians and governments will become is a direct result of our lack of human development both individually and collectively.

The imperative is two-fold: 1) that we, as artists, now guide our communities toward a sense of inter-connectivity, creative and intellectual celebration and communal harmony. This is the necessary political action, protest if you will, that The Global Theatre Project is focused on. 2) that, as a US Not-for-profit cultural organization we recognize that cultural export is politics. And that it affects our lives back in our small towns and large cities because it effects our international relationships.

In 2009 I sat in the office of the Consul General of Tuscany with a project to connect US students and artists with the local community as a counter to the alcohol-binged evenings many of our young people participated in. She wasn’t interested in supporting this work. There was a time, prior to Ronald Reagan, when the United States had cultural centers around the world sharing our art and artists, our intellectual inquiries and discoveries with the hopes of demonstrating the value of a functioning democracy on the international community. Since Reagan those centers have been closed. And yet we still export our culture – through studio film, network television, corporate dominance and warfare. This perspective of our culture is not complete. And it is a danger to us.

We can not necessarily stop the political power machines around us from doing what they are doing…. because they are controlled by people who have lost their sense of connectivity to the planet and to other human beings. But we can, as political protest and necessity, strengthen our tools and our intention and become the social-political artist-activists that are desperately needed right now. We need to . . . , as my mentor and partner in The GTP Institute, Mack McCarter, says: “we need to grow healthy human beings.”

So here I want to say clearly that I was wrong. The Global Theatre Project does do political theatre. In fact, we are building an army to act on this political stage…. Creative Corps. Our first line of attack is the demonization of refugees and those in forced immigration with the project An Explorer’s Desire. Fear and hatred will never solve this issue. Our efforts to work in our communities and to export this project world-wide will hopefully demonstrate that.

Please join us #WeRCreativeCorps #ExplorersDesire

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.

Patricia Ariza Enters the Stage

  • November 2, 2014 12:32 pm

I am newly arrived in New York.  The city of my birth.  And an energy I have not lived in for over 25 years. But I am home.  I know I am home because within days I was sitting on the floor in a room of about 20 people exploring the question of our own experience and perspectives on violence against women.  Against ourselves, others. A deep and immediate conversation with strangers who were there for one reason: to tell the story. The woman holding the container flew from Columbia to be honored by the League of Professional Theatre Women.  Patricia Ariza was to receive the Gilder/Coigney International Award for her work of the past 23 years.  But for now she was practicing trust and craft.  As all of us were.  As each stood and told a story. A truth. And then, over the next four hours, art was made of it.  And then, the next day, shared. Patricia Ariza Patricia began this work about 23 years ago.  Collective Creativity is what she calls it.  A process which takes in all contributions.  And then funnels those contributions to make an impact on an audience, on a community.  So they can recognize themselves.  Can so deeply identify themselves in a moment or an evening, that they hunger for what the artists are giving them. Patricia focuses her work mainly on women artists and the social movement of Columbia with victims of violence and displacement.  As I sat at the awards ceremony and listened to the Consul of Columbia speak about what a heroine Patricia is for Columbia, it struck me powerfully how true her words were.  Patricia has said the same, but in her own humble way: “The important thing is not me, but what I do with the women’s movement and social movement in Colombia. I am confident that the theater serves to achieve peace.” Peace is not easily achieved.  But unless we seek it, unless we are willing to be strangers sitting in a room sharing truth and crafting it into a journey out of darkness, we may never arrive at its shores. Certainly I intend to act on Patricia’s and her colleague Carlos Satizábal’s invitation to become a part of their world.  To bring The Global Theatre Project into active conversation with their work. I envision a world of creative warriors who enter the stage prepared, as Patricia, is to guide, to listen, to witness. And am grateful I am here in New York and was in that room.  

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.

 

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.