Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Celebrating World Refugee Day

It is World Refugee Day, and here at Bond Street Theatre we are taking the opportunity to commemorate the resilience, strength, and courage of millions of refugees all over the world. Today, we encourage you, our friends and colleagues, to educate yourselves on the very serious refugee crisis that continues to impact our world.

According to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), there are currently 65.6 million people who have been displaced worldwide. 22.5 million are refugees and 10 million are stateless. Refugees are defined as individuals that have been displaced and forced to leave their homes due to war, famine, persecution, or violence. Their ability to succeed in the face of everything is remarkable.

A citizen of any given country is guaranteed a set of basic human rights but, as a refugee, a person may lose access to these rights and protections. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, all refugees have the right to safe asylum, the right to not be forcibly returned to their country of origin, and the same rights as any foreigner who is a legal resident, including freedom of thought, movement and freedom from torture.

However, in countries that did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are left vulnerable and they are often stripped of access to these rights. This is why we at Bond Street Theatre continue our commitment to working with refugees, and why we are bringing new refugee-centered projects to Malaysia in 2017.

Theatre creates the space for laughter, for critical thought, for expression, for mutual understanding, and so much more. At Bond Street Theatre, we challenge and call upon all artists to spread tolerance, especially towards people who are facing turmoil and persecution, and to seek out new opportunities to learn from others.

Below we share stories of those from the refugee communities that we have had the privilege of learning from:

1987: Montreal
In 1987, BST was invited to Montreal’s International Youth for Peace and Justice Program to address 60 teenagers from 45 war-torn nations on the power of theatre, and to teach them practical popular theatre techniques.

1999: Kosovo Refugee Camps - Macedonia
As an immediate response to the war in Kosovo, BST initiated a three-week program bringing laughter, joy, and creative play to more than 10,000 Kosovar children, many of whom had been traumatized by the war, in seven refugee camps located throughout Macedonia.

We staged shows in open areas before audiences of 1,000-2,000 people, and taught mime and theatre games to the children. When we returned to the camps later, we were pleased to find the children demonstrating what they had learned from days before. This project has clearly demonstrated to us the value of interactive theatre, and the healing power of all of the expressive arts.

2001: Afghan Refugee Camps - Pakistan
Following September 11, 2001, BST members traveled to Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan to bring joy and laughter to Afghan children, conduct workshops, and learn more about the conflict.

We returned in 2002 to refugee camps in Peshawar, where 10,000 Afghan boys and girls were reached with live performances new confidence-building skills and games. The company trained teachers from Plan International to use theatre-based educational activities for children, bringing this program to rural villages in Chakwal.

2003: Exile Theatre - Afghanistan
BST began a collaboration with Exile Theatre, aimed at bringing healing programs to refugee families that were pouring back into the country. With partner group Afghanistan-Schulen, Bond Street reached 25,000 children in the rural north, focusing especially on girls who were returning to school.

2007: India
Bond Street traveled to India to conduct mask-making and physical expression workshops with 30 children from the violence-ridden area of Bastar in central India. These refugee children had been traumatized by years of rebel uprisings, and our workshops moved from liberating games to image-making relating to their emotions.

2011-2012: Refugee Camps - Haiti
BST conducted training programs for FAVILEK, a theatre group of female sexual violence survivors in Haiti, with tours in refugee areas and tent camps in the post-earthquake areas.

2016: Borak Arts Series - Penang Malaysia
Bond Street Theatre's Artistic Director, Joanna Sherman, was a featured speaker at the Borak Arts Series in Penang, Malaysia. The series is designed to provide an international forum in which artists and activists from around the world can share information and ideas. Joanna spoke about the relationship between sustainable social development and performance, and demonstrated for the audience of artists, many of whom are working with migrants and refugees in the Malaysian region, some of the useful exercises and techniques they could use in their work.

Summer 2017: Malaysia
This summer we will be traveling back to Malaysia to embark upon a new theatre project. Bond Street will work with refugees, many of whom are currently living without access to basic rights, as Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. Many  do not have access to legal residences, education, or employment, let alone work permits. Because they are not recognized as refugees, they have very little protection from local law enforcement, often leading to brutality and corruption.

On World Refugee Day, we celebrate the lives and accomplishments of refugees all over the world. Refugees around the world are in need of assistance, so we encourage everyone to do what you can to help, whether it be donating, volunteering, or welcoming refugees into your home, community, or country!

Links to Learn More!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Behind the posters: Bond Street Theatre's work in the Balkans

There are a variety of ways to tell a single story. Recently, the posters from BST’s work overseas have been archived, and it is amazing (especially for the intern who archived them and is writing this blog) how much they have to tell.

This week, Bond Street Theatre shares the posters from our work in the Balkans, where the company initiated the Balkan Peace Project and formed the Performing Artists for Balkan Peace, an inter-Balkan network of artists. Back to the year 2000!

One year after the war in Kosovo, Bond Street Theatre came to the region in response to to an emerging need for  psychosocial support for  the population of the area. In 2000, Bond Street Theatre and Theatre Tsvete, a puppet theatre company from Bulgaria, created a non-verbal version of Romeo and Juliet as a part of the Balkan Peace Project initiated in Kosovo. The two companies’ goal was to address the tragedy of the war between neighbors through physical theatre and visual storytelling. The actors were able to symbolically talk about choosing between love and violence, following one’s heart and duty to defend.

The play was presented throughout Kosovo, featured at such festivals as the  International Theatre Festival Skampa in Albania,  the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania, and the International Festival of Alternative & New Theatre in Serbia. In partnership with UNICEF, Romeo and Juliet was performed in the most critical areas of Serbia, where ethnic tensions were still high. The play was warmly received, and the story resonated with audiences, providing a safe space to reflect on the conflict situation in the region.

A poster announcing the International Theatre Festival Skampa in Albania,
where Romeo and Juliet was presented, 2002

A poster announcing Romeo and Juliet, 2000

In 2005, continuing the collaboration in the region, theatre practitioners from Serbia, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, the UK and the USA convened in Bulgaria to initiate the Performing Artists for Balkan Peace network, which was devoted to free exchange of ideas and cross-border cooperation. The connected artists confirmed their role as global actors for social improvement, stressed the importance of involving and reaching local communities in peacemaking processes, and aimed to create arts projects that would address the current social and political issues of the Balkans.

A poster announcing free lectures, workshops, and performances from the
Performing Artists for Balkan Peace in Bulgaria, 2005
As a result of the collaboration,  five theatre directors united to craft a performance titled Honey and Blood. In the Turkish language, “bal” means honey and “kan” means blood. A performance conducted by 20 actors from 9 countries was presented to a wider audience, stimulating a cross-border dialogue.

An English version of a poster presenting Honey and Blood
in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2005
A Cyrillic version of a poster presenting Honey in Blood, 2005
The work of Bond Street Theatre and its partners in the Balkans went far beyond these posters. To quote  Bond Street Theatre’s Artistic Director, Joanna Sherman,  this social project, focused on relationships between artists from ethnically diverse backgrounds, was a success.“Could Kosovars and Serbs room together? Could five directors really create together in collaboration?  We were all sublimely pleased that the project was both a successful social experiment and a truly deep artistic experience as well”.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Intern Spotlight: Polina Peremitina

This week Polina Peremitina, our Arts Administration intern from both Saint-Petersburg State University and the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program, writes about her experience from the New York office.

This is me, an Arts Administration intern at Bond Street Theatre, sitting in an old Ford and waiting for the Easter Parade in Brooklyn to begin. Michael and Joanna (name a more iconic duo) invited me to join them to help and have some fun with kids and kites all around, while they led the parade on stilts, and dozens of children followed them down the streets. It was a cold, gloomy day, but the bright costumes, big smiles, and readiness to be there for these kids, making them laugh and question whether Michael and Joanna’s legs were truly that high and wooden, made all the difference. However, there are some questions that will remain mysteries no matter what, kids.

                                                 Waiting for the Easter Parade to begin

When I was a kid, I also had lots of questions. However, having played in my hometown musical theatre for almost ten years as a child, I never wondered if this experience would somehow shape my future. Pursuing theatre was a done deal, with “no” as the answer. I considered theatre to be a means of entertainment, and hadn't even thought about its capacity to influence social justice. Luckily, I educated myself with the help of my dear friend Jordana, who explained the concept of social theatre to me last summer while in Palestine through school. And when, having been accepted to the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program this January in New York City, I knew exactly in what kind of organization I wanted to intern with for academic credit. So I found Bond Street Theatre and I applied right away. And, once again luckily, I got in.

At my very first day in the office, I had to conduct research on problems that Afghan refugee returnees face as they come back to their country. By doing that, I learned about needs assessments. Yes, it’s true that BST cannot help with water and food supplies. But the company can help with spreading information among the returnees about their rights in an effective way. Where there is a need that can be covered by theatre, the company is there, and the more I searched for grant opportunities later on, the more I realized how it can be applicable.

It also taught me a lot about NGO management itself, especially if an NGO is small. There are only three people in the NYC office who maintain the company, as well as a full Afghan staff, and it’s a great opportunity to be involved in a variety of things: marketing, fundraising, researching, photo editing, design. Speaking of which, who would have thought that I would gain some basic graphic design skills at this job, creating promotional materials for “Amelia and Her Paper Tigers”, Bond Street’s young audiences show? Wow. I learned a lot from Emma directly, Internship Coordinator and Development/Communication Director, and I am genuinely grateful to her, Joanna and Michael who taught me so many things that I think I am not even able to embrace fully yet.

                                      Bond Street Theatre NYC Staff - Spring 2017

As Emma develops the BST website, I am close to wrapping up my biggest project here. I am creating an interactive map that will show all the counties in which BST has worked, with a short description and pictures for each project and performance. In a way, it is an archival project. BST was founded in 1976, and there is quite a history that needs to be systemized constantly. I am helping with it, going through all the pictures that have been taken since 1979 and digitizing the ones that I think may be worth adding to the already existing and awesome digital photo library of the office. I also use these pictures for this map, which is a fun quest - to find the gap (where are the Colombia pictures?) and fill it by searching through more than 155 envelopes of photographs.

                              This is what the process and my office space looked like

I believe I became more aware and conscious about global affairs and social injustice around the world during this internship. And I LOVE how well it is linked to my academic program, where I use the knowledge I gain at the internship for writing my papers and class discussions.

But back to the initial question: yes, theatre can be about entertainment. Theatre can be about education, enlightening issues of a particular society, providing tools for peacemaking and reconciliation, and empowering audiences to act along. But theatre can also be about grant researching and writing, maintaining the current projects and preparing new ones. It can be about marketing upcoming shows, trying to figure it out how and where to promote them best. It can be about more than three thousand analogue pictures, waiting to be digitized and archived. In addition to all of that, you can always have some fun hanging in an old Ford and walking on stilts. And yet again, another mystery solved.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Celebrating International Women's Day

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the world, and are reminded of the challenges that lie ahead on issues ranging from domestic and gender-based violence, to girls’ education, to voting rights for all, to social justice, to safe self-expression. Today, we highlight a selection of projects created in collaboration with our partners around the world devoted to women’s rights.


As a part of the 2010-2012 Theatre for Social Development project in Afghanistan, we worked with four Afghan theatre companies, and created four new all-women’s theatre troupes as part of the project. For the first time, the troupes were able to reach women directly, performing in homes, girl’s schools, and women’s shuras. The photos above and right below were taken as part of a 2011 workshop conducted by Bond Street Theatre and Simorgh Theatre of Herat.

Malia, one of the workshop participants, shared: ”When I came to the workshop, I was really shy to even move, but now I really feel free to speak aloud and talk to audiences”.

Manizha, another participant, reflects on the importance of women’s unity: “What I learned by performing in so many different places is that most of the women have no good relationship with others and with society.  They are fighting with each other!  If we stand up together, we can solve this problem. This is the most important and useful thing for myself”. 

From 2014-2016, BST’s Youth-Led Community Engagement Project brought  together 375 youth from 25 Afghan provinces for arts-based leadership and communication training. One of them, the Women’s Group of the Volunteer Youth of Kunar, chose to implement a project focused on ending violence against women. The participants conducted sessions and workshops with women, and  met one-on-one with families to discuss the vital importance of education. 

In Guatemala, we initiated The Acting for Peace project, which implemented theatre programs for at-risk women and youth living in rural areas, and workshops with young women aged 10 to 17 in collaboration with Oasis Orphanage.

As a task for one of the workshops, girls had to come up with short pieces to perform. In this picture, captured in 2012, the girls present the following story of unity: “There is one tree in the forest that stands alone. It is proud of itself, thinking it the strongest and best tree around. One day, a woodcutter comes along and cuts it down easily. Then the woodcutter goes to a grove nearby, where all the trees have grown together.  He tries and he tries to cut the trees down, but he can't - the trees are united”. 

In these pictures captured in 2007 in India, BST staff and Indian women collaborate on workshops, later to be turned to a play to be presented to a wider audience. As part of our time in India, BST was fortunate enough to work with the famed Patachitra painter-storytellers of West Bengal, a primarily female group dedicated to storytelling across mediums. Recalling a BST stilt-walking workshop, Nurjahan recalls: “At first I was “Ohhhh, I don’t want to go on stilts,” but now I know once I go for it, after that, I don’t have any apprehension at all”.

Working in Haiti in 2012, BST collaborated with women’s group FAVILEK (Women Victims Get Up, Stand Up), survivors of politically motivated violence. The original show created by the women, Fanm Yo Di Ase!, was a powerful testament to the resilience of women, and a call to action. In the words of Marie of Haiti, “They fight violence. It takes courage and valor. Replace violence with love!”

As we work towards creating a more equitable world for all women, Bond Street is grateful for the women and allies that we have met and worked with around the world, crossing lines of citizenship, age, disability, and sexuality, but sharing a common core of courage and creativity.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Volpone: From Rehearsal to Performance

In our final weeks in Myanmar, Bond Street Theatre and Thukhuma Khayeethe premiered our quite unique version of Volpone, an adaptation of Ben Jonson's 1605 play. The play is a fusion of styles, combining Italian commedia dell'arte with a Burmese dance to the spirits, and addresses the particularly relevant theme of personal responsibility in a country just moving from strict military rule to a certain amount of personal freedom. With freedom comes responsibility

Check out photos from the process below:

The Bond Street and Thukhuma Khayeethe teams discuss the script
(L-R: Nyan Lin Aung, Ngwe Ngwe Tin, Zin Mar Thwin, Kyae Zan and Soe Moe Thu. 
Not shown: Soe Myat Thu, Thila Min, Michael McGuigan and Joanna Sherman)

Rehearsal sure is tiring!

A dusty dress rehearsal at Gitameit

Our smallest audience members listen to the live pre-performance music at our second performance -- in a squatter settlement just outside Yangon. Wah Wah (in the blue dress at right) played the Burmese harp, which can be seen on the chair next to her, and the violin. 
 The audiences stayed enthralled and attentive for the entire hour and a half show!  And eagerly contributed to the ending in which the audience gets to decide who is guilty and who is not and why. Most important, they understand that they have a voice in their future -- they can speak out against injustice and have a responsibility to do so

Audience participation at the final show in the lovely township of East Dagon in Yangon.

Bond Street Theatre and Thukhuma Khayeethe give a huge thanks to all those that made this production possible, especially the Theatre Communications Group's In the Lab Grant program that supported the entire mulit-year process, the Gitameit Music School, and all of our supporters!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Volpone Premieres in Yangon

People have been asking, why Volpone?  How did you manage to make that make sense in Myanmar?  Did they catch the British humor or understand the context?  Well, it was easier than one might think -- human beings have the same flaws and foibles everywhere. Adjusting the characters to Burmese society was not a big leap!  

The tough part was the verbal translation -- translating from old English to new English to American to easy American to Burmese to clever Burmese. Even the humor slipped easily between cultures. It's a great pleasure to know that what makes people laugh is the same everywhere you go. People love to laugh.

[It reminds me of our first performances in Afghanistan in 2003, just after the fall of the Taliban regime. We took a comic show to small towns where people had never seen a show, since all of the arts had been banned under the Taliban. There were still many Taliban-sympathizers in the audience and we had no idea if we'd be welcomed or shot. In fact, they were rolling in the aisles (figuratively speaking) -- the children along with the white beards!  Everyone loves slapstick! ]

The other reasons for doing Volpone is the content and message. Both companies believe that theatre artists have a unique opportunity to facilitate discussion around social issues and, in Myanmar, that has not been an option. All outlets for discussion were censored, and all public material had to pass government scrutiny beforehand. We hope that this production will make bold first steps. The story is bizarre enough to only obliquely reflect reality and anger any leftover censors. And, hopefully, it will provide an exciting model for social engagement through theatre for both performers and audiences in the future.  

Meanwhile, Yangon is a city in transition! Newly opened to foreign trade, I was shocked to see shops like Armani in a newly refurbished airport that had only had local handicraft stalls for years!  So it was only appropriate that, against this backdrop of change, Bond Street Theatre and Thukhuma Khayeethe premiered our Volpone in a space that was quite literally still under construction.

Volpone premiered at the new Gitameit studios, with workers pouring concrete in the next room and bamboo scaffolding holding up the stairwell. Nonetheless, the show was a success, with laughs all around, and an opportunity to test the material and the interactive ending. Since it was at Gitameit, among artists, we got some great feedback and ideas. Up next: two more performances in more daring spaces around Yangon!

Check out photos from the rehearsal process below, and stay tuned for more updates:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Updates from Myanmar

Greetings from Yangon, Myanmar, where Bond Street Theatre has just wrapped the second week of rehearsals for Volpone, our show in collaboration with Burmese theatre group Thukhuma Khayeethe.

Those of you who have followed Bond Street's adventures over the years might remember that we frequently rehearse at the very cool Gitameit Music School in Yangon. This time we were lucky to be the first group to rehearse in the "new" Gitameit studios. Well, lucky might be a little strong, since they are still actively constructing the building, which meant dust, nails, sparks and concrete everywhere. Concrete steps newly poured..."hmm, any steel reinforcing in there?" we wondered as we made our way to the third floor. 

The best thing was the group of workmen who traipsed around during our warm-ups and rehearsals, watching us with great curiosity. One of them was heard to say, "What are they doing? They're just playing!"  Yup. That's why they call it a play.  

After one week, they started some serious welding in our space and we had to move. For our second week, we rehearsed in a small Buddhist Monastery located near the home of director Thila Min. Note: monasteries make great rehearsal spaces!

Our rehearsals so far have included practice in traditional Burmese dance, learning a traditional Nat dance, a spirit dance that (interestingly enough) is about the joys of drinking. We have spent our meetings with TK over the years sharing physical performance techniques, so we speak the same language theatrically and can jump right into the work. Our latest addition to the mix was introducing the style of the Italian commedia dell'arte. Now, in the third stage of working on Volpone, we are easily blending our mix of physical vocabularies.  

We are working all day -- 10am to 5pm!  What a luxury!  Morning and afternoon sessions are separated by lunch at one of the street side stalls. Yes, I know they say don't eat street food... but this is what they have! And it's great food, freshly made from fresh produce from local farmers

Next week is tech week and the cast and crew will be assembling set pieces and costumes for our debut public performances in the following week!  It's been a whirlwind process, and the next week is sure to be no different. If there's one thing we've learned about street performances, it's that they are always full of surprises! Stay tuned!

Rehearsing at the New Gitameit Studios