Monday, December 19, 2011

Conclusions: Qatar Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations

Olivia attended the UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum on Development and Cultural Exchange in Doha, Qatar last week.  

Now that my bags are unpacked and my internal clock is on New York time, I can take a moment to reflect on the UNAOC Forum in Doha. Those four days sparked amazing conversations and insights with young leaders and more established leaders working to make the world a “better” place, but what specifically am I taking away from it?

New connections, to be sure. I met activists from all over the world (and I mean all over) who are working at the grassroots level to make their cultures more equitable. Simply being in a room that has that energy is exciting: I am reminded why I like going to work every day. These are young people who are not satisfied but who seek to make lasting changes. What could possibly be more important?

I attended a panel in which five Arab Spring activists talked about their experiences on the ground in Libya, in Tahrir Square, and in Syria. Their stories were violent, yes, but also filled with camaraderie and laughter and more than a little hope. I miss that true idealism: not Pollyanna rose-colored glasses, but honest belief.

I cannot read the news about Egypt today and not think of the blogger I was speaking to just days ago. Despite being so saturated with the events of the region, I never felt I understood clearly until she told me that folks all over the Arab world and the MENA region were listening to one song of freedom on the radio, and it kept them working towards democratic peace. That I understand perfectly: revolution needs art and music to breathe life into it.

I also got to talk to Israeli and Palestinian people about how to actually initiate dialogue in a region so stifled geographically and politically. There is no room (literally and metaphorically) for a new opinion or idea. Yet logically, it is not the same logic that has been used for decades that will solve anything. We have had years of hatred, stereotyping, fear and violence: what can we do now that will change the landscape even a little? My biased answer is theatre. I know that it works, and I know that it makes me confront my own demons. As we work towards peace, what could be more vital than self-reflection?

That is what I am struck by most: the questions that go unasked in my own society. We assume we have answers without ever bothering to ask about other people’s experiences and realities. Want to know how to make a dent in the housing crisis?  Awesome, me too.  How can we do that without knowing the experience of a homeless person,or a person who cannot make rent, or a shelter worker who does not have enough beds?

My solution to this is theatre: theatre to see a glimpse of someone else’s day-to-day reality, theatre to communication with populations who speak a different language, and theatre to remove the conversations from the intellect and relocate them in the heart.

Cross-cultural dialogue is a massive and necessary goal if we are going to work together in a global world, but it is impossible to mandate. Dialogue is not debate, nor is it academic. It must be relatable, real, and honest. The arts create that interaction because they seek to ask questions and to open up new perspectives.

I know this to be true: now my task is to continue to convince others.  I got to change a few minds in Doha.  Who is next?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Youth Gather in Doha

 Olivia is in Doha, Qatar to attend the UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum on Development and Cultural Exchange.  On December 10, she moderated the Pre-Forum Discussion for Youth Leaders.

Today, myself and 25 other UN Alliance Of Civilizations moderators (folks who had been moderating the online pre-forum discussion, members of the Youth Committee, and students from Penn State’s World in Conversation program) moderated four hours of discussion in order to come up with 7 concrete messages we want to send to world leaders. These messages will be presented tomorrow at the opening session of the 4th UNAOC Forum in Doha.
I have spent the last three weeks moderating the pre-Forum discussion on how the arts speak to a shared human experience and what kinds of programs work.  Reading so many other young voices form across the world share their stories of singing in a choir, of performing in a show, and of creating a mural together reinforced for me that I am in precisely the right business.  Creativity and collaboration are the most effective way to reach across borders and truly see another being for who he or she is.
Today, the prospect of crafting a youth message that will be heard on a global stage is exciting in and of itself, but to do so with thirteen other youth leaders from all over the world is an opportunity I rarely get.  So often when youth connect, it is through the internet.  We do not sit together in the same room to engage in dialogue around issues of development and cultural diversity: that only occurs in my nerdy fantasies.   
Of course, through Bond Street young people do get to experience collaboration in the same room, but one or two countries at a time.  Today there were leaders from over one hundred countries sitting face-to-face.
Not that dialogue is enough: we must commit to setting goals together that propel us toward sustainable change.   Dialogue is a tool to reach a collaborative construction of methodology, ideology, programming, and more.  Even though this is the UN and there is a lot of talking, just talking is not enough.  Youth work quickly, we organize, and we spring to action.  There is certainly space for reflection and planning so we do not end up flying by the seat of our pants, but the focus must be on moving towards a goal.  I get frustrated when dialogue is the end and not the means because I and the other 400 folks here are not used to talk.  We are used to turning words into action.
I, in particular, am used to working with very few words.  The arts create a space to engage in dialogue nonverbally by sharing cultures and the human experience of living in them.  As one of the only self-identified artists here (and certainly the only one who works at an arts organization), I am consistently finding myself on the verge of yelling, “Just CREATE together!”  My pre-forum discussion proved that working together to create theatre, song, visual art, murals, or any sort of creative project breaks down the barriers that exist.
My goal for the next three days is to make as many people as possible-from Ban-Ki Moon on down- understand this fundamental value.  I know the arts work not just in Afghanistan, in Haiti, in Myanmar, in the Balkans, in Israel, but I have also seen them work firsthand in Nepal and in prisons in the US.  
I am reinforced in my mission every time I tell a delegate what I do and they immediately exclaim, “Wonderful!  That sounds so interesting/effective/useful/creative!”  Everyone has that positive reaction because using art to reach across borders makes some sort of innate sense to us. It’s about more than providing a voice to the voiceless: it is about empowering voices to speak us and be heard in whatever way they want to communicate.  

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Creating the Shows in Kabul

Here are more of Kayhan’s thoughts about the creation process with White Star Company in Kabul, excerpted from her Artivism blog October 8, and 14. For the full stories, check out her blog here:

I’m tired. Tired, tired, tired. I work 6 days a week with the actors, then spend many more hours at the apartment revising agendas, planning, and trying to connect with local and international NGOs who would be interested in supporting this fledgling theater company when we leave. We go to meetings in the mornings and then go to the university in the afternoons until evening working hard and pushing the students harder. The sky is dark when we leave and Kabul is getting chilly, “sard-e-st” … “it is cold” in Dari.

Kianaz works in the mornings then goes to our rehearsal, then school, then home where she is the sole supporter of her mother, father and younger brother. Her father is too ill to work and her mother cares for her brother and the home. We found out that she is still in high school but has persisted in knocking on doors and pushing her way into the Kabul theater department’s activities. If Kianaz can fight for her theater dreams amidst great responsibility and burden, I’m not too tired to give her my best.

Tired, annoyed, bored; these all seem like luxurious states of mind. These students are rising above great personal odds, societal oppression and national instability to make their dreams a reality at any cost – dreams of being theater artists. Their hopes are so much bigger than me. They give me energy when I am drained, spirit when I am down, and sweetness when I get sour.

Right now, the actors have chosen the themes of their plays and their stories. We started off speaking about sexual harassment on the streets, the challenge of getting married when you have no money, the problem of corruption, illiteracy, ethnic discrimination, unemployment and violence against women.

The men and women are working as one group but as two teams so that the women can bring their work out to women’s groups and spaces where they are safe. The women have chosen to work on two themes: 1. illiteracy and the oppression of women not to get educated; 2. the challenges of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The men have chosen to work on the theme of personal responsibility to the society. In a country torn apart by decades of war, strife and instability the family unit was the only type of real cohesion, support, and trust. People are still bound to their family unit and the idea of common good, public support, etc. is still being figured out. But this means on every level (from the average Mohammed to the highest Minister) people are likely to pass the buck, not be the leader, and only think in terms of family and known community. So the guys are showing a story about that.

They are a beautiful, fun loving, open hearted bunch capable of changing the world. Inshallah, this will be one of many big steps they take in leading their country women and men towards creative options for change.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Updates From Kayhan in Kabul

Kayhan blogged from Kabul during the most recent Theatre for Development Project. Here is some of what she had to say about the 2011 National Theatre Festival in Kabul on September 29 and about being an American in Kabul on October 2. For the full stories, check out her blog here:

The last four days at the Kabul Theater Festival has been heady, thrilling, hopeful, and heartful. I was overjoyed to meet most of the theater artists that I worked with last year. They were presenting their work at the festival (one of them won best scenery and costumes!) and they all looked radiant and full of life. Moreover, I met so many new, creative people working in MANY different provinces of Afghanistan and in different forms of theater.

We met groups who have faced great danger making their art, people new to theater, others who are well established, some on the cutting edge, and folks who are just joining in for the sake of it – maybe hearing about it for the first time. This is exactly the type of vitality and diversity you want to see in any field.

In general (and not just with theater folks) there is so much love, energy, brilliance, and hope I feel when talking to Afghanis. Just the opposite of what the mainstream media shows us. I suppose that outside forces need people to believe things are drab and hopeless to get support for unending war. Imagine if we heard about theater festivals, language schools, women judges, youth voices, inter-ethnic solidarity projects, music and dance forms, etc.?

The truth is, Afghanis are creating their futures with vision and dedication. I hope that reading this blog will allow you to reignite your hope for the people of Afghanistan and believe in their brilliance and power.  Hope springs eternal – through theater!

There is such diversity in the look and feel and styles of the various performances.

A brilliant young university student from Herat did a fantastic clown show and had us all laughing and crying. Her amazing mother and father joined her onstage for the curtain call. You could see how much they loved their daughter and supported her dreams. All artists should have parents like hers!

"Stupid American"
Being raised in a South/West Asian home, in NYC, I have the privilege to be able to see things from different cultural perspectives and to carry with me the knowledges of many people. (I use the plural to reflect that there is no one “knowledge”.) I am blessed to have an extended family of second mothers, sisters and brothers who have shared with me some of Puerto Rican culture, African American culture, LGBTQ culture, Jewish culture and so on. I am grateful to have that information and perspective as a part of my being.

But, I too get to be a “stupid American” sometimes – seeing things as funny or odd because of where I come from. It can be people, situations, or everyday things.  I realize the ethnic boxes and categories we have are measly and hollow.  Just look and see.  I am sure you’ll recognize a cousin, a sister, a neighbor, a friend.  No matter where you go in the world, human beings are more alike than we are different.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Film and Stage: An Update from Michael in Kabul

Another greeting from Afghanistan where the beer is cold and the nightlife wild. Hold it, wait... that was Belgium at the stilt festival. Funny how I confuse the two. We've been here in Afghanistan just over two weeks-- a week of the National Theatre Festival and a week training the actors (and actresses) of White Star Company. It's productive, and actually fun, though there's no beer and our nightlife is pretty much spent having dinner, downloading the day's video, writing emails, and planning the next day's events.

In the last couple of days the French Cultural Institute (among others) sponsored the first Human Rights Film Festival here in Kabul, with many entries from Afghanistan (and others from around the world). We caught a couple of films from Afghanistan, and I have certainly seen many over the years, and something occurred to me in comparing the level of Afghan film acting vs. stage acting.

Generally the film acting was pretty good -- better than most of what we saw at the recent theatre festival. To be clear, there was some real talent among the stage actors, both "old" (those who studied under the Soviets) and young. The "Best Actor" and "Best Actress" were in their early 20's and definitely the best, but there was a pretty big gap between these few and the others. I was trying to figure out why (aside, that is, from 30 years of horrible civil war and a shaky reconstruction). Here's a conjecture:

For most actors here, film and TV is the only role model, since actual theatrical performances are few and far between. (There was one complaint from a prominent western NGO sponsor of the Kabul University Fine Arts Department that the Theatre Department rarely stages student productions.) In film and TV (prepare for a sweeping generalization on my part) a lot of the work of an actor is taken care of by the location. Film an actor walking down a bleak alley in the dead of winter, and he doesn't have to act cold - he IS cold. Want an actor to look crazy? Have him slowly twirl around holding an apple standing in the middle of Kabul city traffic -- that really IS crazy. But on stage where you don't have the cold or the cars, the actor has to work that much harder to convey not just emotion but location. It's a whole different set of chops and techniques between stage and screen.

Similarly, an actor can spend an entire film at ground level, which could be monotonous; but different camera angles provide the welcome variety: filming from above, below, long-shot, close-up, etc. In the theatre, there's no camera to move, and you can't move the audience. You can move the actors... put one on a ladder, another under a table, but that assumes you have a budget to buy a ladder or a table for your production. Yes, the economy is that bleak for most of the artists here. But in my career I've seen some pretty amazing staging for little or no money. It usually requires a very creative theatre director, which may be another issue here.

Many of the Afghan directors, even of the theatre companies, are working in film and TV (and by film, we are really talking about digital video). They can certainly set up creative shots in a camera frame, but not necessarily a proscenium arch (for non-theatre types, that's the "frame" around the front of the stage). In my humble, subjective opinion, the best directed shows at the Theatre Festival were (in this order): a production from Tajikistan, a production of The Little Prince by an Afghan group with an Iranian director, and an actor/puppet production co-directed by a German puppeteer. Actually, the latter two productions were by the same group of Afghan actor/puppeteers whom we've been watching in the last couple of years. If the rest of the country improved at the same rate as this ensemble, Afghanistan would be a lot further along.

I also must mention an very impressive solo-woman's performance by a young Afghan actress that opened the festival. It was a pretty bold, funny, character driven piece (almost clown theatre) that I, and the audience, was NOT expecting. I shall venture to elaborate more on that in the future.

Gotta plan tomorrow's rehearsal. Watch this space.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kayhan in Kabul: Kabul Goes to My Head

The last four days at the Kabul Theater Festival has been heady, thrilling, hopeful, and heartful. I was overjoyed to meet most of the theater artists that I worked with last year. They were presenting their work at the festival (one of them won best scenery and costumes!) and they all looked radiant and full of life. Moreover, I met so many new, creative people working in MANY different provinces of Afghanistan and in different forms of theater.

I was so happy to see all the forms that these shows took. People are really getting creative, getting inventive, and are taking the initiative to make art however they can.

We met groups who have faced great danger making their art, people new to theater, others who are well established, some on the cutting edge, and folks who are just joining in for the sake of it – maybe hearing about it for the first time. This is exactly the type of vitality and diversity you want to see in any field.

In general (and not just with theater folks) there is so much love, energy, brilliance, and hope I feel when talking to Afghans. Just the opposite of what the mainstream media shows us. I suppose that outside forces need people to believe things are drab and hopeless to get support for unending war. Imagine if we heard about theater festivals, language schools, women judges, youth voices, inter-ethnic solidarity projects, music and dance forms, etc.?

Hopelessness, despair, and cynicism are some of the most powerful weapons of the oppressor.  If we feel there is no point and that we can never win; then there will be weak efforts.The truth is, Afghanis are creating their futures with vision and dedication. I hope that reading this blog will allow you to reignite your hope for the people of Afghanistan and believe in their brilliance and power.

Without further ado … proof that hope springs eternal – through theater!

The first one woman show ever!

                            Photos by Kayhan Irani
A brilliant young university student from Herat did a fantastic clown show and had us all laughing and crying. Her amazing mother and father joined her onstage for the curtain call. You could see how much they loved their daughter and supported her dreams. All artists should have parents like hers!

Love K

Read Kayhan's personal blog here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

From the Mouths of Youths: Quotes from the Final Evaluations

This is what the wonderful actors and students from Simorgh Film & Theatre in Herat had to say about the Theatre for Social Development Project during our final oral evaluations.

Regarding the Workshops:
"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." – Zainab

"Playing different characters and learning body language helps me understand people around me and in the society." – Mohammad

"The families make a difference between the boys and girls so most of the time the boys have more freedom but, in the workshop, we just felt that we are equal with the boys and they are on the same level and I really enjoyed that." - Zahra M.

"The best thing for me was the stilts because its something very new in Afghanistan and it somehow just raised up our self-confidence." - Hussain

"We had many other workshops, but in this workshop everything was completely new and unique with lots of energy." – Zahra K.

"Violence against women in the family: this is something very useful to show in my society. What I learned in this workshop is that we can raise our ability and our imagination, and we could go to different villages and cities to show this educational theatre to the people who have never seen theatre and give them this message." - Hassan

Regarding the Performances:
"In the prison, we asked them what was their crime. They said they killed their husband… then they said ‘we say this because this is our sentence against us,’ but maybe the brothers of the husband said they did it. We thought they would be depressed, but they were clapping so much, even more than other places." – Sakina “Hasti”

"One of the women pulled me in and hugged me and kissed me so much and said she was really happy and the show was really great." – Marzia

"We do not expect that all of the police will benefit or change by one show, but we can just think that if at least 10 of them from 100 watch carefully and learn something, we are doing our job". – Mohammad

"What I learned by performing in so many different places was 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." - Rahela

"Theatre is a good way to transform all kinds of information – we can show different kinds of conflict in the families and in society. The most important thing is that we could just make them laugh and happy while giving them a message – they get the message while they are laughing." - Sakina

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


To view photos from our project in Herat, please click below:

The girls perform at the Women's Shelter

Report by Anna: 
The very first performance that our girls' troupe undertakes (outside of the try-out for family and friends) is a show at a women’s shelter in Herat. The shelter is run by Voice of Women, an organization based in Herat led by Soraya Pakzad who has worked tirelessly since Taliban time to fight for women’s rights, and who started Afghanistan's first shelter in 2003.

There are about 40 women and girls at the shelter ranging in age from 15 to 25, and mostly under 20. They are escaping abusive marriages, and in most cases forced marriages. Some were about to be married off and ran away beforehand. They are lucky to have ended up here in the shelter, and not in jail or worse. If they are caught by the police they risk getting raped and put in prison, and if sent back home they may be killed.

Parwana, who works at VOW and is coordinating our visit, talks to me about the situation the women are in and decries the inhumanity of it all. She exclaims, “they feel…!,” and searching for the words she utters something about “not human!” I think she is saying the girls feel they are not treated as humans, but then I realize she is talking about the husbands, that they are not human the way they act. And she tells me about one girl who came to the center. The husband had cut off her fingers and slashed her face across the cheek from mouth to ear. What kind of man would do such a thing? And why? (Beyond its senseless cruelty, it even seems senseless out of practicality -- now the husband has to look at her disfigured face, and how is she going to be able to do his cooking and laundry with her fingers cut off? How does that serve him? But he doesn't think about this, he doesn't think at all.) Both are true – the girls are not treated as human beings and the men are not acting as humans. What we think of as human – humane – humanity… separating us from the beasts.

Unfortunately, this girl’s situation is all too common. Beatings and barrages of mental abuse are an everyday occurrence for young wives in Afghanistan, perpetrated by the husband and any or all of his relatives. Across Afghanistan, girls are forced into marriage and essentially condemned to life as a household slave. Often the girl is young and the man much older. It is not uncommon for a 12-year old to be married off to a 60-year old man! Many of these girls are driven to such despair that they set themselves on fire and burn themselves to death. It is difficult to fathom. In the Herat area there have been 100 such self-immolations in the past year. That’s two girls every week setting themselves on fire.

I look at the women, at the younger girls, and wonder about each one’s circumstances. But I don’t want to ask as it’s such a sensitive matter and I respect their privacy. And it's time to start the show.

The women laugh a lot, and they applaud at the end of each scene! The play is not necessarily meant to be that funny (although we have definitely incorporated some comic bits)... After all, we’re dealing with a serious subject matter that we want to earnestly bring awareness to: the abuse that mothers-in-law so often perpetuate, and how it destroys families. If women treat each other horribly, how can they make men treat them any better? We want to make sure people take it to heart and are moved to make a change. In this case, however, the laughter is good and it doesn’t mean they aren’t taking the play seriously or its message. Presented and received as a comedy, it is easier to take in the play and what it addresses. These women have lived through this, they don’t need to see it presented to them in a heavy and serious way. This is how comedy can be cathartic, getting to laugh about something that is painful. The women gain some vindication in seeing their reality acknowledged.

But this is not enough. In the Q&A afterward, one woman speaks up to tell us that we must show this play to the men, to the families, out in the community -- "they are the ones who need to see it, not us in here, we already know!" She is adamant and angry – and we assure her that this is indeed our intent. As we leave, the woman thanks us for our visit and asks us when we will come again. They rarely have any visitors, and hardly ever leave the shelter. But this confinement is a blessing compared to the hell they were living before.


The play's the thing!

Report by Anna -- finally adding some further posts about our performances, end of April and beginning May in Afghanistan!
*     *     *
The girls’ show is about a mother-in-law who abuses her daughter-in-law with constant put-downs and beatings. This is actually a big problem in Afghanistan. It is a pattern that gets repeated time and again. Often a young girl is married off to an older man who abuses her along with his grown sons and all other relatives around. Or a girl gets married to a boy -- both of them too young – with the boy trying to establish his manhood and beating his wife at the behest of his mother. A man might get a young wife just to be a slave to his mother. The mother was herself a young bride once who was mistreated by her mother-in-law. And so she perpetuates a behavior that has become ingrained. It is difficult to understand why women would stand against other women rather than stand together in this patriarchally oppressive society, or why a mother would discard her daughter, but it has to do with economics for one thing. A daughter brings no economic benefit, since women do not work, so she has no value (but to be a household slave).

In our story, the mother in law suffers from the bad memories of her own life as a young bride terribly abused, all the while lashing out at her young daughter-in-law, purposely getting her in trouble with her son, the husband, and beating her. One day, a friend comes to visit, catching her in the act of mistreating her daughter-in-law, and the friend berates her for it, telling the mother-in-law of her own misery having done the same. The friend’s daughter-in-law set herself on fire and killed herself as a result of all the abuse (this is a common occurrence in Afghanistan, I’m aghast to say!), now her son left her and she is all alone. The friend reminds the mother-in-law that she once was a young bride too. Slowly the mother-in-law realizes she is doing the very same that was done to her, and after some struggle, she decides she must and can make a change. In the end there is a reconciliation with the daughter-in-law. They realize standing strong together and supporting each other is a better way of living, and as a result, the son/husband also has a transformation.

To develop the show, we start our young actors off with a simple scenario and let them improvise around it, playing with character and action. They make our job easy as directors, because they are so creative! Of course, they have a lot to learn yet about theatrical presentation and how to make strong, physical choices on stage, but they are impressively adept already. Such clever dialogue, improvised on the spot! And funny little character quirks. In less than two weeks, we have a half-hour play fully developed and ready to go – and it’s amazing how much our work and our actors have grown. Madiya and Hasti who play the two narrators have become a knock-out clown duo. They bring the audience along the journey and provide some comic relief. And they’re really funny! Marzia has really found solid strength in her portrayal of a man. And Rohela is truly an amazing actor – intensely expressive as the mother-in-law, showing both nasty cruelty and vulnerability. Her transformation in the moment of reconciliation with the daughter-in-law is full of so many emotions. It is a very touching scene. (I just can’t believe this young actor is only thirteen years old!)

I am amazed at the talent, skill and dedication of these young performers, most of whom are only 12, 13, 14 years old! There are two girls who are 17 and 19, and then the boys are 16-21. During the course of our work, I forget how young they are, because they are so good, so dedicated and so professional! And they are tackling serious subject matters of family conflict and domestic violence, acting out beatings and abuse. But they are wise beyond their years and fully aware of the problems of their society. And, sad to say, many of the wives for whom this is a reality are only 14 years old (or younger)! Innocence of childhood is shattered early in this country.

I hope Rohela can continue doing theater, and the other girls, too. But the risk is that in a few years they will be married (off) and that will be the end of it. To encourage their families and the community to accept theater as something good, indeed, to show that it is something that can bring income to the family, we are paying the girls (and boys, too) a fee for participating in the workshops and for their work as performers. See, theater brings economic as well as social benefit to the community!

For the first performance, we invite the performer's families and friends as well as all the workshop students. We present the girls' and boys' shows and then we have a certificate ceremony for everyone involved in the workshops. It is great to see the smiles on the parents' faces!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Casting 'Round Gender Issues

Michael Reporting:

When we last left our intrepid artists (Bond Street Theatre and Simorgh Theatre and Film here in Herat, Afghanistan), the question was: in a culture where a sizable part of the population has reservations about men and women appearing on stage side by side, how do you get characters of one gender portrayed in performances by the other gender? To clarify, it isn’t so much an issue of men and women performing together, since Afghans do produce films and TV shows with male and female actors. It’s a question of who is in the audience.

Here in Afghanistan there is no “theatre audience” per se; no middle class with leisure time and an expendable income, nor any local theaters to go to. Actually, each of the four largest cities have an official National Theatre, but they mainly video their work in-studio and supply the tape to the local TV stations for broadcast. Only on special occasions do they perform live to an invited audience.

Performances are generally welcomed in schools and community centers, but these institutions tend to be segregated by gender. With all the social, political and religious codes to navigate, we decided to create separate productions with male and female casts to offer these venues.

We divided our US team accordingly, with Joanna and Anna working with the girls and I with the boys. It should be noted that “girls” and “boys” is being used to reflect the youthful age of our actors, ranging from 12 to 21 (with an average of 15). Despite their youth, we were greatly impressed by their enthusiasm, commitment and creativity.

For daily rehearsals we rented a local sports facility: a 50’ x 50’ room with matted flooring used by the local martial arts club. In the evenings we met in two small rooms at the offices of Simorgh Theatre. In the first days the US and Afghan directors wrote the scenarios; the girls would tell the story of the relationship between an abusive mother-in-law and her target: the daughter-in-law, and the boys would handle the abusive father and his target: the wife and kids. With the basic storylines and characters set, Monireh and Hakim (Simorgh Theatre directors) cast the parts. We went to our separate rooms (or corners) and started putting meat on the bones.

It was pretty remarkable how both sets of directors, working separately, employed many of the same “tricks of the trade”. Both shows start with a pair of clown-narrators: for the girls it was two trash-pickers, and for the guys two street laborers. Both sets of narrators discover they have control over the action, starting and stopping scenes with the clap of their hands or the blowing of a whistle. A healthy dose of mime is employed to represent teacups and automobiles.  (As I write these words I’m thinking, “this sounds vaguely familiar…”  Oh yeah, Bond Street Theatre’s Powerplay, circa 1984.  Joanna and I playing the Hosanna Brothers.  Exact same techniques.  Steal from the best, I guess!).

An opening bit of comic repartee leads to “hey, that reminds me of a story…” and this sets the stage for our narrators to “play characters” rather than “be characters”. Thus, the female narrators can play at being husbands and brothers, and the males play at being the wife and children, with a nod-and-a-wink to the audience.

Slightly trickier in the men’s show was the little 4 year old daughter. Her character is pivotal, being a catalyst for change in the father, and thus too significant to be played by a 16 year old male. To work around this, we have the father discover a piece of paper in his pocket, a self-portrait draw by the daughter (well, a crude child-like drawing make by me). This drawing became the avatar of the daughter, from which her story could emerge.

As we come up to our first performances, we New Yorkers feel pretty good about the choices that have been made. Still, only the audience can say if the choices are good, and considering that most people even in the big cities have never seen a live performance, we’re not entirely sure our choices are comprehensible.

Next: Final rehearsals, and strange translations.

Soon: The audiences weigh in (including two high schools, a woman’s prison, a drug rehab center, and the para-military police).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating the Productions in Herat

From Michael:

All is still well as we are finishing up on week three here in Herat. Our adopted parents are still providing us with excellent meals and room to sleep, and our health and morale are good. There has been a slight yet tolerable increase in the fly population, although there is a lovely breeze that has kept them at bay. Unfortunately, it has also brought the dust, much to the chagrin of our laptops.

We have been working on two new productions, which actually start performances next week. Yikes! Well, no, not really “yikes”; it’s all going well with the art, too.

The task has been is to create a show promoting peaceful solutions to violence and oppression – after all, one of our sponsors is the United States Institute for Peace. We have a choice of topics, from the heavy (domestic violence; racial / tribal discrimination) to the light-yet-also-significant: support of democracy, literacy, health and hygiene. There is no easy choice; even a seemingly “no brainer” can be more than it seems.

Take for example: in our last project, in Myanmar, we (along with our local partners) decided to do a show about hand washing—always an important message, especially in tropical climates where germs multiply and spread fast. Okay, so we create this fun show telling kids to wash their hands and head into the schools and monasteries. Well, at one school, post-show, one of the older kids commented: “Thanks for the show; it was good, but we all KNOW we are supposed to wash our hands. They’ve been telling us that for years. The problem is the water doesn’t come out of the pipes and nobody gives us soap!” Oh. So our message should have been directed to the authorities: “Hey! Fix the pipes and give them soap!”

Aside from trying to troubleshoot show topics, there is also the troubleshooting that goes into the staging. Here in Afghanistan, you have probably heard that the gender issues are complex. It is a pretty conservative society, and even though there are many progressive and liberal Afghans, the line of tradition has been drawn deeply in the dry, rocky soil.

In general, the actors and actresses we are working with have no problem working together (without physical contact, that is); sharing dialogue on stage is fine with them. But they know it won’t fly with most religious or government authorities who give or withhold permission to perform. In fact, Simorgh Theatre (our partners here in Herat) face constant opposition from the local conservative forces. But there is one high ranking and respected Mullah firmly on their side. Actually, he was originally a naysayer, until he witnessed one of their performances at a girl’s high school, and he saw the social benefits of issue-related theatre. He even told us in conversation that he would like to see theatre performances brought into the Mosque! Religious stories, of course; think early church morality plays. But for here that’s pretty damn progressive.

Still, in order to maximize our performance possibilities we decided to create two separate shows: one for men by the actors, and one for women by the actresses. Both shows deal with types of domestic violence that are statistically all too prevalent: husbands and fathers abusing wives and children, and mothers-in-law abusing daughters-in-law. (Married women traditionally live with the husband’s family).

The hand-washing show presented a topic fairly easy to communicate physically, without much dialogue. But domestic violence is complex, and we are relying on the playwriting expertise of the Simorgh directors Monireh and Hakim to create the dialogue with input from the performers. Since we Americans are not appearing in the show (taking co-directorship roles) the local language can flow freely.

But here’s a hitch: how can you present family issues when you can’t have male and female actors working together on the same stage?* Hmmmm. To an extent, women can get away with impersonating men, but on the flip side we’ve seen the male actors at the Kabul University theatre department try to impersonate women, and it was a painful, absurd mockery. They couldn’t get away with it even when they were supposed to be funny, and there is nothing funny about our topic. How do we do it?


*Well, in fact we could probably get away with having male actors in performances for women, but we don’t want to condone the double standard.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From Anna: The Workshops and Our Amazing Students

For the first nine days here in Herat, we have been doing workshops with Simorgh’s young company members and students, mostly girls age 12-20 and also some boys. They are so amazing! I am really impressed with their level of imagination and creativity and expressiveness. These are kids who have not had much exposure to theater as a medium in their culture (indeed such activity is generally frowned upon, and theater really doesn’t even exist). As children they are taught to be quiet, unnoticeable and have no opinions, especially the girls – and yet they are so spirited and jumping right in to play, game to try out whatever we throw at them. Some of the newer girls are very shy, but as the workshops progressed we could see that they got more comfortable and felt more free to express themselves, in action and in words.

On the final day, we had a conversation with the youngsters and asked them about their experience: what did you enjoy about the workshop, what did you discover, and how can it be useful to you in your lives? How do you think theater can be of value to the community? I was blown away by their responses! They are so young but already so wise.

Theater, they tell us, serves to reflect our society and its problems in order for us to better see ourselves… Zainab points out that after working on different characters, she now feels she can better understand people, and this is how theater can be useful: to help us understand each other. Mahbouba said that she discovered how she can connect with people, beyond her small circle of friends – through theater she can make a connection with the audience and thereby with people in the community.

Zahra describes how men traditionally have more power than women in the society, but in this workshop she felt equal to the men, everybody on the same level, free and comfortable. Marzia points out that she even forgot the boys were there!

The fact that both boys and girls are working and playing together in the workshop is not without controversy. One girl, unfortunately, was not allowed to continue because her brothers discovered there were boys in the workshops, and even though her mother had agreed to her participating, the brothers as men had the veto power to decide what their sister may or may not do. On the final day, she nonetheless snuck out of the house and joined us for a last chance to play.

Marzia loved yelling her name out, throwing it far over the mountain, because, she told us, it was the first time she had ever said her name out loud, and it felt so good to know that “Yes, I am Marzia!”

Little Wahija liked the stilt-walking best. Why?, we ask her. “Because I stand tall and feel in control of everything! It makes me feel more confident.” Wahija is a very small girl, she is twelve years old but really looks eight. Everybody loved the stilt-walking. It’s amazing the power such a simple activity can have. And everyone loved the acrobatics too.

Mahbouba tells us she really saw value in the exercise of passing the mask that transforms. It’s the same in life, she points out, because when one is in an argument with someone, they pass on to you their angry mask which you take on, but you don’t have to keep it, you can change it to one of joy before you get home!

Wow. I have to say I am shocked and awed by their astute insights. And these were just a few examples. It is so affirming to hear how enthusiastic they felt about the work we’ve done together, how much they got out of it, how eager they are to continue, and the insights they gained. It makes me feel like we truly have offered something worthwhile and made a difference. This moment to me was the culmination, the highlight, of the entire project. (And this was less than two weeks into the program. Who knows what amazing things will happen in the next few weeks!?)

Then we ask them what the problems are that make it difficult to do theater in Afghanistan, and they all shout out in unison: “Everything!!!”

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Update from "The Pied Piper" in Herat


Today had a day off. Good, cuz I was sick all night. It was probably the home-made yoghurt the father made for me. But didn't last too long.

We went for a walk around the neighborhood and down the street with the market and little shops. I had my camera with me and we were taking pictures. I bet they never had tourists here before! We definitely stirred up some attention. But all in good way. A man in his breadshop called us over to take photos, and we checked out how they made bread – they bake it deep in a hole in the floor and then lift it out, flat and round and hot and fresh – and we got some to eat. Mmm, naan! As we continued on, a man here and there would come up to Michael to engage in conversation and ask where we're from and whenever we would stop to chat, a crowd would gather to check us out. (I noticed they never addressed me or Joanna; and of course they didn’t because that would be very inappropriate, men are not supposed to talk to women they do not know on the street.) School had let out and the street was filling with little school girls in ‘nun’s habits’ eating ice cream, and soon a bunch of them were gathered around us, giggling and whispering, and following us down the street like we were the Pied Piper. But whenever Joanna pulled out the camera they hid their faces in their hijabs. You can't take pictures of women, not even when they're little girls!

As we got home, the neighbors kids were out on the street playing and we yucked it up with them again, as we had before, it's become a game of making faces and playing monster. This adds to the novelty of our presence, I’m sure, because I imagine no adult, and definitely no woman, would play like that with them and make funny movements and faces -- on the street! Crazy foreigners! After we had entered our house (behind a large iron gate, most Afghan houses are hidden behind a wall and gate), there was a loud banging. I opened up, and there were three of the school girls again. Don't know how they found us (we had left them behind further down the street), but I guess it's not that difficult, since we're the only foreigners in town. Come to the market with us! they shouted. Come, let's go! Now? Yes, now! Well, maybe another day, ok? We were actually quite tired at this point, and I really needed a nap. That was funny, though, and so sweet, that they were so excited at meeting us that they came to get us to go to the market with them. Badan mebinim! (See you later!)

Later in afternoon, someone was coming over to fix the refrigerator that wasn't working (although they had just bought it). We were told the man was Taliban so we better stay in our rooms and not show ourselves. Well, the man was Pashtun, and to our hosts (who are Hazara) any Pashtun man who wears a turban is Taliban, which of course isn't true, but I guess it's good to play it safe!

We also spoke with a young man who was here on visit, but works down in the Helmand province (next to Kandahar) as an interpreter for the US Marines. He said it was very dangerous, for him as someone working for the Americans, and for us if we wanted to go there, because [finger across throat], they'll behead us all. And it doesn't help that he's Hazara. They don't like us cuz we're foreigners? Joanna asks. Pashtuns don't like anyone who's not Pashtun, he says.

Another fun day in Afghanistan!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Anna's First Update from Herat

From ensemble member Anna, April 7:

Salam! Chestor asti? Khob astom! Here I am in Herat, and am picking up some good Dari phrases. After a month of living here, I’ll be speaking like a native. Not quite. But little by little, able to do some simple communication.

We are living with our theater hosts’ family. Monirah, the director of Simorgh, the theater company we're working with here in Herat, is fantastic. She’s 26 years old and has already produced several plays and films, together with her husband Hakim. Well, actually they’re not quite married yet, though they finally got engaged, a bit of a scandal here.

She’s a free-thinking modern young woman, but is having to adhere to local customs (which she gripes about). To that end, she dresses in the chador whenever she is out on the street, like all women here. This is basically a large sheet, black or with white flowers or sometimes grey, swept around the body and held tight with the hands under the chin, so only the face shows. There are still women who wear the blue burqa, too. When inside, all women (and girls over 9) still wear a head scarf if there is a male present who is not close family. So because Michael is in the house, her mother and herself and her younger sister wear head scarves, but otherwise they wouldn’t. Joanna and I don’t bother when in the house. Since her father said to me: “You’re like my daughter!” I figure we’re family now and I don’t have to. And Michael is family to us too (me and Joanna). So there. But the grand father came for a visit the other night, and the father ran up to me quickly and said: “Anna, Anna!” and gestured to put my head scarf on. Because the grand father is very old school, very conservative. He does not, by the way, approve of Monirah’s choice of husband (to be), and has not spoken to the family for a long time.

In any case, the family is very welcoming to us, the father is really great and good-humored, and the mother is sweet. They cook us fabulous Afghan food. We are eating like kings -- yummy vegetable dishes, salad, yoghurt and great bread. We eat on the floor on a plastic table cloth (called the ‘sofra’), that’s the Afghan way. And drink lots of green tea –wherever we go, we’re offered tea, even in a shop.

We are in a new suburb to Herat called Jabraiel (it's being built as we speak, everywhere partial structures in process of construction). It’s where all the Hazara live. The Hazara are an ethnic people in Afghanistan and are very much discriminated against, especially by the Pashtuns (who consider themselves the only true Afghans). The Hazare are supposedly descendants of Djengis Khan, and have Asian features. The day after we arrived was a holiday and Monirah’s family and many many others went to a picnic area near a mountain. There some Tajik guys took a photo of a Hazara girl (and you do not take photos of girls!), so her brothers asked them to stop and to delete the pics; some soldiers came up (who happened to be Tajik too) and suddenly opened fire, and two random Hazaras got killed. This was extremely upsetting to Monirah, who started crying when she heard. It’s distressing because this kind of thing happens a lot. Of course, it didn’t help that we were in the midst of an intense political discussion about the state of Afghanistan and its future, as she got the news.

The day we arrived is when they had protests because of the Koran-burning. However, it was pretty small here in Herat (although later I was told there were up to 3,000 protesters and that is still quite a crowd). We were advised not to hang about town for a couple of days. But everything is fine. Things are peaceful here. It’s down in Kandahar, and in the east, Jalalabad, and now up in the north too, Mazar-i-Sharif, where the Taliban are causing trouble. We walk down the street and nobody bothers us, although we got lots of looks. There aren’t any other foreigners here, so we are quite a sight. And Joanna and I are not wearing the chador-sheets, although we of course wear long tunics and loose pants, or long skirts, with head scarf. People stare at us like we’re aliens, men, women and children alike. Some looks do appear a bit disapproving and hostile, from some men in particular, but mostly it’s just shock and awe. In general, people here are friendly and welcoming.

We have started teaching workshops, and are working with a group of very talented young girls, age 12-20, and some boys, too. It is really fantastic that there’s a theater group here, I must say, and with so many girls, and that their families let them come and be part of it! Considering how conservative and traditional the area is, one might expect any such activity to be entirely suppressed here in Herat and certainly if involving girls. And yet Herat has historically been the cradle of Afghan culture. For sure, engaging in theater here is not without controversy, without its risks and problems. Theater is certainly not considered a respectable activity here, let alone profession (nor did it use to be in the US or Europe, and perhaps still isn't). Really, theater is a foreign concept, and thus suspect. For certain, it is not something respectable young girls should partake in. Women are not supposed to show themselves (off) in public, so to be on a stage and be looked at – unthinkable! And who knows what kind of untoward activities they’ll have to engage in… Moving their bodies – scandalous! Being loud and expressive – outrageous! And, God forbid, intermingling on stage with the opposite sex. At Kabul University where they have an acting department, there is not one single female acting student among about 200 male students. In fact, Monirah's sister Tahira is just now entering the university and she will be the first female acting student ever! Go Tahira!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Michael's First Update from Herat: On Youth

Greetings friends and family.

We are into week three in our six week project in Afghanistan, the last 9 days being here in Jabraiel, near Herat. (Jabraiel is the Afghan name for the angel Gabriel). It’s good work; the members of Simorgh Theatre and Film are completely enthusiastic, soaking up all our exercises, and totally wearing us out. There are 35 members, ages 12 to 24. It’s a young company, but very well organized with a number of international performances, including Germany and India.

Simorgh is the first of four companies around Afghanistan that we will be working with over these two years. The project, sponsored by the US Institute for Peace and the US Embassy in Kabul, is to create with each company a series of issue-related performances that they can market to NGO’s and government ministries. Basically, we are giving the companies the tools to generate earned income. This week we were sharing various theatre techniques with the Simorgh actors and Monireh Heshemi, their Artistic Director. At 26, Monireh is smart, devoted, and well respected by her actors. Her command of English is quite good, so translation has not been a problem.

As it happens, the members of this acting troupe are all Hazara, the ethnic minority of Afghanistan’s four main tribal groups. Actually, almost all the inhabitants in Jabraiel are Hazara (think Chinatown, Spanish Harlem, or other such neighborhood). As this project requires the company to do 10 performances, and ethnicity can be a hot issue, we asked the company if there would be a problem if we booked a performance in another community of, say, Tajiks or Pashtuns. So check out the answer of sixteen year old Rahelah:

“When we choose to do theatre it is our task and duty to reflect on the problems and pains in society. It is not important who is the audience, if we have an opportunity to affect a good change in people and society it is our task and duty to do it."

Right on! That’s a pretty impressive quote, and to hear Rahelah proclaim it makes all the stress of our travels vanish like the fog in a breeze. Her answer is testimony to the very real desire of many Afghans to transcend the conflicts and build a peaceful society.

Rahelah is a young woman enjoying the opportunity to pursue her interest in acting. That she is allowed to do so in her immediate society of family and friends, and that there is a local theatre company here for her is pretty remarkable. Yeah, there is a certain stigma in this conservative society about women appearing on stage, but the real issue is the economic one… theatre is just not considered a viable career. Sounds familiar. Which is why we’re helping with possible solutions, working with NGO’s and schools and government ministries. It’s a start.

We’ve just started working on the specifics of the performances, and that will be the subject of the next entry.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Photos from our Haiti trip

We feel so much stronger now!

Finally posting some of my thoughts here from our Haiti trip:

Working with the women of FAVILEK has been amazing. On the first day of workshop, Sylvie, an older woman, comes up to me when she arrives and gives me a big kiss on each cheek. Such joy and spirit and love! There is a sense of great enthusiasm and excitement for our work together.

We start the workshops off with warm-up games for fun and play and energy. We do trust exercises such as leading a blind partner, running blindly into another's arms with all your might, and letting yourself fall trusting that the group is there to catch you. Not only are these 15 artist members of FAVILEK learning to strengthen their core ensemble as a theater group, but they have committed to share this training with other women and girls in their support sessions. So we try to include creative exercises that are useful for psychosocial support, to build self-esteem, confidence and empowerment, as well as for theatrical work. We explore physical and emotional expression through mime and movement play and we do simple acrobatics, too.

But mostly, we work a lot on focus and cohesion as an ensemble. We have everyone walk around within a designated space focusing on being aware of themselves, the space and each other. We then work on choreographic movement and on moving together as a chorus. First, the women are scattered and unfocused and all over the place. There is no purpose to their movement or engagement. But then a beautiful transformation takes place as they start to develop a shared sensitivity and explore creating powerful images together. As Christina so aptly described it below: "imagine the transformation of 15 individuals walking around like psych wards patients in nonsensical circles within a square on the floor to 15 empowered, strong women who command the space and move as one." And the women did indeed feel empowered.

At the end of our three and a half days of workshops, we sit down together in a circle to talk about the experience. How do you feel now, what did you gain, what did you enjoy? They exclaim: "We feel so much stronger now!" Individually, and as an ensemble. Merina, who's quite the spitfire, tells us how here in Haiti things can get dangerous, there are demonstrations and violence, and now she feels strong enough to run and to fight! Wow.

Grandma Sylvie, the eldest, walks up to me and puts her arms around my hips to lift me up. As if to demonstrate her newfound strength. And she does lift me! And then she cradles me like a baby and sings to me. She then goes to Josh to lift him (and Josh is a big guy), and she probably would have done it, but Josh preempts her action and swings her up in his arms instead. And after that they dance.

"Voulez-vous danser? Oui, danser!" I discovered last time I was in Haiti how much people like to sing and dance, and Favilek is no different. So I introduce this little dancing game I learned from the gals in Grande Goave. And we had a blast with that. "Alors, fais comme ca!"

Then the women teach me and Christina a song from their last show with accompanying movements, which was really beautiful to do together. It had a sad air about it, but at least it ends on an upbeat note with "la vie est belle" or "life is beautiful."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christina Shook Hands with the Michael Jackson...

... of Haiti!

Here is an update from Bond Street Theatre ensemble member Christina Pinnell, who is currently in Haiti.

During our workshop planning session on Monday, we had a chance encounter with Haitian singer, Gracia Delva in our hotel. He was very kind and asked us about our work. He also encouraged us to go outside of Port au Prince and work in the countryside, which we are already planning to do. We aren't entirely sure what he said, but Morlon seems convinced that he will invite us to hang out with him and Wyclef Jean in his "palace" and we will get to do shows with children and then Bond Street will be in a movie. Here's hoping! At least he has our card.

Monday was our first workshop day with the artist members of FAVILEK. We had a late start at first because everyone's clock seems to run at least 30 minutes behind here and then we had to renegotiate the terms of our collaboration. Originally we had agreed to work with 2 groups of 15 women each, one in the morning and one in the afternoon for 5 days. It seems, though, that because of NGO presence in Haiti, most people expect food and transportation to be provided for any sort of workshop or training. We were not prepared for this on our shoestring budget, but with the help of our trusty Haitian partner, Morlon, we were able to make everyone happy. Well, if not happy at least agreed. This cultural misunderstanding brought out a lot of emotions for Anna, Josh and I. Coming from America, where everyone has so much to spare, we of course want to give all that we can. However, when it came down to brass tacks, we could only afford to feed and transport half the original number of women scheduled to attend the workshop. This all came to light in the morning session and we were still expecting the later group. We were prepared to work with the second group just for the day since they were already on their way, however, the FAVILEK members told us it was better that they "didn't get a taste" of the work because they were not going to be able to participate in the whole 4 days. Ultimately, we were there to serve their group, but we were a little shocked by the whole thing. Yet, we have come here to learn and now we know.

In the workshops we have been focusing on strengthening the ensemble and physical expression. We have had some bumps and the women are pretty vocal about what they like and don't like to do. I would say we had a beautiful breakthrough today with a walking in space exercise. We are encouraging them to fill the space and to take turns with focus. I'm not sure how to describe the exercise, but imagine the transformation of 15 individuals walking around like psych wards patients in nonsensical circles within a square on the floor to 15 empowered, strong women who command the space and move as one. Yes, that is a terrible description, but that's what happened today and luckily we have some of it on video. The most important part is the women felt the difference and know they accomplished something through the exercise. I'd say that's pretty cool.

I must say that these women are truly amazing. They each have experienced horrific trauma and tragedy in their lives. Sometimes it is easy to forget that because they are just so open, loving and willing to try what we are presenting. . .until someone asks you if its ok to sit out an exercise because she has bullets lodged in her knee and hip from the coup shootings in '94. That is a pretty sobering reminder. I make a mental note to make sure to ask about injuries at the beginning of our next workshop, but then again that might take up the whole first day. I have to remind myself that though, one commonality the members of FAVILEK share is their traumatic past, namely rape, the more important thing they have in common is the fact that not only have survived, but that they desire to make art and beauty where there is none. Maricia, the first FAVILEK member we met back in January, for lack of a better explanation, lost a chunk of her bicep when her house fell on her in the earthquake. She does have some physical limitations with her arm, but she made some adjustments to the exercises and I'll be damned if she wasn't climbing up on top of the pyramid in the acro section today, These moments are gifts, plain and simple.

Tomorrow is our last day with FAVILEK, but we have a meeting with KOFAVIV and then dinner with Li! Li! Li! in the evening. After the workshop today, we met with Solidarites and will performing for the children in the tent camps in Delmas 60 for the upcoming Carnivale celebrations on March 4th. In between, we will go to Jacmel to perform in the Carnivale there, teach workshops with a Haitian theatre company and hopefully get in a little rest and beach time. Our schedule is packed until we fly home on the 7th, so if you don't here from us, its because we are busy!

Anyway, that's all for now. Bon swa and kiss kiss!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Haiti Update

On February 16, BST ensemble members Anna Zastrow, Christina Pinnell, and Joshua Wynter got on a plane to Port-au-Prince.  They are kicking off our Haiti project, working with two women's groups KOFAVIV and FAVILEK to use theatre to address the sexual violence in the tent camps.  Support this project here.

Here's what Anna has to say!

Here we are in Haiti, all's well so far. Internet connection not so great.

Friday we had a meeting with Favilek main members about workshops, which went really well and everyone's very excited about working with us. We set up a schedule to do workshops next week (Mon-Fri); one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. After that we will see how to proceed for the following week. The plan at this point is to first do general physical theater workshops, and then proceed to work on their show.

Today we presented our show to Favilek, as a first showing with them as our first audience. It went great, they appeared to really enjoy the show. We had great fun together. At the end, they got up and danced with us! One of the older ladies greeted us with kisses when she arrived, and kissed us as we left. This was sweet and lovely.

Morlon has joined us and yesterday we had a full day of rehearsal.  He's very expressive and creative. And silly!

Saturday we walked through the neighborhood and further on to find a market where we could buy a bucket. We walked all over. It was no problem. Especially with Morlon with us. We had had (or at least I had) the impression that it wasn't really ok to walk down the street, and we really needed a driver. But this was fine. We walked past several camp communities, and past the presidential building that was in ruins.

Tonight there was pre-carnival festivities. We wanted to go out and find another restaurant down the street as opposed to eating at the hotel restaurant. But all the street lights were out, and it was dark, and it really wasn't a good idea to be walking around out there at that point. Which revealed itself to be true, because when we stepped out for a moment, I was confronted by a very aggressive and hostile man. I didn't understand what he was saying, but politely greeted him with a "bon soir" which apparently aggravated him further.

Morlon then made sure to inform us that this man was not a real Haitian man: he was perhaps born in Haiti, but he was not Haitian, because Haitians are very friendly and generous people.

We are doing the workshops at a space a bit farther away, but we can take a taxi, or walk even (we walked all the way back from the space to the hotel, when we checked it out the other day). So we are not using or paying for a driver and car every day. Some days we will need to, though.  (On the other hand, the accommodations are more expensive.)

We are still looking to set up more performances and workshops, and I am in contact with Sinema Anba Zetwal and Solidarite but haven't gotten to meet with them yet. We have not met with Kofaviv yet. We have a full-day workshop planned with Li Li Li on March 2.

That's all for now.