Thursday, December 06, 2012

Bhopal: Play Review

Our intrepid intern Henry Moorhead reviews the US production of Bhopal, and outlines his hopes for audiences around the globe.

On the 18th of November in New Brunswick NJ, Epic Actors’ Workshop and Bond Street Theatre merged to create a play on the effect of this catastrophic disaster of Bhopal.  The play tells the story of December 3rd 1984, when a pesticide plant exploded in Bhopal, India, leaking over 40 tons of methyl isocyanine gas and killing over 2,000 people instantly and many more as the toxins reached the human bodies.  Years later children were born deformed or physically impaired due to the direct impact of this tragic disaster.  Today the effects are still felt, and Bhopal demonstrates the level of impact one incident can have on the entire world. 

The play opens as the police in Bhopal try to convince Dr. Sonya Labonté (played by Anna Zastrow) to leave the slums of Bhopal and go back to her native Canada.  The relationship that Dr. Labonté develops with her patients (women in the slums of Bhopal) is so authentic, it shows the reality of what it was like during the disaster.  Ms. Zastrow lights up the stage with her captivating presence as she tends to the women who have suffered. 

The chorus (who play the woman of Bhopal) represents the essence of the world in Bhopal. The physical and vocal choices they make pull the audience in closer and allow the piece to build.  They demonstrate the core of the play, as they are the ones who are affected the most.   

Jaganlal Bhandari, Chief Minister of State in Bhopal (played by Sajal Mukherjee), dives deep into his character as a misguided and corrupt driven man and creates conflict with his stubborn views. 

Throughout the play the themes, dialog, and interactions exemplify how difficult it is for first world counties like the United States and third world countries like India to work together. Given the laws, culture, and methods of operating are so different; it takes immense effort and perseverance to make an impact individually.  Dr. Labonté epitomizes this on many levels.  As the play deals with such heart wrenching and severe issues, the moments of comic relief heighten the essence of the play.  For example, Pescale Suavé (played by Shai Lendra Khurana) retorts, “There are so many laws, it is impossible not to break a few.”  The audience chuckles and it gives them a chance to relax. 

After premiering in New Jersey in the United States, Bond Street takes Bhopal across the globe to tour in Nepal and India.  I hope the audience comes away how essential it is to make sure the necessary precautions are set in order to prevent future environmental catastrophes from happening.  Bhopal is a prime example of a play that continues Bond Street’s mission of “Creating Peace Through Theatre.”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hopefully, a Chorus Line: The 'Bhopal' Tour

Ilanna left today with the ensemble to tour 'Bhopal' to three festivals in India and Nepal.  She is the Chorus Leader and choreographer, and writes about her thoughts, concerns, and excitement about introducing new Chorus members during the tour!

Birsa, one of my fellow chorus members in Bhopal (and the only other chorus member to be embarking on our upcoming India and Nepal tour), asked it most succinctly when he looked at me after our show at the South Asian Theater Festival, a bit bewildered, and asked, “How are we going to train new chorus members in a couple hours what took us two months to learn?”

Ilanna rehearses with the rest of the cast in New Jersey.
Feeling optimistic (and hoping to appear so to appease his worried glance), I casually replied, “Don’t worry! It took us a month and three weeks to figure out what we were doing, and only about a week to internalize it and make it look flawless!” This statement is more true than false, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s 100% truthful. 

I am concerned about how we will transpose the images that we spent weeks creating to a new stage, with a new group of chorus members, but I’m not losing sleep over it. Birsa and I know the play and the chorus’s parts so well now. Much of the trickiness comes from timing -- when’s the exact moment the chorus enters (in the light? or at the whistle sound cue?), when do we take a step as a group (are we following the leader? or waiting for the word “no”?), how many seconds do we count before we break our held poses (I know this one... it’s 8). 

Between the two of us, I think we will be able to direct traffic well. What we don't have quite enough time to perfectly teach, the chorus will pick up by our example.  Joanna, the director, has the chorus doing a series of repetitive movements throughout the play that are simple to teach and easy to learn.  The beauty and impact for the audience comes from the simplicity, timing, and group mentality of our actions. I feel confident that once we teach our new chorus members the actions, they will effortlessly find their places onstage, and find their own ways to influence how we tell this story.

Above all, I am so excited to be interacting with new actors in each location we will be touring to. How exciting to get to meet local actors at each festival, who jump in and become part of a bigger story! I am looking forward to meeting our newest collaborators, who will add to our story and enrich our experience

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The YAP Rebooted!

Heddy Lahmann updates us all on the progress that she and Ilanna are making on the new Young Audience Program show, Amelia.

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers." – Amelia Earhart

When I jumped on board with Bond Street Theatre in February of this year, I was thrilled to get involved with the international social development work that the company is doing, and also expressed an interest in the local New York City outreach via the Young Audience Program. Joanna and Michael encouraged me to go for it and get the fires burning under the YAP again.

As of September, Ilanna Saltzman and I began collaboratively creating a new piece for the Young Audience Program to take to NYC public schools, museums and libraries. Our subject? None other than the fearless pioneering aviatrix, Amelia Earhart. We were inspired to tell the tale of her courage to dream and desire to stand up and go against the grain, at a time when women were only just getting the right to vote.

We’re weaving our story through the lens of two explorers on a quest to uncover the details of Amelia’s life’s story and ultimately the mystery of her disappearance. Dealing with the disappearance in the context of a show for children does have its challenges. We obviously want to keep the story playful and uplifting as well as educational and historically accurate. In an effort to achieve this, we’re putting the focus on Amelia’s determination and bravery and throwing in some stilting to manifest the thrill of flight. Amelia said, "Decide...whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying." Amelia's moxie is contagious, and we're excited to pass it on to the young people of NYC.

Monday, October 01, 2012

How Do You Get to Jalalabad?

All still well in Kabul.  Most of our time is spent in the hotel these days, writing reports and working on the Training Manual, but we've had at least one important meeting each day; at the Embassy, the US Institute for Peace, the Theatre Department at the University...

We'll be doing some follow-up training with the Kabul theatre artists, and lots more meetings before heading back on the 5th.  In the mean time, should any of you be wondering what the heck we actually DO with these actors, I decided to detail one of the exercises to give you a backstage look.

How do you get to Jalalabad?

This is based on a little remembered Abbot and Costello routine from one of their old TV shows.  Kudo's to John Towsen for calling my attention to it about 15 years ago (and a shout out to our peeps currently playing in the NY Clown Theatre Festival):

Costello is on the street waiting for Abbott to return.  A women approaches him and asks:
(the dialogue is to the best of my memory)

Woman:  Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the public library?

Costello:  I'm sorry, I don't know where the public library is.

Woman: Oh, well, if you go down Main Street and make a left at the corner go to the end of the street and make a right and...

Costello (confused): What a minute, wait a minute... I didn't ask you, you asked me.

Woman: I asked you what?

Costello: How do you get to the public library?

Woman: That's what I'm telling you! Go down Main Street and make a left at the corner go to the end of the street and make a right and....

Costello:  Wait a minute, Lady! I don't care about the public library!

Woman:  (Angry) Then what are wasting my time for? Who do you think you are bothering poor innocent young women on the street, you fat little potato!  I should call the police!  You are nothing but a masher!  (she smacks him with her purse and storms away).

Costello:  (completely bewildered) I'm a mashed potato!?!

Abbott: (walking up) Who was she?  What did she ask you?

Costello:  How do you get to the public library?

Abbott: Oh, well if you go down Main Street and make a left at the corner...

Costello runs off screaming.

It's a completely absurd bit, and one of the reasons we decided to do it was to get the actors to play "outside-the-box".   Also, it's vaudeville!  It's my roots.

Joanna and I would do the routine in English, with our translator translating line by line.  Since there aren't many public libraries around, we use "Jalalabad" instead.  Also, we dropped the masher / mashed
potato joke, as the pun never worked in translation (and they don't have mashed potatoes here).

Even with the awkward English/Dari or English/Pashto presentation, the actors understood the comedy immediately and always laughed.

For a simple, silly little bit it was a challenge for them to duplicate it.  They, of course, would do it in their own language.  Because the structure is so tight, we always knew what they were saying, or supposed to be saying.  But it would take about 15 - 20 minutes for them to get the structure correct: who entered when, who was asking what and who got angry at which time, and who stormed off when.

We would rotate everyone through the different parts, focusing on the subtle comic timings:  "Costello's" confusion, then annoyance, then really confused post-assault, then the build to completely losing it as "Abbott" starts to give him directions again.  The Stranger (does not have to be a woman) is absurdly matter-of-fact until they get to yell at Costello about how wonderful Jalalabad is: "what do you mean you don't care about Jalalabad! My mother lives in Jalalabad!..." etc.  A chance for the actor to improvise.

Some caught on faster than others.  A few never caught on at all, causing as much confusion and laughter as the routine itself.  Thing is, they all LOVE this exercise.  As far as I can tell from all the years of watching Afghan theatre, while they do comedy, they don't do absurdity, and maybe that newness has appeal.

They loved the bit so much they wanted to keep doing it, and we had to come up with "as if" variations:  same dialogue, but  doing it as if the characters are spies, or martial artists, or singing opera, or suddenly in love, etc.

Even months later, when I would see one of the actors again, they might catch my eye just the right way and say, in halting English (which they might not actually speak):  "Michael, how you get Jalalabad?" and we would launch into the routine in half English, half Dari, clearly playing the parts in the language of theatre.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

An update from Michael on the road from Jalalabad to Kabul.

             On our otherwise uneventful drive back to Kabul from Jalalabad we were stopped by the police at the Kabul city checkpoint.  We had passed a number of checkpoints on the way, but this was the only one that stopped us.   We had to pull over.  A portly, unfriendly looking policeman opened the van door and stared at me in a menacing way, or perhaps it was just his "I-Mean-Business" look which can be similar to a "Menacing Look" but should have important subtle differences if you are a well trained actor which I doubted he was.   I stared back in my "slightly-bored-can-I-help-you?" look but, being a trained actor, I colored it with just a hint of submission as that tends to move things along positively with these brutes.

            He barked to our guide, AZ, that he wanted to see our passports, which we happily supplied.  Then he started asking to look through our bags.   "There, that bag, and that bag! What is there?"  "It's fruit! You can see it is fruit!" AZ barked back.  I didn't understand what he was saying exactly, but clearly there was no love and respect.  When confronted by busy-body authority, many Afghans turn belligerent.  I never understood why, as it usually leads to more delays and chest-thumping.

            Now the policeman wants to look at our pile of luggage stacked in the back of the van.  Knowing that our workshop bag is topmost (excellent!) I have Joanna hand me the little portfolio we have containing photos of our work, for just such an occasion.  AZ later told me that on our way to the back of the van the policeman was asking him, "Why are you working with these Americans?  They make films that disrespect our religion!  Are you helping them make films?!"   AZ  said, "No! They are not making films, they are good people, what's wrong with you?"

            I'm not sure what he expected to find when he opened the first duffel bag; maybe he thought it would be film equipment, porn magazines, and fuel to burn the Holy Book, or maybe just a cache of weapons.  He sure wasn't expecting what he did find, which was three pair of stilts and juggling equipment.  His look of menace became one of confusion.  I helpfully showed him the pictures of us on our stilts in costumes, with the crowds of happy children, and our workshops with the Afghan actors.  "See?!" AZ was saying, "They are our teachers! They are good people, they are helping us!" ("You stupid cow", he added -- not with words but with inflection.  AZ is a trained actor, after all).

            There was more talk between them, and the cop softened, as they usually do after seeing the portfolio and the pictures of happy children.  He actually shook my hand and casually embraced AZ.   I don't think he was totally convinced of our innocence, but he let us go without further delay.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kandahar Theatre Update 3: Another Job Well Done

Michael writes from Jalalabad on the work with Kandahar Theatre.

After the ten day training and rehearsal period here in Jalalabad with Maiwand Theatre Company both the men and the women have done their first productions, and now are heading back to Kandahar to arrange four more performances each.

Despite losing a day over the recent anti-film protests (not here, as far as I can tell) we accomplished a lot. Having the Kandahar team here 24-7 meant we could have more time with them, and they were motivated enough to train and rehearse on their own some evenings and early mornings. For the men's group, we decided to use a script written by our Nangahar Theatre collaborator, Zhwandoon; and for the women we used the script we developed last year with the Nangahar women's team. The men's show promoted the civil and religious laws that favor the rights of women (forced marriage not allowed, no violence), and the women's show called for unity among women and an end to the "backbiting".

This was a good opportunity to revisit past work. Both shows were previously produced by other teams, and the directors of the previous versions were on hand to help remount the new adaptations. Thus they got to see how we adapt and direct based on the strengths (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) of different actors for the same material. We also could delve a little deeper in acting technique without having to create new material.

The men performed yesterday at the Lincoln Learning Center to 75 appreciative high school and college age students, while the women performed early today at a women's training center (I forgot to get the stats from Joanna, sorry).  Both shows went very well, in our humble opinions.

There are a great many new insights and stories associated with the process, and I'll try to get them down in future updates, but here is one from rehearsing the guy's show. Though the basic story line has serious intent, one actor played the clownish nephew, and he was pretty good in the part. The central object in this tale is a government published book on the laws of the rights of women. At one point the nephew is holding the book up by his face as the teacher points out this and that law. His uncle comes up and slaps him on the back, and he closes the book on his nose. Funny comedy bit (if they get the timing right, which is about 65% of the time). Well, in our last rehearsal before the performance, one of the actors points out that the book also has Koranic laws written in it as well (NOW he tells me) and some members of the audience might not think it so funny. Well, I tell them, you guys gotta be the judge on this; if you think it's a problem then we don't have to do the bit, BUT (deep breath here), if the point of the show is to see how much the audience really knows about what is written in the law, this will give you an indication of what they know. I bet most of them never heard of this book, much less know what's in it, that's what you are trying to tell them. So maybe do the bit, and see if indeed you get a reaction. Well, they understood my point, but the consensus was maybe they shouldn't do it.

Of course, come show time and the actors clearly forgot the entire conversation, because they did the bit anyway, and nobody stormed the stage. It didn't get much of a laugh either, despite the timing being pretty good. I think more than anything else the whole concept of live theatre is still new to live audiences, and they don't quite know how to react until the end, when they applauded enthusiastically.

We'll be here in Jalalabad until Friday with some follow-up with our local teams, and then head back to Kabul to check in with the teams there.

Despite whatever is going on around the world, it's still a pretty big world, and it's been safe and sound in our neck of the woods. Still, we'll keep our eyes open and ears close to the ground, and follow the advice of our friends.

Much love,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kandahar Theatre Update 2: Safe Haven

Dear all, 
Things have been a bit dicey lately.  Our Afghan partner called us at 5:30am this morning to tell us to pack our bags and we were to evacuate Jalalabad for a few days. He would come by and take us to stay to his house in a small village outside the city.  We hadn’t heard a thing about this nasty film (and it is really awful – I am appalled even as an artist) so it was all a shock.  Now we are on lockdown at the hotel.  We decided it would be more dangerous to get in a car and drive to the village and endanger his family.  We are such a liability!  We put everyone in danger.
So the program is on hold for today and especially tomorrow, Friday – the usual day of prayer and protest.  
To put our friends at home at ease, I do think our hotel is a safe haven. We are staying in our rooms with meals delivered up from the kitchen.  There are a bevy of guards at the front gate and they have added more.  Then there is a long driveway (through a very nice garden) up to the front of the building.  They frisked our male escort on his way in, and stopped even the women… so they are really being careful.  
One of our partners came over to deliver burqas for me and Monireh, and some additional details to add to Michael’s Afghan attire.  Meanwhile the Afghans have been telling people (and only few people know we are here) that we are from Australia.  I usually say Canada, but whatever.
The trainings were really going well – we were all very pleased!  It’s a shame to make this break in the process right now.  We had just started discussions on what topics the shows should address.  The Kandahari group is really learning a lot.  Besides the obviously new stuff – our crazy warm-ups, the stilts, funny routines, etc. – many of the acting techniques are very new… even the mime.  They had some image theatre from Kayhan, but we are dealing with purely actors’ training first, then we will move into the conflict resolution work as we develop the play.  So we are focusing on body language, precision of gesture, focus,… all detail work that they haven’t been exposed to.
That’s the news from the front….  We will let you know how things develop.  I am a bit concerned about tomorrow, but we will, as ever, keep our heads down.  (Under my burqa, I have to… or I’ll trip).

Cheers –
Joanna, Michael, and Monireh

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kandahar Theatre Update 1: Making it Work in Jalalabad

Michael writes about the process of traveling to Jalalabad to work with Kandahar Theatre, setting up the houses, and the challenges of electricity and running water.

All is well, we are here in Jalalabad. Joanna, I and Monireh (our Kabul-based collaborator) are staying at a local hotel, while the Kandahar Theatre Company is staying in a house directly across the street. The most dangerous part of our project is crossing that street each morning and afternoon.

The journey here from Kabul was interesting. The car that was sent to pick up the three of us was not nearly big enough for us and all our luggage, but it only took about a half hour for Ahmad Zia dismiss the first driver and car (at a cost of $40) and hire another, bigger passenger van. We drove for about forty minutes out of the city and through several small towns; when we slowed for a speed bump in the middle of one market area a bunch of surly guys started to pound on the car with sticks. These brutish, grunting Neanderthals turned out to be the toll collectors.

Interesting system. The toll was 4000 afs - $80 - and you'd think at those prices they could at least afford uniforms, if not actual toll booths. Reluctantly, the driver paid the toll. Then, about a mile down the road, the van broke down from a shattered fan belt. So, a third vehicle was called, slightly smaller than the second but still managed all of us and our stuff. It's a shame the van didn't break before the toll.

We got through the mountains and two hours later were dropped safely at the hotel. I paid $100 for the third vehicle. So if you were keeping track, that was $40 for a car we didn't use, $100 for the car we did, and in there was a $80 toll which no one asked me to pay. There is much that is inscrutable about the economics of Afghanistan.

Our local Jalalabad contact worked out an arrangement to rent a house for the Kandahar company, thinking it would be better than a hotel -- cheaper (potentially) and they can cook their own meals. That of course assumes that the house has water and electricity - which, when we arrived, we found it did not, though it did have excessive dust covering everything. No worries; we are assured it will all get better soon. The group arranged to stay the night in a local hotel (not our hotel). Although it did have water and electric, the hotel was so stifling hot that the house was deemed preferable despite its limitations, and they moved in the next day - the six women on the top floor, and the five guys below.

The plumbing and electricity were mostly fixed in a day. The limited electricity comes from a rattling old generator in the yard, as there is only 1 hour of electricity supplied by the city. While this keeps the water pump churning, the electrons don't seem to flow to any of the ceiling fans. Still, the Kandaharians seem satisfied with all that. 

Our hotel does have pretty good AC in the rooms; a luxury in this country, but without it we would go mad. Especially because we didn't have any water for three days due to a big problem with their pump. Well, we didn't have water in the pipes, they did supply us with big buckets of the
vital liquid. Cold water.

We are rehearsing in one of the rooms of the house, so our view of Jalalabad this time is extremely limited to crossing the street.

Next update - the training process.  Watch this space.

Much love,
Michael and Joanna

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

An Uplifting Family Experience

BST intern Zoe Travis taught her family to walk on stilts at their family reunion - and they loved it!

            The moment Michael heard I was leaving the office early for a family reunion, he immediately started to assemble a “to-go” stilt bag. I would be going to a gathering of family members of all ages, from all over the country, who only see each other every couple of years- of course I had to bring the stilts! In a magically compact bag, Michael threw in my fancy, newly crafted personal stilts, two extra stilts, stilt pants, and some juggling balls (just in case). I managed to lug it all to Penn Station and arrived, stilts in tow, in Lyme, New Hampshire the next day.
          Lets just say, that the Travis Family Reunion of 2012 will forever be remembered as the time when every single one of us, ages 12-70, learned how to walk on stilts. Once word had spread that I brought stilts to the reunion, everyone jumped at the opportunity to give it a try. The night before our “big stilt lesson” many people were skeptical and said they would never be able to take steps on their own. But I am proud to say that it was only a matter of minutes before until most of my family members were prancing around, forming kick lines, and showing off their dance moves. For a family that doesn’t have much contact throughout the year, it was very clear that we still have a lot in common. The Travis’s are stubborn, competitive, and determined to get it right. Throughout it all we were supportive, encouraging, and ready to learn.
             Throughout the weekend, stilts remained a major topic of conversation. Everyone had so much to say! I asked my relatives to reflect on the experience, and here is Uncle Mark's response:

Zoe taught her entire family to join her up on stilts!
"At first I thought there was no way that I would be able to keep my balance, and that I would topple like a dead tree. But when I saw one family member after the other not only manage the stills but with great pride launch out on their own without support ... I knew it was possible and way more than desirable. I was hooked. So when it came to my turn I felt those old fears and trepidations creep in and those little voices saying, "what are you thinking", "you're doomed", but with Zoe's unending encouragement (by this time she was wandering around on her stilts, looking magnificent in her long black pants) I hoisted myself up. 

The first sensation was pretty much what I expected. No balance, no security, just hold on tight to everything within your grasp and you'll get through without major embarrassment. But then I took a few steps and I felt this rush of courage and conviction. Watching Zoe hover above me on her much longer stilts with that glorious smile on her face gave me the last bit of courage that I needed. And without thinking I let go of my two handlers and ventured out on my own. Wow. I felt like a giraffe. Maybe a baby giraffe, but a giraffe all the same. With wobbly legs, every core muscle tightening in response to the new challenges, I took bigger and bigger steps. 

 And then I decided to turn. And turn I did. And then I found myself just rocking back and forth, foot to foot, stick to stick - just like I had seen Zoe do so gracefully. And it was in that moment that I knew I was totally on my own. That I had accomplished something that I had never seen as possible. A new experience of independence, floating high above the masses feeling oddly empowered. 

I think my favorite part of my short stilt-walk was when I was dancing with Zoe. One, two, three, Kick. One, two, three, Kick. A beautiful moment of abandonment, fearlessly dancing on two sticks. A great metaphor for how we could all live. Maybe we are more secure when we place ourselves at the edge of disaster, maybe we are more connected if we elevate ourselves, not so we can be better seen, but so we can see better. Maybe we will slow down and be in the moment when we can't move so fast and when every muscle in our body is focussed on staying upright. Maybe...

Thanks you, Zoe. It was a moment I will cherish forever.  Cheers, Mark"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Intern Spotlight: Heddy Lahmann

Program Associate Heddy Lahmann is a California native and a graduate of San Diego State and the University of Connecticut.  

All Roads Lead to Bond Street

Heddy strikes a pose.
I was 11 when I got my first theatre bug. As a shy kid in a new school forced to take a drama class, my first “solo” assignment filled me with terror. Much to my surprise, however, my classmates gave me a resounding round of applause when I finished my performance and suddenly I was receiving recognition and even praise from peers that were waaaaay cooler than I. That happenstance drama course gave me a confidence I'd never experienced before, and ultimately changed the course of my life.

I pursued my education in theatre with a fervor that took me through college and graduate school and ultimately brought me here to New York City. And while that little 11 year old narcissist within is still alive and well, my outlook on the application of theatre and performance in my own life and the lives of others has changed in the years since middle school.

As a grad student, a teacher of mine spoke about his experience working with an organization whose focus was international humanitarian outreach through theatre. I'd never head of such a thing! Something stirred inside and I had to get to know more. I wound up traveling as a performer with Clowns Without Borders to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and performing in tent camps, schools, and hospitals. It was that trip that solidified for me that theatre could be used in more dynamic ways than I had ever imagined, and this was work that I wanted to pursue.
Go Heddy!

I stumbled on Bond Street Theatre's website via and knew I had to be a part of what they were doing somehow. In March I met with Joanna and one week later I found myself in the loft space of BST, working alongside superheroes. One week after that, and they had me traipsing around the office on stilts! (These particular superheroes have no qualms about sharing their superpowers.) The folks at BST continue to blow my mind with their unwavering generosity of spirit, passion, dedication and drive to bring theatre to the most remote and sometimes dangerous of places-- boldly going where no one has gone before as pioneers for change. A day "at the office" may consist of watching/editing videos from the latest journey to Haiti or Afghanistan, booking the Stilt Band at a new venues, aiding in the preparation of grants and final reports, watching and learning the Young Audience Program DVDs, or a trip to the illustrious basement to gather another collection of treasures to take to Materials for the Arts. There's a lot of pieces to the puzzle of what it takes to run such a uniquely small and yet global operation. I am a happy little sponge during my hours here, taking as much knowledge, skill and swagger as I can possibly absorb.

Most recently, preparations have been underway for another Bond Street journey to Afghanistan, this one specifically to bring theatre by Afghan women (trained by BST) to Afghan women in the prison system.  The empowerment I felt as a timid adolescent that sparked my own love of theatre, that's what BST takes to the most seemingly impossible of locations to the most seemingly impossible of populations. On my own theatrical journey, I aspire to have the bravery, gusto, and even a jot of the kind of impact that Bond Street has had on the world. It's an epic and marvelous adventure to be learning about this invaluable work and the special folks who do it.
Singing On The Stilts....

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Intern Spotlight: Charlotte Drover

This week, BST spotlights our Production Intern Charlotte Drover!  Charlotte is a senior at Drew University with a focus in Theatre and Middle Eastern Studies.

In my overactive imagination, I've always fancied myself a xenophile wanderlust Queen: I conquered the world's most temperamental volcano in Sicily, dabbled in Arabic in high school, harboured a rather conspicuous obsession with India, and left my heart and soul in Londontown. I first learned of Bond Street Theatre's fascinating method through my mentor and friend Olivia Harris and readied myself to join with this creative force. My first toe-dip into the vast ocean of applied theatre began my sophomore year with the Drew University -- Marion Bolden Center Collaboration with Newark high school students. I concluded the semester and second Collaboration year with a growing storm of questions to bring to BST: 
What are their international collaborations like? What challenges do they face? How do they overcome those? How can I absorb this as an applied theatre facilitator-to-be? 
Learning the ropes her first time up.

When I began my first day at BST, Joanna and Michael bounced to greet me with spritely enthusiasm, an eagerness to teach, and Afghan pistachios. They nourished my curiosity of stilt walking, flag twirling, acrobatics, and the dynamics of a physical theatre stage picture. My dance and theatre background enriched, I have learned so much in this whirligig of a dramaturgical and production internship and specified my preference of production execution. 

From Day 1, I was enamoured by the work I was fortunate to do, obnoxiously gushing to my NYC friends and NH family about my assignments. I devour my work: researching the reality of the Afghan woman and her nation's progress towards equality, investigating the horrid detriments of the 1984 Bhopal gas explosion and cataloging the images, video and data which illuminate the disaster's chronic presence for Indian citizens, and distilling the most effective means to measure the impact of theatre within a community. Delicious.

Charlotte shows off her moves!
Yet what I am really savoring is how I'm maturing into a more effective theatre practitioner. On only my second stilt lesson I decided, with a Gemini's reckless nature, to start turning, balancing on one leg, and skipping all on stilts. Two young ladies, neighbors of BST, shyly crept by Shinbone Alley and peeped out a desire to learn to do what I garishly did. Verbose reflection aside, I am really proud of the fact that I was able teach them this skill that I just acquired, and kindling their confidence and passing on the BST good mojo.

Through acrobatics workshops lead by Joanna I am more confident in my ability to articulate why I love physical theatre: its ability to use the body's specificity and eloquence to transcend the barriers of language. I direct a play by Harold Pinter, a playwright who hates language, in Spring 2013, and I will naturally adapt my learning to the production and my final year as Bolden Collaboration mentor.

The other night I cruelly tortured myself by researching what real-world, post-graduate programs in London offered degrees in applied theatre and its cost (adding a few more links to the chain of my school debt and misery). Yet I realized that it wasn't self-torment, but me solidifying my faith in the power of Applied Theatre and what I can offer that field from my BST internship. I've grown into the big girl pants of my ambition by contributing real work for my dream company.

 Although I'm no clairvoyant, I can predict this with certainty: it will be nothing short of an adventure.

The 2012 summer interns!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Intern Spotlight: Zoe Travis

This week the Intern Spotlight shines on Zoe Travis.  Zoe is our Program Intern from Smith College through the Praxis program and a Brooklyn native.

Zoe stands tall at her first stilt lesson.
            I think it took me about five minutes to apply to be a Bond Street intern after reading the mission statement. This company uses theatre for healing and empowerment, has traveled all over the world and clearly has fun while doing it.  I read through the website in awe; I finally found the theatre super heroes I always dreamt about.
Let’s go back a couple of years. In high school, I spent at least four hours a day in acting class. I am so grateful for these hours: while I struggled to understand a character, I gained a profound understanding of myself.  After four years of playing characters who possessed a confidence that I admired, I snagged those qualities and made them my own. I graduated high school a noticeably different person, and a walking example of the power of theatre.
           Fast-forward three years, and I am sitting in a cozy, hard working think tank of an office, full of people who work to use the power of theatre around the world. As I sat across from Joanna for our first meeting, I knew that this would not be your typical internship- I would really contribute to the work of Bond Street, and really feel like a member of the team (or even family).
         The Bond Street office is a fascinating place. Even though we are all sitting in a circle and can easily swivel our chairs to have an impromptu meeting- I like to think about how all of our minds are somewhere else in the world. Every day I walk into the office, and try to immerse myself in Afghan culture as much as virtually possible.
Michael, Darielle, and Zoe pose
on BOND Street!
My current assignment is to write a proposal that would fund Bond Street’s Afghan Women’s Prison Project, a sustainable theatre program in women’s prisons in Afghanistan. The more I learn about the status of women in Afghanistan, the more committed I am to this project. While reading interviews of incarcerated women or writing the problem statement, I find myself becoming extremely overwhelmed or frustrated. There are so many layers to this problem; it’s hard to believe that any change is possible. I expressed this to Olivia, who I’m sure has experienced this many times, and she gave me great advice: to remember that the reason we are studying the problem is because we are proposing a solution. When I imagine the women in prison learning how to walk on stilts, or juggle, or performing plays that tell their stories- it’s hard not to smile. That’s what keeps me writing.
Ambling down Broadway.
   Everything we do here will one day be sent to a completely different culture across the world. When Michael taught me to walk on stilts, I was so nervous, had many self-doubts, and thought it would take me forever to walk on my own. Two hours later, Michael and I were strolling down Broadway, a couple feet higher than everyone else on the street. Even though they won’t be walking down Broadway, I know that I am sharing that initial sense of fear and then sense of accomplishment with hundreds of people around the globe. When Joanna demonstrated different acrobat tricks, and then said “your turn!” I always thought, “There is no way”. After she showed me each step, I gave it a try, and surprised myself each time.
I continue to realize that I am more capable than I thought, and that’s exactly what I wish for the women in Afghanistan. It’s incredible that by going to work to the same place each day, I continue to feel connected to people all over the world in a variety of ways. I look forward to the coming weeks at Bond Street- there is so much left to learn, and so many more exciting projects to work on. I like to think that this is the summer when I am learning how to use my theatre powers for good, and from the real super heroes themselves. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stilts Denmark: The Big Show

The Big Field - pre 30,000 scouts
The culmination of our week was the pre-show show for 30,000 international scouts in a very large field on the outskirts of Holstebro; not far, as the crow flies, from OdinTeatret. We could hear the sound-check wafting across the flat Danish countryside every morning. The closer neighbors must have been livid.

Front of Stage, waiting for orders.

I admit that my interest in the project, apart from the stilts, was that it seemed rather outside the usual venue for the theatre and I was curious to see how it would be handled: a huge crowd with the trappings of commercial and military overtones  (TV cameras and the rigid scout structure).   Indeed, the project was frequently referred to as "my nightmare" by those in the know. We came to expect each rehearsal to start with a sigh, a roll of the eyes, and the words, "There's been a change". From the performers side, however, we generally felt good hanging out with cool, talented people, and we were used to challenges (we were, after all, stiltwalkers) so, okay, whatever. 

The Stick Figures at the top of the hill.
The stilters with the toughest job were the five "stick figures", so named because of five 15' flexible tubes strapped around their bodies. It took about an hour to dress them up and strap them in, after which it was nearly impossible for them to sit anywhere. They were positioned to appear on top of the only hill in all of Holstebro, from which they descended and walked the length of two football fields to the front of the stage where the rest of us were going through various bits and routines. 

Jay and Helen of Carpetbag Brigade. 
The odd rings were played with in
rehearsals, but not used in peformance.
I was pared with Helen A of England, who came along with a Victorian style costume. It was the general consensus of the group that my costume blended best with hers, particularly if you squinted your eyes to the point of closing them. 

We got to mix it up with Jay and Helen G of Carpetbag Brigade, creating a rather absurd-comic-drama that had three parts: me and Jay dancing a tango and generally harassing the audience, me and Helen G in a mad scientist power-struggle with electric hand jive and bondage, and me and Helen A with a proper circumspect adagio (I don't know what Jay and Helen A were up to while me and Helen G were zapping each other). Center in-front-of-stage were the four members of the Colombian group Nemcatacoa Teatro who pretzelled themselves into amazing tableaus and feats of counter-balance. In addition to our antics, Deborah Hunt's masks and giant puppeteers danced in the aisles while the Jasonites underscored the visuals with rousing song and percussion. 

Maskers and Giants created in Deborah Hunt's workshop.
The evening was cold and moist with the threat of rain, an uneven surface underfoot and the insane din of commercial television production all around us, with images projected on two large rock-concert screens left and right.  Our hard working directors were incensed that there were almost no projections of our work on the screens, nor thanks or acknowledgment of our work coming from the MC's on stage. Instead, advertisements were broadcast and camera shots of the crowd prevailed, prompting spontaneous "woo-hoo"'s whenever the scouts saw themselves. It was a performance for our times: live, passionate, community inspired artists vs. the cold modern technology of mass media. 

The Scouts arrive - pretty orderly, actually. 

We engaged and delighted the audience members who caught our acts without distraction; the battle was not lost, though we were out-gunned. I felt a little like the fly vs. the cannon; they may make the louder noise, but HA, they can't maneuver fast enough to kill us. We live to fight again.

Much love and many thanks to our fearless leaders, Julia, Tage, Donald and Deborah, the music of the Jasonites, the Odin staff, the puppeteers and maskers, and especially to my compatriots on the stilts. This was fun. I'd be happy to share the studio and the field with you all again anytime.

Stilts Day 6 - The Holstebro Pageant

First, a bit of history.   From what I've been told, Odin Theatre's amazing international performing arts center was founded via a letter from a nurse who saw their work in Copenhagen. Duly impressed by their performance, she wrote to her hometown mayor in Holstebro, suggesting that if he invited the company to relocate to their fine but sleepy town, it might boost tourism. Despite the fact that he never heard of the group (and rarely came to see their future shows) the mayor, a dedicated supporter of the arts, readily agreed and the rest, as they say, is History. When the nurse passed away some years ago, many of the beloved characters of Odin's productions accompanied her funeral procession.

Holstebro - empty, as usual.

I don't know anything about the ultimate economic impact of the theatre to Hostebro, a town of about 25,000 people. Where those people are, I have no idea. There are plenty of tidy houses around, and the businesses and shops are staffed with clerks. But in my few forays into the town's business sections I've been surprised by how empty the streets are. 

We were scheduled to perform a street pageant on Friday -- but for who?

But never fear, for if you beat a drum and flash some color, people will show up, and they did:

Pre-Pageant Assembly - Helen (on stilts) and Maskers

Street action and the gathering crowds.

The Colombian group Nemcatacoa Teatro on the church steps.

Stilts in Denmark, Days 4 and 5

My quip a few days ago about feeling great and in top form has come back to bite me as I now have a head cold and have lost my voice. But one of the kitchen saints has taken pity and supplied me with lemon and ginger for tea, and another has promised to bring me schnapps from home. Having already suspected my lack of essential vitamins may be playing a part in this malady, I stopped at the grocery store today to purchase some beer and chocolate to supplement the otherwise excellent meals.

My Danish Doctor administers an ancient
and effective cure for sore throats.
Work continues to develop, slowly and in fits and starts. in addition the big performance on Sunday there is a pageant to be done on the walk streets of Holstebro on Friday afternoon: we take city hall at noon. There are some 55 actors to coordinate, performing songs, dances, stilting and manipulating six giant paper mache animal totems. During these days we have achieved two full company walk-throughs in the spacious Red Studio, as well as outside in the nearby field. Typical of such events, a lot of material is worked on (costumes, props, acts) that ends up modified, rearranged and finally cut as the space and time restraints become more obvious. There has also been some injury to knees and backs that adds a level of anxiety. Still, I'm impressed by the work of the performers and directors and designers - this gig is not an easy assignment given the scale and unknowns - but I do feel it is coming together.

Though there hasn't been as much opportunity to exchange techniques and develop ideas among the stilters within the studio structure, it has been a boon just to see the work the others have brought and talk shop at meals. I had forgotten all the cool counterbalance moves that can be done, lifts and turns, tricks for getting up and down, techniques forgotten but still within reach.

It is also a joy to see the work demonstrations of Odin's Julia Varley, presented over the last nights; it is for me a reminder of the explorations of voice and physical gesture that informs their work and set us on our own course many years ago. She ended the voice demonstration with an improvisation that was a masterpiece painted with the colors of Bach, Coltrain, and Amazon Rainforest.

Pageant tomorrow. More to come. 

Ensemble assembled to get the marching orders for the Holstebro Pageant.

The Plan of attack.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Intern Spotlight: Darielle Shandler

This summer, our wonderful BST interns are blogging about their experiences in the New York office. Darielle Shandler, our Arts Administration intern from Drew University, writes this week about her experience.

Darielle steps out as a BST intern!
This is the story of how I started working for Bond Street Theatre. I grew up in a small town in the south and always wanted to work in the bustling metropolis of Manhattan. This summer I finally had the opportuity to apply for internships in the city I have loved from afar for so long. When I was hired at Bond Street, I couldn't believe I would get to work among the people who use theatre in such wonderful healing ways. Once the summer hit, I made the long journey from home to find my place in New York City. I explored the crisscrossed streets until I reached Bond Street and Broadway. Behind the unassuming store front there is a mountain of stairs to climb - even the most fit of us might loose their breath - but it doesn't matter once you reach the top. A small sign greets you with a request to remove your shoes. Strange to me at first, but it immediately set a tone of comfort and ease that permeates throughout the Bond Street offices. Stepping, barefoot, into the airy sunlit loft, you can't help but feel at home. The floors are covered in rugs from Afghanistan and the walls are covered in maps and pictures from trips around the world.

As I step further into the room I am greeted by the those who make Bond Street run so smoothly. First, Olivia, Queen of Communications, welcomes me to the office. A young beautiful grad student, she always has answers to my questions and is the person I turn to for my next assignment. She tweets, blogs, and posts, making sure the inter-webs know of the work Bond Street is doing thousands of miles away. I most closely connect with the work she is doing because marketing is the area of theatre business I am most interested in. Next, Joanna, her majesty the Artistic director, looks up from her work. A petite woman with voluminous red hair, clad in a simple dress, she wishes me a good morning. Throughout the day, she lets us in on the news from around the world, all while making sure the grant reports are written and updated. I am in awe of her because she has been a part of the company since the very beginning and she knows all of the ins and outs of what Bond Street does. Finally, Michael, the Lord of Numbers and Technology, swivels around in his chair to wave hello. He is hidden in his alcove of books and double screened computers. He is perched, contorted, on the little wooden chair, every once in awhile ruffling his fluffy gray hair while pouring over the numbers and budgets that keep Bond Street up and running. I like working with Michael because he knows so much about design and editing programs and I feel as if I can always learn something from him.

Darielle stands tall at her second stilt
walking lesson with Michael.
Every day, I work hard to help Joanna, Michael, Olivia, and Bond Street accomplish anything they need. I am ecstatic because working here isn't like any other internship, filled with fetching coffee and organizing files. I feel like a real part of the business - complete with my own email address and bio on the website. I am doing work that I really enjoy; using my skills of design and video production to help with development. From one day to the next, there are many different things I do. One day I help edit quarterly reports and then help to design a postcard to hand out at Stilt Band events. The next day I edit footage from Bond Street's work in Afghanistan to make DVDs to give to their sponsors. I am having so much fun because I can take the time to learn new programs that I can combine with the skills I already have. For example, I have always wanted to learn Photoshop because it would fit in nicely with my other design skills. Bond Street sent me to a Photoshop workshop which helped me help them! They are also teaching me how to walk on stilts. I had watched them perform but never thought I would be able to do it myself. But after only two sessions I am able to walk around on my own. Now the idea of maybe one day walking with them in a parade doesn't seem so impossible anymore. Never in a million years did I think I would learn a crazy skill like that.

My internship has been a strange and wonderful dichotomy of interactions. On one hand, I am helping to finish projects so they have time for other things. I love to think a video I create will be used for a grant, or the sign I designed was actually used for their Shinbone Alley Stilt Band costumes. Then on the other hand, while I am working I am learning more and more about all of the amazing work they do on both sides of the Atlantic, from working with orphans in Guatemala to teaching women in Afghanistan to playing music on stilts right here in the five boroughs. I am seamlessly learning specifically about Bond Street Theatre and learning how a not-for-profit theatre business functions. Just like the child who eventually learns that there's more to Manhattan than the flashing lights of Times Square, being a Bond Street intern I have learned that there's more to running a theatre company than just putting on productions. There are grants to write and board meetings to attend. Yet you don't have to choose. Yes, Michael is the Managing Director, but he is also a performer and educator as well. There are pictures of when some of the board members were a part of the ensemble and clowned around and stilt walked. It baffles me that Bond Street Theatre is this amazing community of people all working in different capacities from places all over the world for a common goal. As I leave the office each day to slip my shoes back on and descend the stairs, I smile at the thought of being a part of a theatre that doesn't just entertain, but educates and bridges cultures while doing it.

4 members of the BST family: Michael, Heddy, Darielle and Charlotte!