Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Theatre of Ideas

Our wonderful Design and Management Intern Chris DeFilipp of Bennington College sums up his BST internship experience.

When I joined Bond Street at the start of January, I never expected to have accomplished and learned so much in the six weeks I’d be interning here. But here I am, five and a half weeks later, with only three days left before I leave Bond Street and New York City to head back to Bennington College for my spring term, and I have to say, I’m really going to miss this place. I can safely say that Bond Street will be an experience I’ll never forget--nor would I want to.

Last night, Joanna spoke at NYU Gallatin on the Power of Performance: Theatre in War Zones, and I had the opportunity to sit in on her lecture. It acted as a sort of closure for my internship, as many of Joanna’s stories were summarized and contextualized that evening. Stories I’d been told weeks prior were used to emphasize her points, and the whole talk wrapped up my internship perfectly. Her talk discussed the history and process of Bond Street, focusing particularly on the importance of physical and intellectual communication, with the physical communication of theatre allowing intellectual communication, the transfer of ideas between the performer and the audience, to be possible across many different barriers.

One of the many things that stuck with me was Joanna’s tale of the traumatized children in the refugee camps. They did not speak or understand English, so Joanna communicated with them through activities such as “follow-the-leader”. Through solely physical communication, the children were able to participate in activities, and those who were traumatized had the chance to come out of their shells--and eventually did so, at their own pace. Her story made me think about how physicality can manifest itself in theatre as a way to communicate ideas, and to involve an audience--both intentional and unintentional--in the experience. I realized how theatre from all regions can still have an impact no matter the audience--it’s not the language that we’re communicating in, but the way in which we’re physically communicating, the way we’re acting it out, designing the space and the world, that makes theatre a language of its own.

However, I think Joanna ultimately spoke to a much larger point, a point that encompasses this physicality of theatre and goes beyond it: that ideas can be communicated through the physical means of theatre. There may be a verbal or musical aspect, and the tone may vary from tragedy to comedy to anything in between, but for the most part, the main goal of theatre is to communicate and address, through a physical staging of a script or other dramatic material, certain ideas and opinions. For Bond Street, these ideas are typically issues that the groups they work with want to address, but for me these ideas are of science, mythology, literature, art, and of fields of thought that the audience may not be aware of. I feel that any story, even a love story, murder-mystery, or drama, can offer an audience more if it offers some sort of intellectual nugget of information they may not have known or thought about before. This is one of the things working with Bond Street has helped me to fully realize: that using theatre to communicate ideas is, in fact, very effective, and can help to offer more than just entertainment or knowledge to an audience.  It can offer a new way of thinking about the world around us.