Thursday, May 18, 2017

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

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 Recently, the posters from BST’s work overseas have been archived, and it is amazing (especially for the intern who archived them and is writing this blog) how much they have to tell.

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

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

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

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

A poster announcing Romeo and Juliet, 2000

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Intern Spotlight: Polina Peremitina

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

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

                                                 Waiting for the Easter Parade to begin

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

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

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

                                      Bond Street Theatre NYC Staff - Spring 2017

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

                              This is what the process and my office space looked like

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

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