International Message by Jessica A. Kaahwa
A Case for Theatre in Service of Humanity
Today’s gathering is a true reflection of the immense potential of theatre to mobilize communities and bridge the divides.
Have you ever imagined that theatre could be a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation? While nations spend colossal sums of money on peace-keeping missions in violent conflict areas of the world, little attention is given to theatre as a one-on-one alternative for conflict transformation and management. How can the citizens of mother-earth achieve universal peace when the instruments employed come from outside and seemingly repressive powers?
Theatre subtly permeates the human soul gripped by fear and suspicion, by altering the image of self - and opening a world of alternatives for the individual and hence the community. It can give meaning to daily realities while forestalling an uncertain future. It can engage in the politics of peoples' situations in simple straightforward ways. Because it is inclusive, theatre can present an experience capable of transcending previously held misconceptions.
Additionally, theatre is a proven means of advocating and advancing ideas that we collectively hold and are willing to fight for when violated.
To anticipate a peaceful future, we must begin by using peaceful means that seek to understand, respect and recognize the contributions of every human being in the business of harnessing peace. Theatre is that universal language by which we can advance messages of peace and reconciliation.
By actively engaging participants, theatre can bring many-a-soul to deconstruct previously held perceptions, and, in this way, gives an individual the chance of rebirth in order to make choices based on rediscovered knowledge and reality. For theatre to thrive, among other art forms, we must take the bold step forward by incorporating it into daily life, dealing with critical issues of conflict and peace.
In pursuance of social transformation and reformation of communities, theatre already exists in war-torn areas and among populations suffering from chronic poverty or disease. There are a growing number of success stories where theatre has been able to mobilize publics to build awareness and to assist post-war trauma victims. Cultural platforms such as the “International Theatre Institute” which aims at “consolidating peace and friendship between peoples” are already in place.
It is therefore a travesty to keep quiet in times like ours, in the knowledge of the power of theatre, and let gun wielders and bomb launchers be the peacekeepers of our world. How can tools of alienation possibly double as instruments of peace and reconciliation?
I urge you on this World Theatre Day to ponder this prospect and to put theatre forth as a universal tool for dialogue, social transformation and reform. While the United Nations spends colossal amount of monies on peacekeeping missions around the world, through the use of arms, theatre is a spontaneous, human, less costly and by far a more powerful alternative.
While it may not be the only answer for bringing peace, theatre should surely be incorporated as an effective tool in peacekeeping missions.
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Bio for Jessica A. Kaahwa
US Message by Jeffrey Wright
The Art of Listening
Theater reshapes reality. Emboldened by the playwright’s imagination, actor and audience conspire to rethink the world.
The theater I know best is primarily aural – deferring to the playwright’s word as spoken by the actor. In spite of all else, the most powerful transformative tool for audience and actor is the capacity to listen.
If we listen well and observe, the theater’s gift to us is the sly suggestion that what occurs within its walls can occur without them, too – that the world is changeable.
That idea is uplifting in the face of contemporary global challenges that leave too many of the planet’s inhabitants vulnerable and without pathways to free and healthy lives.
Pray the people of Japan and Haiti and North Africa, the Middle East and everywhere historic suffering can be found today will prove the power of re‐imagining reality.
I haven’t much directed my thoughts toward the theater during my ten years of travel to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest nations on Earth; my focus has been on economic development, still recently, I experienced there what may be the purest theatrical moment I've ever known.
Last month, a dozen or so of us traveled to the country to celebrate a road rehabilitation project our group,Taia Peace Foundation, had completed. We rebuilt the road at the request of one of the country’s remotest rural communities.
During an initiation ceremony, each of us was adopted into a ruling chiefdom family–some of us were even entitled honorary chiefs–out of respect for the improvements we’d brought to the community and with the subtle expectation that, in the future, we’d bring more. At the ceremony’s end, the cultural societies, comprised of everyday citizens who perform in celebration at significant community events, were called on to play, sing and dance.
Then at some point, upon no cue I perceive, a silent, motionless figure appears – it seems to materialize out of ether – like a mystery. Childlike, a boy – perhaps the age of my 9-year old son – the huge rectangular head almost half the size of his body – shuffling slowly, like a geisha, toward the middle of the space – people clearing the way–enter the gongoli, a character, I’m later told, celebrated for his ugliness, and yet his beauty floors me.
Next month, I will again travel the dusty roads back to where I first encountered him – my backpack full of ideas and plans with room left over for malaria pills. I will seek out Lucy Jibilla – the gongoli mask was brought to her house that previous night. I will ask her who keeps it, perhaps that person made it as well and will share his story with me.
If so, I will do that thing most critical for audience and actor and those who aspire to progressive roles in the theaters of social justice, poverty alleviation, or disaster relief – I will listen.
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Bio for Jeffrey Wright
Photo Credits: American Shakespeare Center, Blessed Unrest; Bond Street Theatre; Children’s Theatre Company; La MaMa Experimental Theatre; Michal Daniel; Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts; New Project Group, ITI; Sundance Institute Theatre Program; Taia Peace Foundation; Teatri Oda of Kosova; Teatro Stage Festival; Theatre Communications Group and Jeffery Wright