From the Executive Director
What a Difference a Day Makes
By Teresa Eyring
As a high school student, I had a vision for my life's work that was centered in the idea that international conflict could be reduced if people understood each other's histories, cultural identities and points of view—as expressed through their art forms. I dreamed up an arts curriculum that would be shared with young students across the globe to help them appreciate people, cultures and religions that differed from their own. Naturally, I proposed that such a program would be funded by UNESCO. I didn't know much about fundraising at the time, but I figured that the United Nations would have a few extra dollars to devote to such a project.
This dream of international peace through art became the basis of an essay I composed for successful admittance to college. It was hand-written in pen. I dropped it in the mail. I didn't save a copy. I am sure that it was teeming with idealism and impracticality.
Today, I have the opportunity to address aspects of that early vision through my work at Theatre Communications Group. TCG was founded as a way to build communication among theatre artists as they expanded their work into communities across the U.S. Over time, our national theatre movement has become increasingly global—as has TCG. In 1999, TCG became the U.S. Center for the International Theatre Institute. The international office was founded by UNESCO during the Cold War to help build peace and friendship through cultural exchange, to deepen mutual understanding, and to increase creative cooperation between all people in the performing arts. ITI's 90-plus centers are spread across the globe, from Germany to Sudan, from China to the United Arab Emirates, from South Korea to Brazil.
On March 27, ITI celebrates one of its most important annual events: World Theatre Day. This celebration, marked worldwide, alerts hundreds of thousands of theatre practitioners across the globe that they are part of a larger theatre landscape. A yearly World Theatre Day message—the first composed by Jean Cocteau in 1962—helps define the issues at hand. Americans who have penned the address include Arthur Miller, Edward Albee and the recently deceased international theatre advocate and impresario Ellen Stewart. Last year, ITI-U.S. inaugurated its own WTD message, authored and delivered by the playwright Lynn Nottage. The U.S. 2011 World Theatre Day message will be written by the stage and film actor Jeffrey Wright. In addition to being a theatre artist, Wright is founder of Taia, LLC, and Taia Peace Foundation, which is working in the rural communities of Sierra Leone to overcome the so-called "resource curse," a barrier there and in many African communities to the achievement of lasting peace.
In this month when theatre is being recognized worldwide, there are many examples of how artists and the art form have courageously assumed central roles in national and world events. As reported in last month's column, the Belarus Free Theatre—brought to New York for the Under the Radar festival—fought for freedom and democracy in its own country and was banned from returning home after performances in the U.S. American theatres and artists have joined forces to help them with educational efforts, protests, readings and fundraisers. Thanks to the leadership of the Goodman Theatre, Chicago became a home to the company for the month of February.
Theatre also became an effective means for members of our own military to better understand nations, cultures and conflicts. In February, a performance of the Tricycle Theatre of Great Britain's The Great Game: Afghanistan was scheduled to be performed for Pentagon officials and military personnel. Numerous theatres and artists have come together to bring theatrical presentations to returning military personnel who have served the nation—New York Theatre Workshop recently hosted one such memorable evening; Kim Schultz's one-woman show based on interviews with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan has been widely seen; Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's docudrama Aftermath, evoking the civilian experience in Iraq, continues to tour around the globe; and other organizations across the nation are mounting conflict-related productions as part of their regular seasons.
Theatre, in its thousands of years of existence, has taken on many forms. It has thrived and has been banned. Predictions have been made that it would die with the advent of radio, movies, television, home video and the Internet. Instead, it has survived and grown. We seek explanations for why: Is it that people have a fundamental need to tell stories and act them out? That sitting in a room together hearing a story is one of civilization's oldest acts? That no matter how high-tech the world becomes, people will still need the live touch of other human beings? We may never have the right explanation. But we nevertheless continue to make theatre and to make theatre central to lives and communities—while, as an industry, also providing jobs, gathering places and opportunities to inspire discourse.
This year, we encourage TCG members and AT readers to participate in World Theatre Day and be a part of a world of theatres, communicating and making a difference globally. Check out the international section of our website for more information.blog comments powered by Disqus
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