Friday, December 14, 2012

Living in a Yes, And World, And Other Advice from Cape Town





I have spent the last two weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, working on the WhyPoverty? Campaign (www.whypoverty.net) as an internship through my Masters program at The University of York.  I learned a lot in those two weeks while meeting some truly fabulous people.  I was able to work with Don Edkins and Marianne Gysae from STEPS (http://www.steps.co.za ), as well as wonderful people from Southern Hemisphere.


Through my professor, I was also able to meet Actress and Director Quanita Adams, who was in the movie Forgiveness, and the play Truth and Translation. Truth and Translation (www.truthandtranslation.org) is a play about young interpreters who tell the stories of victims of the apartheid era South Africa. The translators tell the stories in first person, which allows them to connect with the victims' stories in a personal way. The play also promotes the concept of someone's right to have their story heard. Apartheid was only lifted in 1994, so the people from all races are still connected on a very emotional level. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee, has come with many criticisms, but I personally believe it was brave and noble for the people of South Africa to seek truth over retaliation. Below is a YouTube Video of their touring production. Quanita is the beautiful girl singing at the end. 



Quanita talked about the workshops involved with Truth and Translation.  They discussed topics with audiences after their performances such as segregation, racism, and forgiveness.  No matter how offensive people's opinions, they were allowed to express them.  She found that people often just needed to be able to tell their stories. We asked her what she got out of the experience. She had a lot of wonderful stories to share about the process, and she also said for her, it was about living in a Yes And World (i.e. Yes. And?).  For those of you from the theatre community, this might make you roll your eyes, but before you do, please hear me out. For her, living in a Yes And World, means being open, listening and connecting to the person in front of her. It means more than the games we are asked to play in improv class, or maybe those games translate to real life better than we want to give them credit for.

As I thought about my experiences over the past two works, working on WhyPoverty? I thought about the campaign through the lens of living in a Yes And World.  I think my experience is best described through the promotion of dialogue, dealing with a variety of feedback, and working with people that inspire you.

PROMOTING DIALOGUE

WhyPoverty? is a a set of documentaries that's aim is to promote a global conversation about themes related to poverty.  My team and I were able to have a great conversation with Don Edkins, the Executive Producer, about the beginning of STEPS.  He mentioned that it wasn't all about the films, it was about the conversation that came because of the films.

The project is being monitored on a global level through Facebook and Twitter.  People from all over the world will be exchanging facts and opinions about empowering women or the right to education. Check out their twitter page and see for yourself!

https://twitter.com/askwhypoverty


mindblowing film on teaching illiterate women to be solar engineers!   


The dialogue is local as well as global. There are local screenings happening all overthe world, which is what really interests me. It's amazing what you can learn from experiencing a film or live performance in the presence of another person. We worked on three different screenings with live feedback and we certainly got a variety of responses. 

A local school boy talked about gang violence in his neighborhood. An NGO worker said that she could use the videos for her organization. We talked about how empowering women can change the world. These conversations are what matter, and they are what matter to the WhyPoverty? campaign. What's next is how these conversations translate into action. 

WhyPoverty? has teamed up with TheRules (www.therules.org) to help change the structures that lead to poverty. They deal with issues such as tax havens, land, and trade. Check it out and see what inspires you!

So does talking about issues lead to action? And should it? I guess STEPS has produced a certain type of video advocacy that's purpose is to promote change, but what if it doesn't? Is it worth it? Is conversation enough? Well I think the fact that art can stimulates dialogue is action in itself. Even if it doesn't, art has a way of sneaking up on you. I've thought about plays years after I saw them for reasons I couldn't verbalize. The memory was buried in my brain, and obviously it had effected me on some level. Who knows what factors really go into changing perception. There really isn't a fool proof way of measuring impact. Thank goodness! We need a little mystery left right? But if we can use art to give people new insight, allowing people to share their opinions, then I believe action in some way will take place. It may be idealistic to believe a group of films can change the rules, but I've always been a pretty big fan of dreaming big.

I believe in letting people form their own opinions and also hearing the different things they can take from watching the same film. WhyPoverty? allows the audience to do that and it's up to the audience to decide what action they want to take.

As for me, these films have really inspired me. I'm certainly ready to shake things up and change the rules. For my American friends, check out the trailer for Park Avenue. This documentary definitely inspired me to want to change structure:




DEALING WITH GOOD AND BAD REVIEWS

So these documentaries lead to magical conversations about change and hope? Well, not exactly. Some conversations were so inspiring that it made me want to stay in this field forever, and other's not quite so much.

So let me say, I've fallen on my face before, literally and figuratively. They both hurt a whole lot, but nothing feels as bad as when an audience seems to be against you. Wishbone has experienced nights of wonderful audiences that laugh with you and seem to take something from your art. We have also had nights where the audience seemed to have arrived from the grounds of the local cemetery. I suppose that is how live entertainment goes, and that it also the wonderful thing about it. The play is never the same. However, it was still hard to prepare for the diverse audience feedback from our WhyPoverty? screenings in South Africa.

Two of the audiences, made up of employees of non-profits in South Africa, had a lot of interesting feedback to add to a discussion. Another audience also a lot to say, and none of it was very complimentary.  One of the audiences seemed to be offended we were asking questions about poverty, as if we were looking at them as some sort of experiment. It was rough to say the least, and the opposite of what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to promote discussion, not start a fight. It reminded me of being in a playwriting class back at Clemson. I remember getting feedback from a peer. She did not understand what I was trying to get across in my scene.  And my excuse was, "Oh, that's not what I meant." And she said, "Well, who is this story for, you or me?" And I guess she was right. I guess it is up to the person leading the conversation or telling the story to make intentions clear.

On the other side, audiences come to any performance or talk with preconceived notions and ideas. There were a lot of variables that played into the heated discussion, but I certainly had a lot to take with me.

It was truly important to be reminded that you win some and you lose some, and not all conversations work with every audience. We did learn a lot from the experience, and I think going into a similar situation, I would do some things differently.

It's the beauty of art: that it can evoke joy, anger or apathy, to different people at different times. But if these films are meant to start a global conversation, don't you want anyone to be able to talk to anyone about these issues? Maybe that answer is yet to come.





WORKING WITH PEOPLE THAT INSPIRE YOU

It's a long title. It's worth it. I worked with some amazing people on this trip. Quanita inspired me with her art, Don with his vision, Dena with her no-nonsense direction, and Marianne and Helga with their kindness. I was really pleased with the people that I met, but this trip really wouldn't have been the same without the support of my team.  Laura, Marit, and David are wonderful people and I am very honored to call them my friends. If you have made it this far into the blog, then you should expect a little bit of sentiment, so bear with me. I think it is truly important, no matter what kind of art you create, or what kind of work you do, to surround yourself with people that root for you. 

Del Close has a famous quote that is painted in the IO Theatre in Chicago: 

“If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets, and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on-stage.”

Del Close


I do think Del is correct, but I think it applies to all forms of teamwork. If we treat each other with respect and admiration, the team will truly work better. If we treat each other as geniuses, and poets, and artists we can embrace the Yes and find out where And can take us.


I am eager to see where the WhyPoverty? conversation will lead and where film and theatre can transform into dialogue. I am seeing lots of hope for this type of work to flourish, and I am seeing lots of really fabulous people leading the way.

~Laurie 





Quanita Adams gave permission to be quoted in the blog. The Del Close quote was taken from http://jayolsonimprov.com/tag/del-close/.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

LOVE AND COMEDY





The cast is working hard on the upcoming sketch show, because just like love, comedy can take a lot of practice. Wishbone Theatre Collective will be performing in the 12th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival at 8pm on January 13th at Stage 773! 

The show is about relationships over time from childhood to old age. Wishbone is so lucky to have an awesome cast from strong Chicago comedy backgrounds. From what I hear, the show is being developed through improv and has been a very organic process. 

I wish I were there to see it. For all of you living in Chicago, please go watch this awesome show in January! Wishbone Member Brandon Little is directing with help from Wishbone Member Mandy Stertz. I am sure it has been such a fun process and I can't wait to see which sketches make the final show!

Laughing all the way from England,

Laurie