Sunday, 6 September 2009

THEATRE FEATURE: Theatre In The Conflict Zones

LAUGH IT UP: Executive members of the Dramatic Theatre Committee of the International Theatre Institute share a light moment at the symposium on Theatre in the Conflict Zones.


“A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive,” shared British theatre director Faynia Williams in her opening remarks to those who recently sat inside a small room at the Jamaica Trade and Invest Headquarters in Kingston for a symposium dubbed “Theatre in the Conflict Zones.” The symposium, held on August 28, formed part of a series of workshops on theatre and art development, put on by the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artists (JADA) in partnership with the Jamaica Centre of the International Theatre Institute (ITI).

While emphasizing the power of theatre to “sanitize and show how racism still affects the world” as well as “help people to feel slightly better about themselves and have some sort if hope,” Williams also noted that in some violent corners of the world today, theatre can and is being used by a few committed souls to help ease tension and soften hardened hearts.

“Places like East Timor, Palestine and Israel come readily to mind,” said Williams, president of the Dramatic Theatre Committee of the UNESCO International Theatre Institute. “I am really glad to be here in Jamaica and looking forward to the rest of presentations. I recently got a paper on what is being done in The Philippines. In Cyprus, a friend is working on one there too. It’s really about examining how violence affects them and how they attempt to deal with it,” said Williams.

In a presentation on the situation in Cyprus, read by playwright Richard Crane, we learnt that many plays have emerged based on the historical struggles the country has experienced. Additionally, despite the hardships they regularly encounter, theatre lovers there have also managed to produce and stage plays annually in observance of World Theatre Day. “Many of our offers have been turned down, but our drive still remains,” Crane read.

Representing the Jamaican experience, the Sistren Theatre Collective demonstrated how they have been using “street theatre” for more than a decade to highlight how violence affects residents in tough inner-city communities like Hannah Town and Rockfort, where they have established drama groups.

“It’s about coming together and working out our differences. We organize community walks and marches, and it has truly been an experience. We have to help prepare the youth leaders of tomorrow,” shared team leader Lana Finikin. “We use drama to touch and transform lives and allow these people [of various ages] to find a new path. Our goal is to foster trust, understanding, sharing and comfort,” she added, noting that their work has already begun to bear fruit.

SPEECH & DRAMA: Members of Children First in performance at the symposium on Theatre in the Conflict Zones on at the Jamaica Trade and Invest boardroom.

Similarly, the not-for-profit social group Children First has been tackling violence and other social ills through music and drama. “We are a youth-friendly and driven initiative using community drama for change, currently serving over 300 kids and their families islandwide,” explained executive director Claudette Pious.

Most notable of their projects is the “Bashy Bus,” a mobile health clinic and information centre that targets adolescents by providing health services, mainly with the intent of helping to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. “[The Bashy Bus] goes into garrison communities, using the performing arts to get a dialogue going and offer solutions,” Pious explained, adding that the project has received an international award for being the first mobile adolescent clinic in the Caribbean. A team of young persons are employed full-time to the “Bashy Bus.”

Meanwhile, the allocation of adequate funds to carry out their projects is a hindrance both Sistren (now in its 32nd year) and Children First (established in 1989) know all too well. But their members are determined to stay strong and committed to the task.
“We continue to work with the communities to pass on the skills and knowledge. It is something we must do,” remarked Finikin. Pious concurred, “We want to keep using our projects to change the lives of Jamaican young people.”

For more information on Children First, including how you can help their cause, visit Childrenfirst.org.jm. Get more details on the work of Sistren at Sistrentheatrecollective.org


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