Friday, December 10, 2010

A Community-Based Theatre Experience

Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo. Storch Theatre, Syracuse Stage (SS). Last night, I was fortunate to be invited by one of my committee members to watch the poignant documentary-theater, public workshop performance, community-based play (?) about the Congolese refugees now located in Syracuse. It was co-written by Ping Chong and SS dramaturg, Kyle Bass. True, I have used multiple labels in an effort to describe what it is. Still, they are inadequate at conveying what I perceived. Methinks it is a bit of CBP (Jan Cohen-Cruz's model), with a tad more professional input. Cohen-Cruz (2005?) had raised the issue of when the subjects' stories might become the "objects" when reshaped by the playwright. Is it more grassroots or more professionally crafted to make it more appealing to an audience? Nevertheless, this performance was commissioned and developed at short notice. Kudos for using this medium to present compelling stories that might never get heard. This collective action heralds the process for healing and peacemaking.

I had cast those memories out of my mind for some time. Media reports of the horrific Tutsi-Hutu strife were headline news in the mid 90s. These memories were thrust into the forefront tonight. Theatre has a moving way to connect and rouse people's emotions. I was reminded of the significance of my research.

Image source:; fleeing the Congo
"Knowing" "creativity" the way I do, I am unabashed to call out creativity when I see it: the use of songs (hymns), gestures (claps), language (French), and people/cast (Belgian-Tutsi lady). All thrown together in a matter of a few months or days (8 rehearsal days to be exact). The talk-back session was curiously bland (cf Boal's style), except when the actors spoke! Only two did and I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like for them to have to recall the savageness, the barbarism. "Human heads chopped off and stuck in the soil. "Mommy, there is a man growing out of the soil in the field". "They cut the babies out of the women's wombs and made them beat their babies to death" "They cooked those human beings!" Oppressive fear of further unimaginable atrocities had the Tutsis fettered. And all these fueled by boundless human greed for the rich mineral resources of this country - 10% of the world's copper, 30% of the world's cobalt, and a wealth of other derivative metals for consumer products like coltan for cellphone production.

"Hate comes because of fear; my child, just pray to God!" one actor recalled his mom's words to him. Indeed, so many unkind words spoken by people  arise out of insecurity, ignorance and bitterness. John Maxwell wrote that one of the major tests of relationship building is the ability to rejoice and celebrate with others when they triumph. A persistent challenge.

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