Building Community

Building Community

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


 It is an understatement to say that we live in troubled times. Mass shootings occur on a regular basis. Politicians have vaulted into power as a result of racist, sexist, divisive rhetoric. We have seen an increase in fear, bullying, hate crimes and hate speech throughout the country. The status quo in which we live is becoming untenable. During this extremely difficult time for us as humans, the act of building and nourishing community is essential. Two important parts of growing community are the creation of theatre and education of our youth. My work in regards to community building has been aided by work with Jessica Litwak, the artistic director of the HEAT Collective, and Stacey Linnartz and Jeremy Rishe, the artistic directors and founders of Kids Creative Collective.

I have worked on a variety of shows over the years in New York City as a writer, director, performer, improviser, producer, designer, etc. Each experience has been valuable and helped me grow in many ways. It was through my work with Jessica that I began to see how the centerpiece of putting on a show should be creation and nourishment of community. I initially worked with Jessica as a member of Artists Rise Up New York (ARUNY), which was formed in response to the 2016 election. Each of our events highlighted socially relevant themes, such as environmental action, women’s rights, immigration, and racism. These themes on their own are extremely important, but Jessica encouraged the ensemble to bring the audience into our community as soon as the doors opened—not just when the lights went down. As a way to bring the audience into our community I created numerous installations, which were activities in which the audience participated prior to the show beginning. For example, we created a gallery of protest signs, a wall which the audience could take down piece by piece, a “Trump booth” where people spoke to a Trump voter over the phone, numerous audience-created murals, a photo booth with puppets of endangered animal species created by the company, and more. Taking part in this creative process was a truly transformative experience for me. It required me to step out of my comfort zone a bit, as I didn’t consider myself a designer, and it also allowed me to take a creative risk as I did not know how audience would respond to our experiment. The result of these endeavors was that there was more profound connection between the audience and performers. We created a unique experience together, which would forever bond us as community. This work inspired me to include installations and other community-building activities in my productions at school.

I have worked as a New York City Public School teacher since September 2009. I work in a Title 1 High School, which means that at least 40% of the students come from low-income families. My students are absolutely wonderful, but some of them undergo extreme hardship on a daily basis. I have learned that an important prerequisite for my class to function as a safe, productive place is to build and nourish a sense of community. Addressing students by name, having them engage with each other in both small and large-group discussion, and having norms in place is crucial for this to occur. I have also found that connecting students to the material—similar to connecting audiences to our ARUNY performances—is also an important piece for learning and growth. For example, I want my students to see that The Great Gatsby isn’t just a story about a bunch of rich white people who like to drink and party. It is about love, truth, and the pursuit of dreams—something with which they can relate. This allows them to engage more fully with the material and as a result build skills and achieve better results.  

As a New York City Public teacher I am fortunate to teach a theatre elective and help run the Drama Club. Stacey Linanrtz and Jeremy Rishe have been integral to our efforts at creating powerful, devised theatre pieces which helped to bring the community together. Over the last few years our work has been affected by the 2016 election—both the hateful rhetoric leading up to it, and the unfortunate result. Inspired by our work with ARUNY, Jeremy and Stacey helped the students create Humans Being, an original piece about human rights violations, based on interviews which the members of the Drama Club conducted. Both the participants and the audience felt connected to the piece because it was inspired by genuine, relatable events. As part of this event, the audience was encouraged to add onto our mural, entitled “Hashtag Matters”- Courageous Conversations, where they wrote and reflected upon hashtags related to important themes in their day to day lives, such as #enough, #blacklivesmatter, etc. At the end of the event, Stacey and I coordinated a Q&A session between the audience and performers about the piece. Similar to the ARUNY experience, the audience felt as though they were a part of this event from the moment they entered the room until the moment they left. We were a united community—not merely a group of performers and a separate group of audience members.

Going forward, my goal is to continue working on building community, both in and outside of school. As people, we have so much to offer each other and are alike in many more ways than we are different. If we can continue coming together for the purpose of unifying, nourishment, and support then together we can make a better, more empathetic world. I am humbled to have learned these lessons from Jessica, Jeremy, and Stacey, and hope to impart them upon many others.


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Zach Rothman-Hicks is an actor, director, designer, improviser, and New York City Public school teacher. He has had the honor of working with The H.E.A.T. Collective and other great companies in New York City. He hopes to continue bringing the concept of community building to his work. 

Ongoing (R)evolutions

Ongoing (R)evolutions

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


I am a Romanian playwright with Balkan roots, writing mostly in English now, working in the US, constantly living on the bridge of inbetweeness: negotiating between two cultures, two continents, two cities (NYC and Ithaca, where I teach), between the West and the East, between being an artist and a teacher, etc. 

I am used to hyphenating identities and integrating dychotomies, but I hate binaries and anything that puts people in two opposite boxes.

I started as a poet, writing in Romanian, publishing three books of poetry. In the late 90s, a Romanian critic labelled me: "the tough poetess-playwright at the border between millennia". Another inbetween that defines me. When my dramatic poem "The Outcast" was performed in Paris at Théâtre Gérard-Philipe in 1998, I was considering myself a poet, but people were calling me a playwright. So I started to believe it. 

I went to Germany to study Playwriting in English with David Harrower and Phyllis Nagy, at the Ruhr International Theatre Academy. Then I went back to Romania and won The Best Play of The Year UNITER (Theatre Guild) Award for my new play "The Inflatable Apocalypse". I officially became a playwright ☺

It is a different thing to write in English for US audiences. My writing has changed. In Romania I used to write absurdist plays with feminist, sexual, revolutionary, and anti-consumerism undertones. 

In the US, I am more concerned with identity issues, immigration, and the reality of being a global foreigner, an 'alien', who works hard to feel that she belongs, that she found her home…

I wrote "Aliens with Extraordinary Skills" in English as a writer-in-residence for Women’s Project in 2008. “Alien” is a word impossible to translate in other languages while maintaining all its meanings: foreigner, extraterrestrial, immigrant… When the play got produced in Mexico City at Teatro La Capilla (after successful runs off-Broadway at Women's Project and regionally), in Spanish, under the title "Inmigrantes con Habilidades Extraordinarias", I noticed different things that were relevant and impactful for Mexican audiences. When the play was produced at Odeon Theatre in Bucharest, in Romanian, under the title "Clown Visa", the Romanian audiences resonated with other aspects of the characters and storyline. While there is always a core of the play that stays the same for spectators everywhere, the nuances of reception are different in the US, Mexico, Romania, or France, people resonate with their own social and political issues, respond to their own historical, political, and personal references.

On another note – jumping to a new page/topic like we do on internet -  the new global revolution in IT and social media has been influencing our work in theatre too.

In my American plays I have scenes or choruses that take place in chatrooms, on Craiglist, Facebook, etc. I sometimes use spoken emojis and they are lots of fun for audiences and actors. In all my devised theatre pieces there is some internet forum or cyber-chorus of text messages and emails: "E-dating", "Riots", "Back to Ithaca - a contemporary Odyssey" (based on interviews with Ithaca veterans), "The Others" (about microaggressions on college campuses), etc.

In my 2000 Romanian play, "The Inflatable Apocalypse", I had 'commercial breaks' and a postmodern non-linear structure that intersected different narratives. I actually think that my writing style has become more traditional here in the US, although it's still somewhat 'experimental' compared to mainstream dramas.

I particularly enjoyed co-writing DREAM ACTS with 4 strong women writers: Chiori Miyagawa, Jessical Litwak, Andrea Thome, Mia Chung. It’s a play based on interviews with and stories of DREAM ACT-eligible youth. We developed the play together, and after a first production at HERE, we had multiple staged readings followed by panel discussions that always included a DREAMER, an immigration lawyer, and other experts on social change and immigration.

Maybe because I was in the streets, as an idealist college student, at the Romanian revolution in December 1989, and then I worked as a journalist in the newly created free press, I still believe in the revolutionary writer - the writer who's always on the barricades, fighting for the underdogs, pushing the borders of human knowledge and the understanding of The Others.

My first assignment as a journalist in the early 90s, in Bucharest, was to write about the pulling down of the Lenin's statue from its pedestal. Then I had to interview the first woman prime-minister of Turkey. Those experiences informed my playwriting much later. In 2006, in NYC, I wrote "Lenin's Shoe", a play about a trauma of the Past 'pulling you down' from the reality of the Present. It seems that I needed time and distance (personal, political, cultural) to better understand my own past and hi/story, and explore them in my writing. In "Waxing West", which won the 2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Play, I was finally able to have a character, Daniela, who deals with the memories of the 1989 Revolution, as she is trying to make a life for herself in NYC. I dramatized Daniela's inner conflict: she is haunted by dictator Ceausescu and his wife Elena, who appear to her as vaudevillian vampires. In "Aliens with Extraordinary Skills", Nadia, the protagonist from Moldova, is harassed by imaginary immigration officers, symbolizing her fears due to her undocumented status. I always try to find a theatrical way to explore concepts that go beyond psychological realism. I guess this is happening not only because my Eastern European heritage but also because, as a writer-in-residence for Richard Schechner (YokastaS Redux, Timbuktu) in my first years in the USA, I learned to write in English with an enhanced sense of the performative possibilities of a theatre piece.

My recent play "What Happens Next", a futuristic ‘Waiting for Godette’ with two women in a dystopian white room, (commissioned and produced by The Cherry Arts, directed by Sam Buggeln, featuring Jennifer Herzog and Erica Steinhagen), engages with multi-media performativity.

I think that the role of the playwright in the contemporary society is to respond to the spirit and the issues of our time, to question the unquestionable, to address the difficult topics, to challenge the taboos, to subvert the mainstream power, and never provide easy answers to stereotypical questions... 

That’s why I like organizations like Jessica Litwak’s HEAT - they work hard to create a community of artists who have a socio-political voice, who are ARTivists, like myself. Jessica has been tirelessly working to bring justice and social change to the visible core of our (artistic) lives.

Caridad Svich has created NoPassport and organized many theatre actions that bring visibility to playwrights/artists from different backgrounds. But we also need significant support to be able to bring ground-breaking forms of theatre into the mainstream.

I founded Immigrants Artists and Scholars in New York (IASNY) and we have an annual event NEW YORK WITH AN ACCENT at the Nuyorican Poets Café and other venues, showcasing immigrant artists: poets, playwrights, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, interdisciplinary/performance artists, etc. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to do much for IASNY later as I have been extremely busy teaching full time at Ithaca College, as an associate professor of Playwriting and Contemporary Theatre, and mentoring/supporting our students. Education is of course extremely important.

I got my MA in Performance Studies and MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts, and my studies there were happy times for me. I like the rigor of developing a play in a process that makes it stronger and stronger, and I particularly like to work with the US actors and a director towards the production of a play. There is such specificity and attention to the details of the writing that it's very rewarding for a playwright like me, who moved into the English language in her early 30s... I care about the patterns of speech for each character, I love every little word that I add in a monologue or a line, and it must be absolutely right for the character and the situation. So working with American actors is very helpful for me, it's useful to hear my words aloud, to see what works and what doesn't. I am grateful to organizations like The Lark, New York Theatre Workshop, The New Group, EST, Women's Project, The Cherry, Civic Ensemble, that helped me develop my craft and my vision in the last 17 years since I arrived for my first time in New York. 

One could say that I’m a 17-year old American playwright. 

I will turn 18 next summer and finally become major ☺

I was thinking to write a book - International Artist's Survival Guide. 

Your life and work in the US depend on sooooo many things if you are a foreigner, an alien, a global citizen, an international writer. 

You need a few of the following basic 'items': a work visa, a supportive community/family, money, theatre industry contacts, relevance of your home country in the public eye, and of course – persistency. "Nevertheless, she persisted"…

On the other hand, I resist the idea that - as a Romanian writer - I should only write about Romanians or Eastern Europeans. I'm concerned with issues in the contemporary society that don't affect only Romanians, I care about the inequality gap, racial injustice, poverty, underdogs, outcasts… I believe in intersections, in expansion, in a global humanism. 

It's very limiting to reduce a writer to her biography, no matter how rich and meaningful that is.

The rise of nationalist/populist movements globally is scary on many levels. They put us in boxes, they pit us against each other, they encourage hate and violence against THE OTHERS. It's the old 'Divide Et Impera', divide and conquer... 

The only strategy I see for us, artists, is to support each other and raise our voices through our work. To be more revolutionary than ever.


 photo by Jody Christopherson

photo by Jody Christopherson

Saviana Stanescu is an award-winning Romanian-born playwright and ARTivist based in New York/Ithaca. Her plays include Aliens with extraordinary skills, Ants (both published by Samuel French), Lenin’s Shoe, Useless, Toys, Bechnya, Hurt, Hobo-Jungle, Waxing West (2007 NY Innovative Theatre Award), What Happens Next, developed/produced at Women’s Project, La MaMa, New York Theatre Workshop, EST, HERE, New Georges, Lark, Cherry, Teatro La Capilla, etc. Saviana holds an MA in Performance Studies and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU. She teaches Playwriting and Contemporary Theatre/Performance at Ithaca College and is the founder of Immigrant Artists and Scholars in New York. (www.saviana.com)

Prophetic Activist Art: Art Activism Beyond Oppositionality

Prophetic Activist Art: Art Activism Beyond Oppositionality

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


Prophetic Activist Art presents a new paradigm of the ancient art of prophecy, combined with the historical purpose of art to raise the human gaze into the spirit.  

Bringing together medieval conceptions of legislative prophecy (where the prophet engaged with society, instead of simply commenting on it) with our contemporary belief in the power of the individual, and combining these with the artistic urge, this model offers a new path for our ailing human soul.  It introduces a mysticism of action, where the historical search for personal realization – which historically involved a single person’s search for expanded consciousness – is replaced by the ideal of a socially empowering artist, bringing the spirit to life in society through art and action.  

I developed this theory through my own career as an artist and writer, and then published it as a step-by-step guide to building an activist art project with quantifiable social impact: Prophetic Activist Art: Handbook for a Spiritual Revolution (Centre for Human Ecology, Glasgow, Scotland, 2014).  

After devising this idea, and the specific strategies* for bridging the chasm between the art world and society/politics, I implemented it as the Founding Producer of New York City’s International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF.ORG).  This week-long Festival (this year at the Wild Project in New York’s East Village, November 12-18, 2018) expands activist energy by bringing together 30 events and 150+ artists over a full week of advocacy performance and art.  

Curating for art grounded in beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement, we are able to work with national and international artists, activists, politicians and social leaders.  The work moves beyond oppositionality — pointing fingers, leveling accusations and presenting what is wrong with the world — to a welcoming, though challenging, collection of work which can soften the hearts and minds even of those who might initially be in disagreement with our positions on social concerns.  

In our time defined by anger, hatred and partisan finger-pointing, the International Human Rights Art Festival carves out a small social space where people can come together to listen, learn and grow.

Appearing at this year’s festival are Congressman and Civil Rights Hero John Lewis (GA), by way of video; Chinese Democracy Activist Wei JingSheng, and lending their names to our Honorary Committee: Barbra Streisand, Norman Lear, Kathleen Turner, Senator Charles E. Schumer, (NY) Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD) and many more.  

By lending their time and names to our project, they help us raise its profile, and reach a far wider audience for our artists, who are uncompromising in their commitment to justice.

The bedrock of this model is infiltration, not opposition.  We use art, heart and soul to engage with social leaders and policy-makers so that we may influence them.  We acknowledge the world and try to influence it on its terms — by engaging through the honesty and vulnerability of the performers, plus the aesthetic of beauty in their creative outputs.  

In this manner, those in power as well as those in agreement will open to our message.

While all great activists (Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr;, Nelson Mandela) operated on the “system” from the outside, ultimately the change they wrought took place within the political and legal structures of their society.  

For this reason, we engage with these very same structures.

While it certainly becomes easy to despair when reading the newspapers and watching the news (believe me, I share this with you!), it is vital to keep in mind that prophetic activist artists must offer a specific and viable manner of changing society for the better.  While the results may not be immediate or even evident, we must keep in mind the words of a great 20th-century prophet, Albert Einstein:

All of us who are concerned for peace and the triumph of justice must today be keenly aware of how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.  But however that may be, and whatever fate may have in store for us, we may rest assured that without the tireless efforts of those who are concerned with the welfare of humanity as a whole, the lot of mankind would be still worse than in fact it even now is. 





*These strategies include a list of political and activist honorary co-sponsors for projects; partnerships with non-art NGO’s; concentrating on the aesthetic of beauty; developing specific metrics of success (such as funds and membership raised for partner organizations; press engaged; ancillary activities or products spawned; volunteers engaged etc.) and reaching outside of the “usual suspects” for audience through creative marketing, special pricing and other methods.


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Tom Block is a playwright, author of five books, 25+ year exhibiting visual artist and Founding Producer of New York City’s International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF.ORG). He was the Founding Producer of the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival (2010), a Research Fellow at DePaul University (2010), LABA Fellow (NY, 2013-14), Hamiltonian Fellow (2008-09) and recipient of funding/support from more than a dozen foundations and organizations.  His 20+ plays have been developed and produced in New York and Washington DC.  He has exhibited artwork more than 150 times.  His books on social philosophy, activist ideas and a novel have developed novel manners of thinking about war, politics and the Jewish-Muslim historical affinity.   He has spoken about his ideas throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. TOMBLOCK.COM

Inclusive Dramaturgy

Inclusive Dramaturgy

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


My dear friend and colleague, the dramaturg Sarah Dickenson,  https://sarahdickenson.wordpress.com/ has been speaking with me about inclusive dramaturgy and some of what that might mean in practice. She gives the example of 4 playwrights under commission with whom she is working on behalf of the same institution. The two men happen to deliver “first” drafts that suggest they are in control of their underlying dramaturgies, whereas the two women’s drafts are still exploring what those dramaturgies might be. This might just be coincidence, or multi-factoral, but given the gender split it’s worth asking the question.

 

I’m just about to resume practical work with 3 companies who all make professional touring theatre with learning disabled theatre makers. Moomsteatern (Malmo, Sweden) https://moomsteatern.com/en/start/  Compagnie de l’Oiseau-Mouche (Roubaix, France)    http://oiseau-mouche.org/ and Mind The Gap (Bradford, UK)    http://www.mind-the-gap.org.uk/. Our first collaborative project, Crossing The Line, http://www.crossingtheline.eu/ ran 2014-17 and this new one, Ogmius, will run until 2021. And before you ask, Ogmius is the Celtic deity of eloquence – proposed by my Swedish colleague Anna Gustafsson. I have recently finished writing a chapter which explores the intercultural diversity of learning disabled performance dramaturgies.

 

I mention this because my role within these projects is Project Dramaturg. Unlike Sarah Dickenson’s work, this does not involve my direct creative intervention into the work being made on stages in the 3 countries. My role might best be described as curatorial. My presence within the project affords me an opportunity to witness practices from all three companies and explore the three cultural systems that have given rise to their work.

 

So I have taken liberties with the term “dramaturg”. I take further liberties still in my pedagogical work with post graduate students on the MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths, where I also teach, in London. As part of that work, I run sessions on how to write dissertations. Students come from all over the world to take this course, with the majority having English as a second or subsequent language. My approach to this is also essentially dramaturgical. I try to uncover, with the students, the journey that they must go on as writers; what the processes might be and what these look and feel like. I’m fortunate in that a departmental colleague does all the heavy lifting on the handbook guidelines and what it will take, in compliance terms, to get their dissertation across the finishing line. This frees me up to be able to invite them to take a curatorial approach to their own work; to see it as creative endeavour. So while bound by conventions such as literature searches, bibliographies, research questions, case studies, research methodologies, introductions and conclusions, the students are fundamentally telling me a story, using other voices in the process to underpin or counterpoint. Each story must spring from a passionate curiosity about and engagement with its chosen subject, which they must then interrogate and critique. The handbook is a necessary primer, but it’s an institutional one-size fits all. Through dialogue, and exploration of languages, mores, cultural contexts, pedagogical traditions of thinking, of presenting argument and evidence, it is possible to create both a more nuanced understanding of the task at hand, whilst effectively curating the diversity in the room.

 

It is precisely this (kind of) dramaturgical work, which in my view, institutions do not see that they are not providing.   And not just our universities, but most of our theatres too.


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Jonathan Meth is Curator and Founder of The fence – an international network for working playwrights and cultural operators, across Europe and beyond. He works in Higher Education, teaching theatre, arts administration and cultural policy. He is currently Project Dramaturg on Crossing The Line, a 2-year EU Creative Europe funded project supporting exchange between, and development of, 3 theatre companies making performance work with learning disabled theatre makers in France, Sweden and the UK. He is an Expert Advisor to Ambitious about Autism

The Fear Project, Therapeutic Theatre

The Fear Project, Therapeutic Theatre

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


It all began with a question. 

A man was sitting next to me at an immersive experimental theatre performance in Prague. There was a large map taped to the table in front of us. Participants were asked to add or color their countries of home and work. I got busy drawing The Middle East and India on one side of the flat spectrum of the world and the United States on the other. The man watched with curiosity as I ran around the table trying to establish my geography. He asked me, ‘You work all over the world, don’t you think, since The Czech Republic is not a racist country, that we should keep refugees out so we don’t become racists?’. I was shocked by the question. I repeated it to several people over the next few days and discovered that the man’s query was a not atypical of the general response to the growing refugee crisis in Europe. By asking other Czech citizens about their opinions regarding refugees from Arab and Asian countries, I uncovered a surprising amount of animosity for the ‘other’. One woman I spoke to said, and I am paraphrasing here, ‘The Vietnamese are OK, the gypsies are horrible but Muslims want to kill us and must be kept out’. I couldn’t understand how this seemingly friendly country, which had welcomed me so warmly, was harbouring so much hate especially when their refugee numbers from any country are quite low compared to most of Europe. Then a Czech colleague hit the nail on the head. He said: ‘In the basement of The Hate you will always find The Fear’.

I began to wonder whether fear really is at the root of most intolerance and conflict, and if people get angry before even realizing they are afraid. San Suu Kuy  who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fearless work advocating for human rights in Burma claims, ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear’. But fear is not only the cause of misery, it is also our way out of it. As John Paul Lederach observed, we must reach out to those we fear and imagine the possibilities. Only then can we overcome fear and hatred. The Fear Project was born out of my investigation into fear as a core motivator for xenophobia and, like VT and ethnodrama, it is a theatrical action based on interviews. The play is an ensemble piece that tells stories about fear and includes a combination of theatrical styles: choral poetry made from verbatim interviews, direct address monologues, and scenes. The encounter between the artist and audience includes pre-show interviews by the performers and a post- show discussion led by the artistic team. The goals are: to provide a safe space for all participants including artists and audiences; to build a forum to share our fears and become aware of the fears of others; to allow an experience of individual and community healing; to encourage the development of solutions to personal and social challenges; to create and invite others to witness vibrant and meaningful theatre.

The process is divided evenly between ensemble collaboration and direction by a lead writer and director. My roles include playwright, director, drama therapist, interviewer, educator, community builder and, sometimes, performer. The Fear Project process always evolves over these twelve stages:

1. Gather collaborators within community 

2. Training interviewers

3. Interviews

4. Choral poem

5. Reading/discussion/improvisation

6. Writing family scenes and monologues

7. Reading/discussion/improvisation

8. Write additional scenes

9. Rehearsal: character development, staging, etc.

10. Interviews

11. Performance

12. Audience discussion

The play is reinvented in each location with new interviews, new brainstorming, new devising, a new script, and new staging. So far, The Fear Project has been reinvented four times: in New York, in Prague, at The University of Wisconsin, and in Kolkata, India. 

The first stage of the process involves gathering the company who will conduct the interviews, collaborate on the creation of the script, perform the play and engage in the final discussion. Each person agrees to participate in all the tasks: seek out interviewees, conduct interviews, engage in an in-depth theatrical devising process, participate in performances, contribute to post show discussions, and to practice the four approaches of the H.E.A.T Collective. Some participants come on board as citizen volunteers although we have given stipends whenever funding is available. The project changes with each incarnation, despite the same process and the same form, not just because the interviewees and the audiences vary, but also because the company (performer, interviewers, collaborators) is different each time. Prior to beginning the interviews, I lead a short training with the company that covers the guidelines for interviewing.

The interviews last fifteen to thirty minutes each. The interviewer sets up the agreements, asks the questions (one to two minutes per questions) and then creates closure (see below). I ask that interviewees not be interrupted in mid flow of thought or mid-sentence. We keep the time limit as a gentle pressure, not a hard and fast law. The interviews can take place in person (preferred) or over the phone. These specific details are incorporated into the choral poem that is later developed from interviews. The interviews can be collected with audio recording or written notes. The interviews must be transcribed before they are sent to me with as much accuracy as possible.

I spent a few weeks arriving at the chosen questions that would evoke honest answers about fear from the interviewees. I wanted to find questions that would work across different demographics and still invite specificity without leading the interviewee. I couldn’t ask open questions as the premise of the project already supposes that everyone experiences fear of some kind. I tested questions with my Ph.D. cohort, my theatre and drama therapy friends, and my international colleagues in informal focus groups. I finally chose thirteen questions. All interviewers ask the thirteen questions in the following order:

1 What are you afraid of?

2. Who are you afraid of?  

3. Where are you afraid?  

4. How do you react to fear? 

5. How do you conquer fear?  

6. What is the enemy?

7. Who is the enemy?

8. Where is the enemy? 

9. How do you react to the enemy?

10. What do you do to conquer hate? 

11. Who is the stranger? 

12. What is home?

13. How do you feel about your country? 

I offer instructions to the interviewers to have a small closure process after each interview including thanking the interviewees for their time, and checking in that the questions did not stir up unbearable emotions. We inform people that individual follow up sessions with me are available for interviewers and interviewees if more processing is needed. The interviews are then sent to me and the next stage of the process begins.

The structure of the FEAR script is made up of five parts: the interviews presented as choral poetry, family scenes, supplemental scenes, direct address monologues that reveal the character’s inner voices, and embedded audience interviews. The first stage of the devising process is building the choral poem. Once the interviews are collected I organize them by question, into thirteen groups. Then I craft them into a choral poem. The choral poem brings a unity to the diverse voices and stories in the text. 

Here we arrive at an important and perhaps somewhat controversial fork in the road. The Fear Project is an artful interpretation of verbatim text organized with collaboration through one voice. This reasoning is specific to my orientation as a practitioner. I balance community building and therapeutic goals with the creation of well-made plays: plays created with clear characters, a dramatic arc, strong structure (stasis, happening, crisis, climax, resolution) and poetic voices. I believe that the back and forth collaboration between ensemble input and one lead writer/editor make for a high-quality script. In my opinion, the better the script the stronger the effectiveness of the full experience.

The first thing I do is to play with the words on the page using performative writing. I then work with poetic voice, including scansion, rhythm and voice. I hear the poem both inside my mind and by reading out loud and make decisions about repetition and flow, as well as which voices should say which words. I score it like music for the number of voices I am working with. I use my knowledge of those voices as well as a sense of balancing their lines equally so it is truly an ensemble performance. I decide what interview sentences will be included or excluded. For instance, if three people say, ‘the loss of my healthcare’, I may fold those answers into one response or I may decide to repeat a certain line or word a number of times 

The next step in the devising process is for the actors to read the choral poem aloud and respond to it. Here is where the performers, who have also been the interviewers, reflect on their experiences during the process of conducting interviews, they respond to both the thirteen questions and reflect on their own life experiences. They also respond to the answers they have received and I get feedback and information about the process and the community we’ve been working within. For instance, in one session after reading the choral poem, an actor talked about her recent split with her adult siblings, another remembered her fear of being bullied in school, and another recalled the first time he realized as a little boy that he was going to die. Another participant had a particularly intense connection with one of her interviewees and another expressed a political rage and a desire to throw things at walls. I guide the performers through improvisations based on these responses and then deepen discussion. The work we do together is developed into the scenes and monologues in Part Two of the script devising process.

In the next phase of the process I write the family scenes and the monologues based on the discussions and improvisations conducted after the reading of the choral poem. Since the fiercest microcosm of the larger world can often be found around a family table, there is always a family at the centre of The Fear Project script. Our cast in The Czech Republic reported generational chasms in their own homes in response to the refugee crisis, and in the New York group members wept in our first meetings about family members who had broken with them over the recent election. One colleague whose mother had voted for Trump said, ‘you talk about our nation breaking apart over this election – what about families?’ In India, the actors spoke openly about the need to keep families together by keeping youth from leaving the area and keeping women family members safe.

Theatre is the most integrative of all the arts: it can, and often does, include singing, dancing, paint- ing, sculpture, storytelling, music, puppetry, poetry and, of course, the art of acting. It can be argued that there is an innate healing function in theatre that goes all the way back to its origins in human culture  It is the art form closest to life, an “imitation” of life; its purpose being “. . . to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” . Theatre is a celebration of life in all its light and darkness, and, as this article attempts to demon- strate, the art of theatre, per se, can be shaped into a powerful vehicle for therapy that positively effects psychological well-being. 

Drama therapist Susana Pendzik, in her discussion of the transcendental aspects of performance, provides a good, succinct definition: “This approach involves the therapeutic development of a play and its presentation in front of an audience” Theatre- a celebration of life in all its light and darkness- a powerful vehicle for possibility effecting psychological well-being.

The FEAR Project attempts to have a positive psychological effect on the participants (artists and audiences) but the context of the experience is theatrical and up until now held in theatrical or educational settings. There is no therapeutic contract with the audience or the artistic collaborators; therefore, any psychological outcome is an indirect result of witnessing and/or participating in the artistic project. The post show discussions, which are an integral part of The FEAR Project often bring up strong emotions, necessitate skilled moderation. Audiences come to the theatre for many reasons, to escape, to enjoy, and to learn. For theatre to be therapeutic does the audience have to want to be changed or healed? 

Drama Therapy is involvement in a dramatic event with healing intentions. Theatre methods intersect with therapeutic practice when the telling of personal stories merges with public performance. One cannot ponder the question “what are you afraid of?” without introspection. The interviews tell the truth about what individuals fear. Augusto Boal in describing how he understood the pedagogy of fear said, “truth is therapeutic” .  

I first developed the project in Prague at The Alfred Theatre, and then created a version of the play at the Sagbahar Theatre Festival in Kolkata, India, the next variation of The Fear Project was developed through a US State Department Arts Envoy grant and performed throughout the Czech Republic. It was produced in New York at La MaMa with Artists Rise Up New York and at Dixon Place in conjunction with the International Human Rights Arts Festival. It was also developed at The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I have taught workshops in The Fear Project at The North American Drama Therapy Association conference, a Cultural Diplomacy session at the United Nations, and at the International Leadership Association conference. The questions have been used to develop original work at La Mama’s Director’s Symposium in Umbria, Italy. My cast from The Czech Republic is developing The Fear Project for high school audiences, Roma youth, and at-risk young adults. I am hopeful that others will use the questions, the format and the process to spread the opportunity for connection and the opportunity for dialogue. I think this project could work in many settings I am interested in bringing it to areas within the United States where the divides between red and blue, black and white, man and woman are creating unhappy chasms. I think The Fear Project is better suited to be conducted by artists or drama therapists than researchers who have not had experience conducting emotionally charged research using creative tools, but with brief trainings, I think this work can be led and developed by anyone.

In the end, the question at the heart of this project was can a theatrical event like The Fear Project inspire audiences and participants to becomes more aware of their fears and to address them? John Paul Lederach states, ‘If we are to survive as a global community we must understand the imperative nature of giving space and to the moral imagination in all human affairs [Ö] we must imagine beyond what is seen’. By exploring diverse sides of the political spectrum through interviews and fictional characters, I believe we can imagine empathy and move towards healing our fear of the other.  

In his book on leadership, Senge (1994) describes tribes of Northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where the typical salutation is ‘Sawu Bona’ instead of ‘Hello’. The phrase means ‘I see you’. The common rejoinder is ‘Sikhona’ which means ‘I am here’. In this culture, until someone sees you, you do not exist. From the conversations I have had with artistic collaborators and people who have been interviewed, I have heard many accounts that lead me to believe that both the interviewee and the interviewer in The Fear Project have a profound experience of being seen. A. G. Johnson stated, ‘Of all human needs, few are as powerful as the need to be seen, included, and accepted by other people’  

The desire for personal change can be born out of fear, but the ability to construct and maintain positive change must be supported by truth. Without looking at our feelings of fear and anger we cannot move beyond them. The Fear Project allows artists and audiences to face feelings and situations they may have long buried. After truth, the next requirement of change is hope. Hope can be found in community with fellows who empower each other by listening. Passive powerlessness, which undercuts resistance, and leads to isolation and the experience of feeling inadequate and impotent. But the rigorous work of imagining, which is a central tool of theater making and drama therapy, opens people to potentially peaceful and beautiful change. The Fear Project inspires collaborative action. As theatre practitioners and drama therapists, activists and educators we can encourage an imaginative exploration of even the darkest truths to facilitate communication and transformation. We are not afraid, even of fear. 

It all begins with a question.


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Jessica Litwak is an Internationally recognized theatre educator, playwright, director, performer, puppet builder and drama therapist. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective and The New Generation Theatre Ensemble for Youth, and the founder of Artists Rise Up New York. Her plays include The Emma Goldman Trilogy, Wider Than The Sky, the FEAR Project, Secret Agents and My Heart is in the East. Her work is published by No Passport Press, Smith & Krause, Applause Books and The New York Times. Litwak is a core member of Theatre Without Borders, a PhD in Theatre For Social Change, and a Fulbright Scholar.

October Writers

October Writers

This October The H.E.A.T. Collective is excited to welcome our four community blog contributors.

This month, look forward to posts from Jessica Litwak: Founder and Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective, dramaturg Jonathan MethTom Block: founding producer of the International Human Rights Arts Festival, and Saviana Stanescu: an award-winning playwright. Thank you all for your continued engagement with this wonderful work, and remember to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for blog post notifications!

September Wrap Up

September Wrap Up

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


This month we brought in the new season with four new blogs to honor each of the four aspects of H.E.A.T. We certainly hope you have a chance to read this month’s offerings and leave comments for us.

I started us off in the H.ealing realm by talking about some of the work I have done with puppet building in various populations. I spoke about how this specific technique can be effective to inspire free expression, heal traumatic wounds, and create community.

The next week we looked at E.ducation through the eyes and voice of David Diamond. He outlined his love of teaching, stating: “The only reason I want to teach is to learn.” He expressed his profound love of teaching and described on of his most beloved ongoing projects: “For the past 20 of those years, I have been involved with an extraordinarily inspiring project - The La MaMa Umbria International Symposium for Directors. Inspiring for me, that is. It may also inspire the hundreds of artists who come each Summer to our little Italian paradise in the Umbrian hills…” David describes the beauty of the summer learning experience. He praises his mentor for giving him the opportunity to develop such a meaningful educational venue, and the confidence to keep it going for two decades. “If there was anyone who embodied the principle of Education for me, it was Ellen Stewart. She taught me many things. Her just do it philosophy was accompanied by a sense of possibility that was not limited by personal thinking or insecurities. It didn’t occur to her that something she wanted to do might not be possible.” 

The following week Sue Hamilton spoke about A.ctivism by describing the inspiration, creation and development of Artists Rise Up Los Angeles. “On November 9, 2016, I got on the phone with Jessica Litwak. We had been friends and artistic collaborators since 2000, and found ourselves naturally and immediately reaching out to one another the day after the election. We didn’t spend much time talking about the election or its results, but rather, we went directly to WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? With Jessica in New York and I in Los Angeles, we devised a plan that involved bringing artists together in our respective cities, thereby inspiring a place that invited people to share their feelings while simultaneously asking for everyone to RISE UP and do what we do: create ART.” She went on to illustrate how the work of Artists RISE Up Los Angeles unfolded with a growing group of enthusiastic volunteers: “Artists on both coasts were asking, “What can I do?” “How can I help?”’ Sue demonstrates the thrilling community of artists that has sprung up in Los Angeles around ARULA and the call to RISE. 

Katie Pearl finished off the month by telling readers about a marvelous project she has initiated called Milton “ a performance and community engagement experiment in five small towns named Milton around the country.”  Her company PearlDamour launched the project “as a way to heal something for ourselves: our broken relationship to the country we lived in.”  She talked about how she and her collaborators wanted “ go out into the U.S. and educate ourselves about who really lived there…” In the process of creating this work they asked themselves what it means to be an American today? “Our activist impulses led us to enter into communities as strangers, as artists, and simply pay attention, remain curious, stay present, and let a relationship (and ultimately a play) grow.” She discusses the healing, activism and education that occurred through this project and linked her experience to the  four aspects of the H.E.A.T. collective: “… each brings something into being, generating the new realities we need to keep moving forward—as individuals, as communities, as a country. And by recognizing that each aspect is integral to the success of the others, and that theater is one of those integral aspects, I realize that I have been doing H.E.A.T. collective work for a long time without even realizing it. “

Each of September’s practitioners bring a unique view into focus of theatre as a vehicle for personal and social change. We look forward to your comments and to our next set of rich explorations in October.


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Jessica Litwak is an Internationally recognized theatre educator, playwright, director, performer, puppet builder and drama therapist. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective and The New Generation Theatre Ensemble for Youth, and the founder of Artists Rise Up New York. Her plays include The Emma Goldman Trilogy, Wider Than The Sky, the FEAR Project, Secret Agents and My Heart is in the East. Her work is published by No Passport Press, Smith & Krause, Applause Books and The New York Times. Litwak is a core member of Theatre Without Borders, a PhD in Theatre For Social Change, and a Fulbright Scholar.

Theater is Necessary After All

Theater is Necessary After All

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


Even though I’m a theater artist, and I believe that theater has power, I do sometimes doubt whether it’s really as helpful and necessary as other things in our lives.  It takes so much effort to convince people that it is, first of all.  It can get exhausting, the constant vigilance we theater makers have to maintain lest the people in our lives (family, friends, funders) forget that what we’re spending our time doing is valid.  It can get exhausting, goading people into coming to shows, into supporting projects, into getting involved.  And it doesn’t help to recognize that it’s a systemic social issue: our country, underpinned and motored by capitalist ideals, doesn’t value theater because theater doesn’t make money—that’s one way to look at it.  Here’s another: our society doesn’t see theater as necessary to life because theater just doesn’t make money.  

Oh wait I already said that.

With the H.E.A.T. collective, Jessica has positioned theater as a necessary fourth of a super-quad, along with healing, education, activism.  So OK, that’s great. I love that. 

But what are the implications of the inclusion? What does it really mean? I never stopped to think about it much. If Jessica put it there, it should be there.  …Right?


So when I was invited to write a piece for this blog, I figured I’d use it as a chance to ask: Why include it at all? What do Activism, healing, and education need from theater? 


Here are three answers I’ve come up with so far:


THEATER IS STORY

When you consider the concepts of healing, education, and activism, they stay pretty abstract until you attach each to a story.   We have to know what we’re doing these things for and about: what we’re healing and why it’s in need;  what we’re educating and how it will impact the student; what story are we activating against, what story are we coalescing our activation around?  None of these three extremely necessary aspects of living in community can exist without the glue of story.  Narrative glue. That’s one thing theater gives us.


THEATER IS COMMUNITY

Theater can’t happen without others, without gathering, without shared investment in a subject matter.  Making it the ‘T’ of H.E.A.T. means that community is the adhesive, the context, the requirement for the H, E, and A.  Healing, education, and activism can’t happen without others.  It is absolutely necessary.


THEATER IS CREATIVE.

Theater is a generative act.  We theater artists make things. We turn ideas into matter.  We show how ideas matter. We create the possibility for these ideas to be heard, to be seen, to be shared. Theater’s inclusion in the H.E.A.T. super-quad asks us to remember that healing is also a creative act; education is a creative act; activism is a creative act.  


The four aspects of the H.E.A.T. collective each brings something into being, generating the new realities we need to keep moving forward—as individuals, as communities, as a country.  And by recognizing that each aspect is integral to the success of the others, and that theater is one of those integral aspects, I realize that I have been doing H.E.A.T. collective work for a long time without even realizing it. 


The project I’m thinking about is called MILTON—a performance and community engagement experiment in five small towns named Milton around the country.  My company PearlDamour launched the project as a way to heal something for ourselves: our broken relationship to the country we lived in.  We have been living and working in our liberal, urban bubble and wanted to go out into the U.S. and educate ourselves about who really lived there and what they thought and cared about it.  What would we learn about them, about ourselves, about what it means to be an American today?   Our activist impulses led us to enter into communities as strangers, as artists, and simply pay attention, remain curious, stay present, and let a relationship (and ultimately a play) grow.  


You can see some records of our project on the Milton Website. We, and the theater we made, played temporary but important roles in the eco-systems of 3 of the 5 Miltons we visited.  And we, and the Miltonians we worked with, were changed by the experience. Healing happened in unexpected ways and unexpected places, both during the show and in the many conversations we had as we made it or reflected upon it.  Healing happened in community as well, as a result of programs that grew up around the project, some catalyzed by us, others by community members.  Education occurred on every level: civic history, town politics, and person-to-person, overturning assumptions and connecting across divide.  Activism bubbled up amongst community members empowered by our project. In one of the Miltons, the tiny town of Milton, NC, community-members launched an annual Street Fair in conjunction with our project that continues today and brings much needed attention and cohesion to the town.


The impact of MILTON would have been far less had we left out the theater. In fact, it was the theater in the project, or us interacting as the theater artists we are, that allowed the healing, activism and education to occur.  


Theater, as it turns out, and as Jessica so clearly asserts with the establishment of this collective, is necessary after all.

 Milton constellation: the image that represents the Milton project, showing our earthbound "Milton" constellation made up of the 5 Miltons we went to.

Milton constellation: the image that represents the Milton project, showing our earthbound "Milton" constellation made up of the 5 Miltons we went to.

 Kids in our dream tent, Milton-Freewater OR.

Kids in our dream tent, Milton-Freewater OR.

 Milton umbrellas during the 1st Annual Street Fair, Milton NC.

Milton umbrellas during the 1st Annual Street Fair, Milton NC.


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Katie Pearl is an Obie Award-winning theater artist and co-Artistic Director of the interdisciplinary performance company PearlDamour.  PearlDamour’s work has been supported by four MAP Fund, two NEA, and a Creative Capital Award, among others. Pearl was the 2017 Quinn Martin Guest Chair of Directing at UCSD, a 2016 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton and a visiting lecturer of Socially Engaged Art at Harvard.  Drama League Directing Fellow, member SDC. katiepearl.compearldamour.com

Artists Rise Up Los Angeles

Artists Rise Up Los Angeles

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.


On November 9, 2016, I got on the phone with Jessica Litwak.  We had been friends and artistic collaborators since 2000, and found ourselves naturally and immediately reaching out to one another the day after the election.  We didn’t spend much time talking about the election or its results, but rather went directly to WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?




With Jessica in New York and I in Los Angeles, we devised a plan that involved bringing artists together in our respective cities, thereby inspiring a place that invited people to share their feelings while simultaneously asking for everyone to RISE UP and do what we do:  create ART.  




Artists RISE Up Los Angeles (ARULA) and Artists RISE Up New York (ARUNY) were born on that initial phone call between Jessica and me, and our roll-out of each group’s mission and vision quickly unfolded.  




Artists on both coasts were asking, “What can I do?”  “How can I help?”  




People were shocked and ready to do whatever they could to express not only their feelings through their creativity, but to figure out a way forward.  In Los Angeles, we welcomed over fifty artists to our first meeting, and we have grown to over two hundred and fifty ARULA contributors today.  


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The mission of ARULA:  We are a group of artists dedicated to positive and revolutionary change in response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Using our unique and diverse artistic voices, we create original theatre and art, and donate all proceeds from our events to charitable organizations dedicated to bringing social justice to the world.  



To date, ARULA has produced and presented five events – E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One (a large-scale over-sold-out evening of original scenes, monologues, songs, dance and music at the 400+ seat El Portal Theatre, including a piece by Broadway’s Hamilton choreographer), Transparency, Taxes & Tweets (all music & comedy, featuring the Liberal Redneck Trae Crowder), ARULA Short Film Festival (politically-themed films), American Spring (original spoken word event), and MixTape (inspiring cabaret show with LA’s finest).  ARULA has donated proceeds to East LA Women’s Center, School on Wheels, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, NARAL Pro Choice, HRC, Natural Resources Defense Council, and CAIR.  



ARULA also holds Rise & Shine, monthly meetings at the Atwater Village Theatre, where artists come together for coffee, donuts and creative communion.  On November 3, 2018, ARULA will host Artists RISE Up From The Dead & Other Scary Stories, at 11am (also at AVT), a free event.  In 2019, ARULA will offer three events, including cabaret, film festival, and one TBD.  



I am often asked how long ARULA will be around.  My answer: as long as it takes.  



The ARULA creative producing team is Heidi Godt, Sue Hamilton, Jenn Liu, Noel Orput, Jose Restrepo, Chad Singleton and Enrico Villanueva.  @artistsriseupla, FB ArtistsRiseUpLosAngeles, IG artistsriseupla, artistsriseupla.com.


 Photography by Peter Konerko.

Photography by Peter Konerko.

Sue Hamilton is the founding executive producer/artistic director of Artists RISE UP Los Angeles.  She’s the creative director for ABC Television’s LA Talent Showcase, and owns Sue Hamilton Studio.  As a director and master acting teacher, she teaches the craft and business of acting to dedicated actors, including the 2018 Emmy-nominated Kelly Jenrette and Melvin Jackson, Jr.  Hamilton was creative/show director for Walt Disney Parks Live Entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment for ten years.  She is the former producing artistic director for the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, where she directed over twenty productions, including the award-winning Secret Agents and Victory Dance, both written by Jessica Litwak.  Hamilton directs live shows and events for Shanghai Disney Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland and the Disneyland Resort, and teaches acting and performance at SHDR.  She gave the keynote address at the Educational Theatre Association’s National Conference in September 2018, where she shared her mission and vision of Have Fun Or Quit!  

Creating Possibility Where I Couldn't See It Before

Creating Possibility Where I Couldn't See It Before

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.

The only reason I want to teach is to learn. I learn from my university students when I talk to them about how to live life as a theatre artist in today's world; I learn from every workshop or talk I give and anytime I share experiences and insights I've gleaned over my 60+ years on this planet. 


For the past 20 of those years, I have been involved with an extraordinarily inspiring project - The La MaMa Umbria International Symposium for Directors. Inspiring for me, that is. It may also inspire the hundreds of artists who come each Summer to our little Italian paradise in the Umbrian hills, but I can't speak to that. I can only share what it has done for me. I guess it's one of those situations where you create something because you don't understand it and hope by bringing a group of people together, you will find out what you want to know. The reality, however, is that I didn't know what I didn't know and what I ultimately have been learning is that there is always more to learn.


It all started almost 21 years ago when I decided to go to Italy to check out my friend Larry Sacharow's theatre project with Fordham University (where he led the Theatre Department) in the small town of Orvieto. It's easy to become enchanted with a place as beautiful as Orvieto and I was intrigued by the work Larry and his colleagues were doing there with his American students. Among the teachers were Dawn Saito, a Butoh expert and Larry himself, who specialized in a late Stanislavski/Grotowski-based approach to actor training. 


After several days with Larry, I went to Spoleto to visit Ellen Stewart at La MaMa Umbria International, the artist residence she was building in a 700 year-old former convent. She had already begun to invite artists to come during the Summer to take workshops, develop new plays, share with other artists and live in this beautiful place far away from the pressures of daily life. I have visited before, for an evening or meal during previous years and I could see the progress she made each year on the grand renovation. One year a staircase appeared where there hadn't been one before; the next year some new bedrooms opened up, a new bathroom, more furniture, a wooden floor in the Studio, a stage in the field, a chapel...and on and on.


I made an off-hand comment one evening during my visit as I was taking in all that she had accomplished. I said something to the effect of: "This place is amazing; it would be great to have a symposium for directors here during the Summer." She looked at me with more seriousness than I thought my comment deserved and she said, "Okay baby, you do it." I was taken aback. Wait! It was just a thought. Me? How could I do that? What was I even talking about? But I couldn't let the idea go. When we got back to New York, I broached the idea with my colleagues at Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation where I was working as Executive Director. The response was not overwhelming. Mostly, they thought I was crazy.


Ellen, Mia Yoo and I met together several times over the next few months and came up with a plan for how it could work: 3 weeks of workshops, each week featuring 2 master directors leading workshops in their process. Each one could teach half a day. Ellen wasted no time in inviting the teaching artists. I gave her my dream list: Mnouchkine, Brook... She picked up the phone immediately and called them both at home (never mind the time difference). No formal invitation, strategy for inviting people, drafts of letters going back and forth. Ellen just did it. That was a big lesson for me. 


If there was anyone who embodied the principle of Education for me, it was Ellen Stewart. She taught me many things. Her 'just do it' philosophy was accompanied by a sense of possibility that was not limited by personal thinking or insecurities. It didn't occur to her that something she wanted to do might not be possible. Perhaps that's why La MaMa ETC in New York has 4 buildings, performance spaces, rehearsal studios, dorm rooms, community meeting space, a gallery, etc. and produces over 70 productions each year. It's why she could travel to over 40 countries during her lifetime bringing productions and finding promising artists she invited to come to New York to perform. It's why she could create an international artists' residence in the Umbrian hills.


In 2001, we stepped off another cliff and presented the first La MaMa Umbria International Symposium for Directors. 25 artists from different backgrounds, different countries, different approaches to making plays came together to work with Master Artists: Mary Overlie (USA), Laurence Sacharow (USA), Min Soo Ahn (Korea), Kavalam Narayana Panikkar (India) and Jean-Guy Lecat (France). I don't recall the specifics now, but I'm sure it was a confused mess much of the time, as we tried to figure out what we were doing. But something happened that Summer. I stretched my own idea of what I could do and what collaboration was really all about. Our wonderful La MaMa family worked together with a generosity of spirit that touches me to this day. 


We had all created a place for education of the artist; but it wasn't just what they learned about theatre from the amazing directors there, it was, I realized later, something more. We created an opportunity for the artists who came to expand their own sense of possibility. Each Summer Ellen would talk to the directors, tell stories of her life, 'read' people, teach, in her own way and by her own example, that more may be possible in this life than we think. And we can do more, accomplish more than we imagine. 


For me, Jessica Litwak and the H.E. A.T. Collective are continuing this tradition. Every time I have an opportunity to take a class or teach a class with Jessica I learn even more about how to take care of people so they feel safe to experiment, how to inspire them to create in ways they hadn't before and how to integrate the impulse for social justice with art-making. There's a continuum I can see from Ellen to Jessica and many others. I think it comes from an impulse to create that can't be stifled. Whatever frustrations we may be facing with the state of the world, our own limitations, financial constraints, etc. they continue to create. Whether it's building an arts center or making a puppet, writing a play or giving a lecture, they relentlessly make things -- and those things affect a lot of people. 


I am happy to continue to learn from all of the artists I encounter each year - hundreds over the past two decades. The most moving times for me have been those moments when I encounter an artist who takes a risk and goes further than they knew they could in a particular exercise. The sheer joy they experience knowing they have broken through to some new aspect of themselves - that takes my breath away.


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David curates the La MaMa Umbria International Symposia, which bring renowned artists from around the world to Spoleto, Italy each Summer for workshops, residencies and performances in the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds. He recently received the CEC ArtLink Residency in St. Petersburg, Russia. He serves on the Steering Committee for Theatre Without Borders, which produced conferences such as Socially Engaged Performance: A Global Conversation. He is a Founder and Trustee of the 30-year old Barrow Group Theatre Company located in New York City. He is an author, community activist, and Facilitator (“joker”) of Forum Theatre. As a Fulbright Specialist in Theatre, he recently completed a residency with Dah Teatar in Belgrade, Serbia. David is President of Career Coaching for Artists which presents workshops for professionals and students, including Directing Your Theatre Career annually at Columbia University and Yale School of Drama, providing resources for navigating a career in the professional art world. His most recent publications are a chapter in Dah Teatar: A Sourcesbook, published in 2016 and the "Prenotazione" in Butta La Pasta: Cucina at La MaMa Umbria, published in 2017. More information: www.davidjdiamond.com

Puppets For The People, Theatre as Healer

Puppets For The People, Theatre as Healer

The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.

 

 

Puppets For The People is a workshop that uses puppet building as a healing tool. As a theatre artist and drama therapist, I developed this creative and therapeutic puppet-making workshop where participants learn how to build a puppet using simple materials and then bring it to life.

 

This puppet workshop developed out of my search for cultural competence. I wanted the people I was working with to feel free to express rage, sorrow, and desire without feeling the oppression of having to communicate in languages of privilege- including the languages of theatre, movement or performance, I soon discovered that building the puppets in this way allowed each participant to make something deeply and uniquely his/her own. The expression of the puppet’s voice that followed the actual creation seemed much fuller and freer than other theatre or drama therapy tools I had tried .

 

Building these simple puppets for the healing of trauma in polarized communities, zones of conflict, with children, incarcerated women, in domestic violence shelter, in refugee camps, as well as in theatre departments and has proven to be very effective as means of inspiring free expression. The workshops have also been effective in part of training programs for drama therapists, Theatre of the Oppressed practitioners, theatre artists and human rights workers.

 

These puppet-building workshops have been done in in Palestine, India, Lebanon, all over Europe and the U.S. This unique form of puppet building allows participants to freely and deeply expresses themselves with hands, heart, body and voice.

 

I begin by building community and safe space before we construct the puppets. I will usually set up the supplies in a circle prior to participants entering the space, to uphold the ritual and beauty of the raw materials.

 

Then a warm up and a guided meditation serves to provide the participants with a context for their experience and helps participants choose something they want to bring into their lives (safety, forgiveness, love etc.) Each person discovers what sort of being s/he wants to create. Some examples, a family member or friend, an imaginary figure,  a heroic person, a joker, a villain or a victim, an oppressor, oppressed, bystander, or ally, animal or alien or human. Then we build the “brain” of the puppet; workshop participants use objects, pens, paint, and paper to draw and/or write the secrets, wishes, dreams sometimes including meaningful objects. This creation becomes the actual core of the puppet head or “brain.” After building this inner life for the puppet, the heads and faces are formed around the brain with newspaper. We find the face in the paper, and hold and mold the face with masking tape. The heads are then filled with the secrets, wishes, dreams by way of drawings and/or meaningful objects. Then we cover the brain in newspaper and begin to build the head,  finding the face of the puppet in the newspaper as we go. I ask people to remember what they’ve put into the brain as they build, letting those thoughts and feelings inform their fingers as they shape the face and head. We hold and mold the face with masking tape, covering every inch of it with the “skin” of tape.


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Then the faces are decorated with paint, yarn, and all kinds of objects and art supplies such as feathers, buttons, beads, and ribbons, that help bring the puppet maker’s vision to full life. If it is a short workshop we finish with the heads. If the workshop is longer we build bodies onto the heads of the puppets using a wire hanger as a frame and then more newspaper and tape, clothing, fabric to build out the body. As the puppet builders create their puppets I ask them to hear the voice of the puppets.

 

The puppet is mounted on a stick or dowel that the puppeteer operates with one hand. One arm of the puppet is built out, while the other is left open – with a hole in the fabric of the puppet’s clothing the puppeteer can use one of her/his arms to express gesture and animate the puppet with even more life. These puppets work best in performance  when the puppeteers use their own bodies and voices in concert/collaboration with the puppets.

 

This section of the workshops culminates with introductions. Finally, the participants become puppeteers, moving through space with their creations and embodying the personalities and the voices by introducing their creatures to the other puppets in the room.  I tell participants that their numbers will double by the end of the workshop- if I start with 10 participants there will be 20 of us in the room by the end of the workshop. Because we work so deeply from the brain outward, the connection between puppets and puppeteers is quite profound.

 

In a longer workshop, the puppeteers write short plays for the puppets and perform small shows with their new creations.

 

All participant’s experience, heritage, beliefs, age, ethnicity, gender, orientation and dis/abilities are celebrated in this process. Puppets can go to the depths of conflict transformation in ways human actors cannot. Like mask work, puppet work allows people to distance themselves from conflict and therefore find a way through it. Puppets can surprisingly solve problems that their human counterparts cannot. I hope this blog will offer a context to this work within the field of performance and peace building and then, working with the workshops as medium, discover the theories that support the practice.  It is my goal to create sacred zones of respect and community, while encouraging true expression with courageous generosity.


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Jessica Litwak is an Internationally recognized theatre educator, playwright, director, performer, puppet builder and drama therapist. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective and The New Generation Theatre Ensemble for Youth, and the founder of Artists Rise Up New York. Her plays include The Emma Goldman Trilogy, Wider Than The Sky, the FEAR Project, Secret Agents and My Heart is in the East. Her work is published by No Passport Press, Smith & Krause, Applause Books and The New York Times. Litwak is a core member of Theatre Without Borders, a PhD in Theatre For Social Change, and a Fulbright Scholar.

September Writers

September Writers

As a new month begins, The H.E.A.T. Collective is excited to welcome our four community blog contributors. This September look forward to posts from Jessica Litwak: Founder and Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective, David Diamond: an artist, activist, and career coach for theatre artists, Sue Hamilton: a master acting teacher, and Katie Pearl: a theatre artist and activist. Thank you all for your continued engagement with this wonderful work, and remember to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for blog post notifications!