Artists Rise Up New York

Artists Rise Up New York



An initiative that came out of the H.E.A.T. Collective is ARUNY.  The company was born on November 9th, 2016 with ARULA (ARTISTS RISE UP LOS ANGELES) when I spoke with my friend and colleague Sue Hamilton in Los Angeles, and we came together to create a bi-coastal artistic response to the 2016 Presidential Election.  Although our missions are similar, the format for the two groups is quite different.

I began having meetings at my house- I put the word out that any artists with feelings about the election, that felt the need to share and create in protest was welcome. The meetings were large and often emotional, and slowly we began to carve out an idea for a first event. We produced five theatrical events in its first year. About 20 people were involved in our first performance and production, as the year progressed a core group of 5-6 people became the main contributors to the meetings and the backbone of the productions.

 Artists Rise Up New York's purpose is to create Performative Actions for Justice, and Peace. Our intention is to create positive, social and revolutionary action by bringing our creative minds, our wounded hearts, our righteous fury and our collective strength to the process of making art for change. We did this by focusing on creating events that include audience engagement.

 I remember in our post show discussion after The Rising a female minister was expressing her concern about officiating at a wedding in a red state where the families had voted for Trump and a gay man sitting a couple of rows behind her encouraged her to go as he had just had a breakthrough with his conservative family. He offered to supply support calls and they exchanged numbers. In the Landing there was a weeping mother of a school age child expressing her woes about raising a child in the time of climate change and everyone began crying with her. After The Divide the audience each offered a pledge to take an action towards peace and justice. The audience and actors took a shared bow for the work we’d done together.

The events were free (we asked for donations to cover our costs) We followed the same format for each event:

1.     The audience enters an immersive carnival of protest. Welcomed with refreshments and warmth, they are invited to engage with interactive installations.

2.     A welcome to the audience by ARUNY. Ryan Little Eagle Pierce offers a blessing over the Lenape land which New York now occupies.

3.     A performance of staged reading of plays that match the theme of the event (i.e. Fear and Protest, Women’s Rights and History, Climate Change, Polarization, Immigration etc.)

4.     A moderated discussion with guest speakers and a sharing of audience feelings and thoughts regarding the subject of the night

The Rising

The installations included:

A postcard writing station,

Take a hope/give a hope station,

An exhibit of protest signs,

Writings and art exhibited around the room,

A protest dance,

And free food.

ARUNY’s first performance in association with La MaMa and The H.E.A.T. Collective includes The Fear Project, created by Jessica Litwak, The FEAR Project is an ensemble piece based on interviews taken by the entire ARUNY community. Telling stories about our collective and individual fears in our current climate it is a collage of choral poetry, monologues, songs, scenes and audience interaction performed by five members of our group. The piece has been created and performed in the Czech Republic and India. This new version will be the U.S. premiere. There will also be a carnival of activist actions, celebrations, and conversations and an interactive dance piece will also be presented as an effort to galvanize our energies and begin to create the physical momentum we need as a community.

The Landing

The installations included:

A postcard writing station: notes to Congress regarding policies of Climate Change,

A vase of hopes: write a hope for the planet and place it in a large jar to be read at the end of the evening,

A wall of concerns: What concerns you most about Climate Change? Divided into four parts: 1. Climate justice, 2. water and air, 3. earth and trees, and 4. animals. With post-its and markers nearby to write out the nature of your concern. The exhibit included reports, facts and art pieces about all four areas. 

There was a spirit animal wall: write and/or draw your spirit animal, and a selfie station with endangered species puppets, and of course food (and wine).

Artists Rise Up New York (ARUNY) is sponsoring the official culminating event of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) on November 18th at 7pm at The Lark in midtown Manhattan. The Landing book-ends The NYC Launch, which kicked off CCTA seven weeks ago. The evening will celebrate the 100+ theatre events that have taken place in over 30 countries and almost 50 US states since October 1st. The NYC Landing will present readings of animal-themed CCTA plays, and speakers from animal rights groups will report on how climate change is affecting the animal kingdom. The plays will be directed by members of ARUNY. Audiences will have the opportunity to take local action on climate issues, as we share in a spirited environment, featuring visual climate artworks. The evening will culminate with conversation and refreshments.

The Divide:

The installations included:

A wall of Hands: audience was asked to outline their hand on large paper and write a hope for the divided world inside it.

The audience was invited to tear down a brick wall- on the back of each brick was a passport w/ information about a refugee or undocumented youth.,

Audience were given either red or blue tickets- depending on your color you had to enter the exhibits t your left or to your right.

A postcard writing station (sending postcards to congress about DACA)

A booth where audience members could go 1-2 at a time with a moderator and speak to a Trump voter on the phone- asking questions about why he voted for Trump. He could also ask them questions.

And of course, food.

The Divide, an anniversary evening of performance and dialogue from Artists Rise Up New York (ARUNY). The event is free, though donations will be accepted at the door, and all are welcome. One year ago, ARUNY presented The Rising, in response to the presidential inauguration. This year, we reflect on what has happened in the first year of this administration, and hold space for questions, fears, and hopes as we strengthen our community in support of the most vulnerable among us. The Divide is an evening of readings on specific, divisive issues of our current moment. The event includes interactive installations for audiences to share their perspectives and take local action. The Divide is comprised of the following play readings: The Bridge by Jessica Litwak is a comedy about the effects on a long friendship of political divisiveness in the United States; The Wall, written and performed by Jessica Litwak, is about the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Having crossed through the checkpoints many times, Litwak has a unique perspective on the Occupation and this human rights crisis. As an educator and theatre artist who has worked in Jenin, Hebron, Ramallah, Beit Jala and Nablus in the West Bank and who has deep relationships in and with Palestine she cannot support or condone Israeli actions. As a Jewish woman in the Arab world she grapples with the deeply felt paradoxes of heart and heritage, east and west, justice and peace. This short play uses poetry, humor, puppetry and diverse characters to give voice to an impossible problem that can only be survived through increased humanity, paradoxical curiosity, and artful expression. Dream Acts is about immigration and undocumented youth.  It is collectively written by Mia Chung, Jessica Litwak, Chiori Miyagawa, Saviana Stanescu, and Andrea Thome. In Dream Acts, five undocumented students from Nigeria, Mexico, Ukraine, Korea, and Jordan relate stories of their extraordinary challenges in living ordinary lives under the Homeland Security radar. Each story is moving and urgent; some are funny, others are tragic, and through their experiences, we learn about the DREAM Act and the secret lives led by undocumented students.  The evening will culminate in a community-oriented conversation, with guests from the field of conflict resolution and immigration, including Matthew Covey of Tamizdat, Yonit Friedman of IfNotNow, and more.

            Our first year was an inspiring collaborative experience. We worked collectively from the inception of an idea (always inspired by a circumstance in the county or in the world that we felt needed addressing) to the production. It got us (and our audiences) through the first year of the Trump administration. After the first year, most of the core group felt that they could no longer give so much of their time and energy to this volunteer artistic effort. But I hope to keep ARUNY going and to Rise Up theatrically in protest for Gun Control, Climate Change, Immigration Rights, Human Rights, Animal Rights, Women’s Rights, and more. Until the next ARUNY initiative, The H.E.A.T. Collective will carry on the work of protest theatre. You can check out ARUNY here:


The FEAR Project

The FEAR Project

The FEAR Project

By Jessica Litwak, PhD, RDT

            The FEAR Project, an Introduction

It all started 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 their countries of both home and work.  I got busy drawing in 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 we are not a racist country, that we should keep refugees out so we don’t become racists?” I was shocked by the strange logic of the question. I repeated it to several people over the next few days and discovered that the man’s question was a not an atypical response to the growing refugee crisis in Europe. By questioning people about their opinions regarding refugees, I uncovered a surprising amount of hatred for the “other” in this seemingly friendly country, which had welcomed me so warmly. I couldn’t understand it. Then a Czech artist I was working with hit the nail on the head: “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 Kyu, 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.” (p 167).  But fear is not only the cause of misery it is also our way out of it. We must reach out to those we fear, and imagine the possibilities (Lederach, 2005) only then can we overcome fear and find peace.

The FEAR Project was born out of my investigation of fear as a core motivator for xenophobia. It is a theatrical action based on interviews. An ensemble piece that tells stories about fear (fear of heights, fear of darkness, strangers, the government etc.) the play is a combination of theatrical styles. It contains choral poetry made from verbatim interviews, monologues, and realistic scenes. The theatrical experience includes pre-show interviews and a post- show discussion with the audience. The FEAR Project aspires to create an atmosphere of restoration by giving people a chance to communicate about fear in a safe space.

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 U.S. State Department Arts Envoy grant and performed throughout the Czech Republic. It was produced in New York at LaMaMa with Artists Rise Up New York and at Dixon Place in conjunction with the International Human Rights Arts Festival. It is currently being reimagined at The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Each time it travels to a new place the play is reinvented.

I came to this project as both a theatre maker and a drama therapist. In each incarnation I gather colleagues who understand the task at hand: to seek out interviewees, execute interviews, engage in an in-depth theatrical devising process, participate in performances, and contribute to post show discussions. The collaborators agree to be a part of the project from beginning to end, most come on board as volunteers, some are paid small stipends when funding is possible. Everyone involved in the project is an implicated witness (Sanjani, 2012). I make my role as a Drama Therapist clear. I offer instructions to the interviewers to make sure they have a closure process after each interview. We inform people that individual follow up with me is available if needed.

My influences with interview-based theatre include the work that friends and colleagues were doing in my formative years as a theatre artist. Harry and Joe Gantz’s HBO project Taxi Cab Confessions, Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires In The Mirror, Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project and Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues each had a profound effect on me.

Verbatim refers to source of the text, but can vary widely in form so that sometimes it is difficult to categorize. Although sometimes been accused of being exploitive or voyeuristic, the form has become more popular.  The rise to prominence of Verbatim Theatre means it has become method in its own right and is now studied as a genre (Hammond & Stewart, 2008).

Perhaps as the media becomes less grounded in truth, audiences appreciation for veracity in drama has grown. In our uncertain times Verbatim Theatre is a soothing indicator that real voices matter. This genre celebrates marginalized communities by investigating events and issues in local, national and international contexts, and creates inclusiveness by bringing to the public the words of private people whose voices would otherwise not be heard (Paget, 1987). The FEAR Project is not Verbatim Theatre in the strictest definition of medium. At the middle of every FEAR Project there is a family story that is pure invention. The combination of styles resonates with the audience as both real and imagined life.

This article provides a description of the development and script devising process and looks at implications for future practice and present case examples that challenge assumptions about therapeutic theatre and about the relationship between applied theatre and drama therapy.


            Collecting The Data

Choosing the company is an important part of The FEAR Project process. The people who carry out the interviews are actors and friends of the production. I suggest that the interviewers choose one interviewee they know well and then try to find someone different from the first person (in age, gender, ethnicity, political orientation, sexual orientation etc.) Their instructions are to collect interviews by voice whenever possible and to notate sounds made (like sneezes, laughs, hesitations etc.) and the attention to human detail is incorporated into the choral poem. The time limit for interviews is 2 minutes per question. I ask that interviewees are not interrupted in mid flow of thought, mid sentence – we keep the time limit as a gentle pressure, not a hard and fast law.

The interviewers ask 13 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?


Devising the Script, Part One


            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.

Poetry is an expression of ideas and experience communicated through meaning and sound. Poetry is a vehicle for precise human communication through the artful design of words (Reed, 2003). Social science scholars use poetry in their research to report from the field, creating metaphors to explain measurements. Poetic narratives encourage scholars to engage in a deep inquiry of ethics, social justice, and other subjects through the use of engaged aesthetics (Faulkner, 2010). Poetry is an imaginative expression of experience, allowing the heart to lead the mind through the use of sound and rhythm (Horn, 1993). The interviews are re-imagined with rhythm and metaphor to enhance self-revelation to the actors conveying the words and the audience hearing them.


The following text emerged from the first set of U.S. Interviews:

ALL: What are you afraid of?

ONE: Sharks. (laughs) Guns. Elevators. Darkness. Heights. Earthquakes. Death.

ALL: Donald Trump.

TWO: Lakes. Spiders. Snakes. Deserted Streets. And uh…Mobs. Oh. Volcanoes.

ALL: Volcanoes?

THREE: Losing a child

FOUR: Losing a friend.

FIVE: Losing my job. Losing my health insurance. Losing my memory.

ALL: Losing my country.

ONE: Fascism, Racism, Alternate facts, the death of democracy, deportation.

ALL: Muslim registrations

            TWO: Tigers. Horror Movies. Uh…Deep Water. Dark Woods.

THREE: Failure. Sadness. (laughs) The future. Regretting the Past.

FIVE: Black men getting shot, mass incarceration.

ALL: Racism, Sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, Homophobia

ONE: Getting my phone and electricity turned off.

THREE: Climate change. Animals dying.

ALL: Zombie apocalypse. Death… Donald Trump.


The next step in the process is for the actors to read the choral poem aloud and respond to it. This reading is a pivotal point in the process. C talked about her recent split with her adult siblings, E remembered her fear of being bullied in school, M recalled the first time he realized as a little boy that he was going to die, S had a particularly intense connection with one of her interviewees, G expressed a political rage and a desire to create a space where people could go and throw things at walls. Each of these responses were developed in scenes or monologues.


Devising the Script, Part Two


In the next phase of the process I work to make the script poignant, precise, and provocative. The theatrical structure of the FEAR script is made up of four parts: realistic scenes, direct address monologues that reveal the character’s inner voice, the interviews as choral poetry and surplus scenes.

In the Czech Republic the surplus scenes including the beating of a refugee and a trip across the ocean in a rickety refugee raft, in India the surplus scenes depicted the sexual harassment of women in public spaces, in the U.S. there were a series of scenes with marching protestors and flashbacks to childhood when the angry siblings were once united in play.

As we rehearse the play I explore three playing areas: a family table, an interview area, and a liminal space where the actors perform monologues and/or surplus scenes. I rewrite the script (usually each night after rehearsal) molding and editing for clarity, artistry and impact.

In The Czech Republic our process was enhanced by the fact that the actors had all trained with me previously. There were originally five actors but one dropped out so I stepped into the play. Because I needed to be off stage to direct it, I wrote my two characters into the very beginning and the very end of the play. The Czech actors memorized the family scenes and monologues, and read the interviews from scripted pages placed in sections in specific areas around the stage. Once the actors finished reading that section of interviews they would throw them to the ground; by the end of the play the stage was filled with papers.


1: Czech FEAR Process

Photo: Thomas P Krakora


In India I didn’t know the actors prior to the project. We met via email. The three actors sent me their interviews and we worked via SKYPE. Because their culture is very different from my own, I spent longer than usual asking questions about the circumstances revealed in the interviews. The actors were willing to experiment and after a short time began to trust me.

2: India FEAR Rehearsal

Photo: G.D Birla Sabhagar


In the U.S. the context and purpose for our process was Artists Rise Up New York, a group I started as a response to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Members of the group of creative resistors gathered for the process. The performance was a staged reading.


3: Artists Rise Up, New York

Photo: Stacey Linnart


Since the fiercest microcosm of the larger world can often be found around a family table, there is always a family at the center of The FEAR Project script.

Our cast in The Czech Republic reported generational chasms in the response to the refugee crisis in their own homes 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.

In The Czech Republic version of the play the family deals with impending changes due to the potential influx of refugees.  The Czech family is made up of a mother, a father, a racist grandmother, a patriotic son and a rebellious activist daughter who is protesting for refugee rights. The family scenes take place across one continuous night as the family celebrates the grandmother’s birthday, each time they return to the table the tension has grown thicker until the father explodes and breaks the table in fury. The mother sneaks off to sip from a vodka bottle throughout the evening but has a reversal towards the end of the play when she witnesses her son beat the nut selling immigrant woman. The mother decides to put on a hijab in solidarity with refugees and accompany her daughter to a protest.

The following is from the first family scene in the Czech production. The slashes (/) indicate overlaps:

Eli - father, Simona - mother, Adam - son, June -daughter. Eliza - Grandma.

They sit at the table. Father raises a glass in a toast.

ELI: Cheers to Grandma.

ELIZA: One More Year.

JUNE: Your last.

ELIZA: What?

ELI: Quiet!

ELIZA: What does she mean last? Did the doctor call? Am I dying?

JUNE: No. Your last one here.

ELIZA: Why the last one here?

ELI: She means nothing. Foolish talk. Cake, Dear!

SIMONA: Oh, Yes. Cake.

JUNE: You haven’t told Grandma?

ELIZA: Told me what?

ELI: Nothing. Let’s have cake.

ADAM: Cake, Grandma!

ELI: You love birthday cake.

ELIZA: I hope it’s not too sweet. Last year it was too sweet.

SIMONA: Yes, I am sorry.

ELI: I am sure this one is fine.

SIMONA: Yes, everything is fine.

JUNE: Everything is not fine.

ELIZA: The dinner was too salty and I am afraid the cake will be too sweet.

SIMONA: Isn’t it nice, lovely, really to all be together on your birthday?

ELIZA: So where is it?

SIMONA: Where is what?

ELIZA: The cake.

SIMONA: It’s in the kitchen.

ELIZA: Are you going to get it?

SIMONA: Yes. And the cake knife. You have always told me / that you need a cake knife for a birthday cake.

ELIZA: Of course you need a cake knife. It’s the proper thing to use to cut a cake. Well?

SIMONA: Well what?

ELIZA: Well, cake!

Simona gets up to go to the kitchen. She secretly  drinks from a bottle of vodka in view of the audience..

JUNE: How long is this party going to last?

ELIZA: Are you in a rush, Dear?

JUNE: I have to be somewhere.

ADAM: She is going to a protest!

ELIZA: A protest!

ELI: No she is not going to a protest.

JUNE: It’s a demonstration to advocate for the refugees!

ADAM: She wants to have the refugees move into our neighborhood!

ELIZA: Refugees are not welcome in this neighborhood. We already have that Gypsy with the nuts!

ELI : Let’s get on with the cake. SIMONA!

ELIZA: That Gypsy woman is disgusting.

JUNE: She’s not a gypsy, Grandma, she’s an immigrant.

ELIZA: Even worse.

JUNE: Refugees have rights!

ELIZA: They all need to GO HOME.

JUNE: Grandma you are a racist.


ELIZA: I am not a racist Dear. We are not a racist country. And if we keep the immigrants  out, then we won’t ever have to ever be racists.

Simona returns, without a cake

JUNE: That’s not logical.

ELIZA: It is to me, Dear.

ADAM: And to me, Grandma.

SIMONA: Isn’t this a lovely evening, everybody together-

            ELI: You were going to get the cake.

ELIZA: Not all of them are bad.

ADAM: Most are dangerous.

JUNE: Do you agree with him Daddy?

ELI: What?

ELIZA: The Vietnamese are OK.

JUNE: You think we should keep the refugees out?

ELIZA: But Syrians, No.

ELI: My beliefs are not the point, here.

ELIZA: The Germans are OK.

JUNE: What is the point, then?

ELIZA: But Gypsies, No.

ELI: It is Grandma’s birthday.

ELIZA: Except the Gypsies that are Christian.

JUNE: I am going to the protest.

ELIZA: But those people in the funny hats. No.

ELI: You are not going to a protest on a school night.

ELIZA: And Muslims. No. No. NO.

JUNE: Grandma you don’t even know what a Muslim is.

ELIZA: Muslims are the enemies of this country.

JUNE: They are not. This country is in denial. It’s a mess.

ADAM: You should be grateful to be born here. This is a wonderful country.

JUNE: Who did you vote for?

ADAM: The President.

ELIZA: They scare me. The Muslims.

SIMONA: I am scared of spiders. There is a very big spider in the kitchen.

ELIZA: I just don’t like immigrants.

ELI: We are immigrants, Ma.

ELIZA: We are from the West. It is very different.

JUNE: Refugees are just people. Like you and me.

ADAM: She wants to go live in the refugee camps

ELIZA: You going to live in a dirty tent?

JUNE: I want to teach the children in the camps. Mom is a teacher.

ELI: Your mother is a normal teacher. Simona, where is the cake?

SIMONA: The knife is missing.

JUNE:  Mom is normal?

SIMONA: Did someone take the cake knife?

JUNE: Probably my brother took it to stab refugees.

SIMONA: The bread knife is better for stabbing

ADAM: I didn’t touch the knives. I AM NOT VIOLENT

JUNE: Your Group is violent.

ELI: What group?

JUNE: He joined a fascist youth group.

ADAM: It’s just some guys. Nice guys. Patriots.

JUNE: Nice guys? Who bust up protests and beat up refugees and gay people?

ELIZA: He joined the group to protect us all.

SIMONA: We need the knife to cut Grandma’s cake.

ELIZA: From people like that nut seller wearing that Jihad on her head-

JUNE: Wearing what?

ELIZA: You know the Jihad.

JUNE: It’s called a hijab, Grandma. Not a Jihad.

ELIZA: Well whatever it is called it is a sign of the devil.

JUNE: You don’t understand anything. It is for modesty, morals and / expressing identity-

ELIZA: Why can’t they make her go away go to another street and sell her disgusting nuts? I called the police/ but now she’s back.

            ELI: Where is your mother?

ADAM: Looking for the cake.

ELIZA: I like President Trump and so does President Zeeman. They are having lunch together at the white house. Mr. Trump wants to keep everything nice and pure. I saw him kiss an old lady on the cheek.

JUNE: That wasn’t an old lady, Grandma that was Vladimir Putin.

ADAM: You are so disrespectful. 94 % our countrymen say send them back to their home countries to save us from Jihad attacks

ELIZA: Jihad attacks!

ADAM: A super holocaust of barbarian assault

ELIZA: Barbarian assault!

ADAM: Trump and Zeemen are going to save us

ELIZA: They are saviors.

JUNE: They are Pigs! DADDY /come on!


JUNE: Dad has something to tell you Grandma.

ELIZA: What do you have to tell me, Son?

ELI: It’s nothing.

JUNE: I’ll tell her-

ELI: You see Ma, some things have been happening at my job-

SIMONA: What’s happening at your job?

ELI: What’s happening with the cake?

SIMONA: I forgot to make the cake.

ELI: What?

ELIZA: You forgot to make my birthday cake?

JUNE: Grandma they are sending you to an old people’s home!


JUNE: They Are sending you away, Grandma!

ELIZA: I am dying.

ELI: No you’re not.

SIMONA: Everything is going to be fine!


In Kolkata, India the three actors, an older woman and man and a younger man easily fell into the roles of parents and a son. These family scenes span the boys lifetime, he begins the play as a boy of seven playing with a ball and ends the play as a grown man living far away in the West talking to his parents on the phone about his own seven year old son that they have never met.


From the first family scene in the Kolkata Production:

A family sits around a kitchen table.

MOTHER: You are in complete denial.

FATHER: Pass the rice.

MOTHER: Men are all in denial.

FATHER: I am not in denial. The rice please.

SON: Can I go out to play?

FATHER: Yes, go play.

MOTHER: We are not finished eating.

SON: I am finished.

MOTHER: It is polite to wait until everyone is finished.

SON: Why?

FATHER: Let him play!

MOTHER: Son, it is very important that you grow up with the values of decency.

SON: OK. OK. Can I go out to play now?

MOTHER: It is important that you learn how to treat women with utmost respect.

FATHER: It is more important that he learn how to fend for himself in this world and make a good living.

MOTHER: You don’t want to see what is happening to women in our country. We must open our eyes.

SON: If I open my eyes can I go play?

FATHER: He is just a child.

SON: I am just a child!

MOTHER: It is never too early to learn these lessons.

FATHER: It is no time for such lessons! It’s a cutthroat world. He needs to secure a profession and fight his way to the top.

MOTHER: A profession? He is a baby! You just said so yourself.

SON: I am not a baby! Can I go outside to play with my friends?

MOTHER: Son, please be reverential at all times. To girls you must speak quietly and kindly, Keep your hands to yourself. Do you understand?

SON: Everyone is playing ball in the street!

MOTHER: He will become like the rest of them!

FATHER: He will learn to be strong and how to survive! Right, son?

SON: YES! I will be strong.

MOTHER: It’s not safe in the streets.

FATHER: You are making him soft. He needs to be a tiger.

SON: I will be a tiger!

MOTHER: I don’t like tigers.

SON: Please let me go play, Ma? I will be good. I will be careful. I will be strong but not a tiger.

MOTHER: Don’t hurt anyone.

FATHER: Don’t let anyone hurt YOU.

SON: Can I go?


He runs out.

Lights shift.


In New York the plot involves a family who has come together for the funeral of their conservative father. Three siblings are at the core of the political debate; the brother is a Trump supporter and is offended by his sisters’ choices of partners (one sister is married to an immigrant and the other sister has brought home a female lover). The monologues are spoken to the coffin of the dead father.


From the New York Production of The FEAR Project:

Serena, Stanley, and Susan are adult siblings, Ivan-is Serena’s Husband (a foreigner), Louise is Susan’s wife (but the family doesn’t know that yet).

The second family scene:


STANLEY: Oh come on, you must have guessed that’s who I would vote for. It’s who/ Dad-

SERENA: We still hoped.

IVAN: We prayed.

SERENA: That you would see the light.

SUSAN: But nope. Darkness.

STANLEY: You’re the ones in darkness. I won.


LOUISE: Breathe, Susan. Deep Breaths.

STANLEY: Deep breaths? What are you her swimming coach?

IVAN: Maybe we should not talk about politics before the funeral.

SERENA: Right. OK. This is what Daddy is wearing. This was his/favorite tie-

SUSAN: He hated that tie.

STANLEY: He should wear his uniform.

SERENA: It won’t fit. He’d lost a lot of weight.

SUSAN: Who judges what a dead man is wearing?

IVAN: I got him that tie.

SERENA: I know, Dear.

SUSAN: He didn’t like the color.

IVAN: He told me it was his favorite tie.

LOUISE: I like it.

STANLEY: Then you should wear it.

LOUISE: Excuse me?

STANLEY: You wear men’s clothes, right?

SUSAN: Shut up Stanley.

STANLEY: She’s your friend? “Friend”? Friend with benefits?

SUSAN: It’s none of your Goddamn business.

STANLEY: Don’t use the Lord’s name in-

SUSAN: Oh shut up.

STANLEY: Who invites a friend to a funeral? Unless she’s more than a “friend”?

SERENA: Stanley, where is Daddy’s sweater? The one from Grampie. Maybe he’d want to wear that. You know the brown cardigan with the elbow patches?

IVAN: He loved that sweater.

STANLEY: He hated that sweater.

LOUISE: I think you should bury him naked. Donate his clothes to charity and put him into the ground like any earthly creature without a coffin or accessories. He goes back to the dust in purity, the way he came in.


LOUISE: Why is it sick?

SERENA: This is really none of your business, Louise.

SUSAN: She’s just trying to help.

STANLEY: Little Susie is a Big Fat Lesbian!


LOUISE: It’s OK, Sue. He’s just upset about your father.

SERENA: He’s heartbroken. We all are.

SUSAN: I’m not heartbroken.

SERENA: Yes you are.

IVAN: Stanny is just afraid.


LOUISE: I am a little afraid when you yell like that Buddy. Can you take it down a notch?


LOUISE: You are triggering Susan.


LOUISE: She was fearful of your father.

SUSAN: I was.

SERENA: No you weren’t.

SUSAN: He was pretty scary sometimes, Sis.

IVAN: We are all afraid because we all going to die just like Dad.


IVAN: It’s OK to be afraid, Stanny.


IVAN: I love you my brother.


IVAN: And in the basement of all hate you will find the fear.

The Performances

At the beginning of each show the actors spend about 15 minutes interviewing the audience with the same 13 questions. This process turns the audience into active agents (Bishop, 2012). The interviews from the audience are recorded on yellow paper so that they are differentiated from the choral interviews on the white paper of the script. The audience’s answers are then embedded in that performance, when the yellow paper appears the audience listens carefully to hear their answers.

In the Czech Republic also contained some invisible theatre. An older woman wearing a hijab enters the theatre trying to sell nuts to the audience. Sometimes the audience spit at her, sometimes they offered to give her shelter, and sometimes arguments ensued between audience members about what to do with the woman. Eventually the actors threw her out of the theatre. In most Invisible Theatre performances the actors do not reveal themselves and the audience doesn’t know they have participated in a performance (Bishop, 2012) but in The FEAR Project the woman shows up later in the play as a character.

            There is evidence for therapeutic and social value in The FEAR Project in the context of documented research in the fields of Drama Therapy and Applied Theatre.  The play is ethnographic and responds to social circumstance. Madison (1999) states that the process of the in-depth interview “Is not ethnography it is qualitative research” (p. 401).  We engaged in research through the interview process and used our findings to make a form of performative ethnography. Ethnographic performance is critically reflective, and engages the researcher’s relationships in sociocultural contexts (Spry, 2001). The permeable membrane between creative spaces and everyday life is what drove me to research and create The FEAR Project. I am interested in providing varied frameworks for artistic contributions to social justice, honoring both aesthetic quality and sociopolitical effectiveness (Boal, 1995). The FEAR Project gives us a chronicle of our times and serves as a cultural expression of our similarities and differences across political, ethnic, generational, gender and physical borders.   

            Can a theatrical event like The FEAR Project inspire audiences and participants to community action and self-actualization? Lederach (2005) 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 . . . we must imagine beyond what is seen” (p. 354). By exploring diverse sides of the political spectrum through interviews and fictional characters we can imagine empathy and move towards healing fear of the other.

            Is The FEAR Project therapeutic? 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 (Jones, 2006). Theatre methods intersect with therapeutic practice when the telling of personal stories merges with public performance (Pendizik et al,).  One cannot ponder the question “what are you afraid of?” without introspection. The interviews tell the truth about what individuals fear. Augusto Boal (1992), in describing how he understood the pedagogy of fear said, “Truth is therapeutic” (p. 300).  

            In his book on leadership, Senge 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 (Senge, 1994).  The interviewee and the interviewer have a profound experience of being seen. A. G. Johnson (2006) stated, “Of all human needs, few are as powerful as the need to be seen, included, and accepted by other people” (p. 58).

As well as potentially having individual therapeutic effects, project functions as a community builder. The relational aesthetics of The FEAR Project reflect and prompt interconnectedness (Sanjani, 2012).



Change can be born out of fear or fury, The tyranny of the past can interfere with the ability to pay attention to new situations (Van der Kolk, 1996).  Passive powerlessness, which undercuts resistance, can lead to the experience of feeling inadequate and impotent (Kegan & Lahey, 2009). But rigorous work of imagining, which is a central tool of theater making, and drama therapy opens people to a potentially peaceful and beautiful change. The FEAR Project inspires collaborative action through the radical intimacy of socially engaged performance (Sanjani, 2012). We as theatre practitioners and drama therapists can encourage an imaginative exploration of even the darkest truths to facilitate transformation. We are not afraid, even of fear.

How do we begin the process of utilizing truth and imagination to pave the way for positive change? The FEAR Project offers one path towards solution:

It all starts with a question.


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