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.
As we continue to break down the components of The H.E.A.T. Collective in our monthly Blog series (Healing one week, Education the next, Activism the third week and Theatre the fourth) we welcome your comments and your assistance in our ongoing discussion.
This month we had four wonderful posts from expert practitioners in the field.
Sally Bailey, a wonderful master drama therapist and my teacher wrote about the healing benefits of theatre for audiences and artists alike. : “Our mirror neuron system, coupled with our sensory-motor-language systems in the brain, allow everyone watching the performance to unconsciously simulate the performed actions and words of the play. Audience members aren’t passively receiving a story second-hand. They are feeling the emotions of the actors and bodily understanding what they do. This means the actors are literally passing the story on into the bodies, hearts, and minds of those watching.”
Meggan Gomez, a brilliant colleague and theatre educator who I was lucky enough to visit at The Working Classroom in New Mexico wrote” We can all be better students. And teachers. And people. It takes listening, humility, and the understanding that you always have more to learn. These ideas are at the core of our values at Working Classroom, a 30-year-old arts, theater, and new media non-profit in Albuquerque, NM that cultivates the artistic, civic, and academic minds of youth through in-depth arts projects with contemporary artists to amplify historically ignored voices, resist systemic injustices, and imagine a more equitable society……… We do this because we know young people can be fantastic leaders, create stunning art work, and they also have a lot to say about the state of the world. We don't need to empower them, they are great at that on their own. We just need to provide the resources and stay in dialogue with each other. “
My dear friend and colleague Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn works in the deepest conflict zones with the most challenging human struggles imaginable. He uses theatre as activism to move societies towards justice and to serve communities wounded by oppression and colonization. In our August blog series he told a difficult story about the power of theatre to activate heroism in human beings in the most unbearable circumstances: “We finished our rehearsal in high spirits, getting ready to spend the evening with friends and families, trying to enjoy life in the midst of an otherwise increasingly unbearable overall context, haunted by 40 years of war and human cruelty. Then someone’s phone rang. Boom. We were told that a suicide blast had just happened right in the neighborhood where most of the performers, their families and many of our friends live. The room went chokingly silent. The first ambulances could be heard. The smell in our rehearsal space suddenly took on the stench of burnt human flesh. The line between joy and anguish is seamless in a place of war. Theatre of the Absurd. What happens in the following 24 hours is the Afghan version of Audre Lorde’s “transformation of silence into language and action.” Together with other colleagues and comrades, those who until just a few moments ago rehearsed collaboration and solidarity on the stage are now exhibiting the same qualities as part of an all-out, collective emergency response to aid the victims and their families. “
In the final week of our series, the awesome H.E.A.T. staffers Rebecca-Anne Whittaker and Brooke Schilling co-wrote a report on two theatre events that H.E.A.T. held this month, the Terrible Virtue Pot Luck Dinner and the Structural Compositions: Writing the Revolution workshop and performance. About Terrible Virtue they wrote:” Reproductive rights. A topic that echoes in my brain as a young woman living in America in 2018, as a woman whose major maternal figure no longer can act as a guide for such womanly choices. Jessica Litwak’s Terrible Virtue is filled with choices and negotiations, and navigating the world we live in now and that was built for us by women like Margaret Sanger and Angela Davis. A couple glasses of wine, some cheese, and I was ready to hold the hands of these strangers as we discussed all of these topics so true and personal. I may not see these women again. Hell, I don’t remember all of their names. But that table, for a night, became my community. Lesson learned: Read your next play around a table with wine and cheese.” About the second event they stated:“ Ultimately, Structural Compositions was more than a playwriting workshop. It was a healing circle. It was a tight knit community. It was a safe space to collect our reactions to events that shaped us and pour them onto the page. Participating in the workshop was a powerful process for me. Not only was I equipped with the tools to hone my craft, I was rooted in a community of artists who share the same goal of making a difference with our words. In this way I was encouraged to grow, and for me that meant stepping into my power as both a theatre maker and a human being. As all the participants sat around a table we found our power and we unapologetically wrote………In a time where the voices of artists are needed now more than ever, that too is an act of resistance.”
This month I was inspired and grateful for these four insightful and generous contributions to our community conversation. Please join us by commenting on the Blog entries. Also feel free to contact us if there is a Blog you want to write and/or a discussion you want to generate about Healing, Education, Activism or Theatre on our platform. We welcome your voice to join ours in using theatre as a vehicle for personal and social change.
See you in September.
Jessica Litwak, August 2018