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From Christopher – Tales from the Tour – Building Bridges

September 22, 2018

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We live in strange times. On the one hand, the world is getting smaller, and global impact and global perspectives are increasingly part of our conversations… And on the other hand, there’s a great deal of focus on borders and walls, and people seem increasingly isolated in daily life. (I’m thinking of the hyper-connection/hyper-isolation symptom of our iPhone/Facebook condition.)

In many ways, Theatre is the perfect antidote to the increasing isolation I see. The creative process in theatre is collaborative: people work together, face-to-face. And in performance, it is communal: people come together and share a collective experience. It is not “virtual.” It is real. immediate. live. human.

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And for the other problem—the borders and walls? For that, we have the international festival—a fundamentally “bridge-building” kind of event. Typically, I attend at least one international theater festival each year. In recent years, I’ve gone to festivals in Romania, Czechia, Italy, Chile, Morocco and The Netherlands. It’s something I look forward to. It’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the art form I practice, and also a break from my daily routine – a forced encounter with new experiences that shakes me out of my comfort zone and wakes me up.

I’ve seen no better example of a bridge-building theater festival than the recent “Human Mosaic” festival in which we participated last month in Poland. The theme of the festival was “tolerance.” The theme was chosen because of the LACK of tolerance identified in the community. What does that look like in Goleniów, Poland? Well, leading up to the festival there was a scathing editorial in the local newspaper (ultra-conservative, ultra-catholic) condemning the host theatre company for a planned “drag-queen-make-up workshop,” and coinciding with the opening of the festival the newspaper ran a photo of two men holding the hands of a young boy, rainbow flag flying in the background, with the headline “STOP PEDAPHILES.” That’s an example of what intolerance looks like there. The opening event of the festival was a live theatrically-staged performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. What a poignant statement in a community divided. During the performance, the actors build a literal wall made of large cardboard boxes right through the middle of the audience. The audience remained divided through most of the show. Then, during the final number, to the collective chant “TEAR DOWN THE WALL!” the wall was dismantled, allowing the audience to once again become whole.

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Renowned composer Frans Winther, of Odin Teatret in Denmark, wrote a song for that festival—an anthem performed on the first day and the last. The lyrics state: “I am human; you are human too. We are different but the same.” So simple. How it is it so often a bridge too far?

At these international festivals, we meet people from across the globe. We share our work, our perspectives, our stories. No matter how different we are from one another, and no matter how foreign our practices may be, without fail, we find common ground. We connect. When we leave, and return to our respective communities, we are different. The interaction has left an impression. We have changed, and our idea of places previously left to the imagination—impressions formed by headlines and clichés, all in the abstract—are now concrete, tied to the human beings we have met that live there. Finland is where Vilja is from. India is where my friend Chintan lives. Nepal is the home of the children I met who communicated through dance and through song.

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This is a peace-building process. With every festival, with every new connection, we affirm the simple thought: “I am human; you are human too. We are different but the same.” We affirm this for our audiences, and for ourselves. In this time of technology-induced isolation, we find human connection; in this time of tightening borders, we build bridges.

So go ahead, governments of the world: build your walls. The artists are here. And we’re going to tear them down.

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