Arena Stage Community Engagement
voices of India
In October 2012 the US State Department funded four artist-educators from Arena Stage’s Community Engagement division to travel to India to create devised theater pieces with diverse groups in four cities: Kolkata, Patna, New Delhi and Hyderabad. Working with workshop activities and rehearsal methods used in CE’s Voices of Now program, Raymond Caldwell, Ashley Forman, Anita Maynard-Losh and Mitch Mattson devised and directed plays exploring themes important to the ensemble of artists in each community. The performances were fast-paced, collaboratively written, physical theater pieces that included poetry, movement, music, dialogue, monologue, pantomime and collaborative storytelling. The words in each piece were written entirely by the ensemble members, and after each ensemble performed they engaged in spirited discussions with the local audience around their play’s themes.
The plays asked vital questions about significant social issues: power and how it relates to gender, pollution, lack of accessible health care, poverty, and how to maintain positive cultural traditions in a new world. The various ensembles included theater artists, activists, girls rescued from trafficking, orphans, street children, high school and college students, and others. Some participants spoke English, others spoke Hindi, Bengali or Urdu and all four languages were used in the varied performances. Although most of the participants were teenagers and young adults, one ensemble’s youngest member was six and another’s oldest member was over forty. In addition to diversity in age and language, there were substantial educational, religious and economic differences in each ensemble. These differences led to critical discourse about weighty issues and deepened the content of the artists’ work.
This project’s goals included using theater to provide underserved communities in India with techniques to build confidence and communication skills; to increase a sense of community; and to link populations that normally did not interact. In working with local groups and experts in a “train the trainer mode” Arena’s artist-educators built connections with local Indian theater and performance groups, linking local communities with U.S. cultural programming and resources throughout India.
The Voices of Now: India program met and exceeded the goals set out by the State Department. Through its participation in this project, Arena Stage has engaged in its own brand of soft diplomacy introducing and encouraging an understanding and appreciation of American culture.