Thursday, May 23, 2019

To our friends in Norway,

I know that all of my North American colleagues working in theater for children and young people – whether part of ASSITEJ/USA, International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY), or the newly-reforming ASSITEJ/Canada – will join me in extending condolences and sympathy in the wake of the terrible tragedy your country has experienced.

Events like the earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan so deeply remind us that we cannot control Mother Nature. Events like the senseless violence in Oslo and Utoya (mostly against young people) remind us that we cannot control human nature.
May I be so bold as to suggest that – even in the midst of the shock and grief – it might be helpful for all of us to remember that what we can control is our own work, and it’s at times like this that our work becomes even more important.

Those of us who do performances for children and young people are the village storytellers in our global community. It’s an extension of the most ancient ritual of civilization, where the clan gathered around fires in cave, in deserts, in forests, and the elders told the children stories. Now, on our stages, in our classrooms, we tell stories in words, movement, music, rhythm, pictures – stories of our lives as they were, as they are, and as we wish them to be. In our stories, we let our children and young people see themselves on stage and we give them tools to help them navigate the future.

It may be that July 22 is for Norway is like September 11 was for the US – a day when everything changed. What we learned then, I think, was that it was even more important than ever to be both rigorous and compassionate, to always tell the truth to our children and young people, and to always bring our best selves to our work. And we learned our greatest strength is each other.

The great poets always see the future, and these words from Tomas Transtromer, from his 2004 book The Great Enigma, might have been written yesterday.

“Thousands of people gazing
in the land of long shadows.

A bridge builds itself
straight out into space.”

Please know that you have friends all over the world.


Kim Peter Kovac
Producing Director, Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences
Vice-President, ASSITEJ International
Board member, IPAY

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    0 Response

    1. Dear friends in Norway, and across the world

      I wanted to let you know that in South Africa we have been stunned by the tragic and unnecessary suffering and loss that you have all suffered as a result of the awful events of Friday. My South African friends and colleagues join with me in sending you our condolences, our sympathy, and whatever strength of spirit and purpose we can muster, to say that you are not alone, that we all stand with you in solidarity and in disbelief and in hope, that ultimately this madness will not have the final word… And on behalf of all the members of ASSITEJ across the globe, I extend condolences.

      I think that Kim Peter has articulated beautifully what brings most of us to a state of utter inarticulateness and incomprehension. Thank you, Kim, for your eloquence and for reminding us of important and simple truths.

      How is it possible that we humans can inflict so much cruelty on one another? How is it possible that we can stop seeing one another and only see points to be scored, political gains to be made?

      And now we hear that this man may have been inspired by right wing bloggers in South Africa. Our initial horror that we are complicit in some way turns to reflection that within each of us sits the potential for this kind of madness, where we confuse our fear and suspicion with a real threat, and where we forget to see in one another the mirror of ourselves. This is the true “terror within” as newspapers have been calling it…

      I have been so impressed by the response of your government to this man-made tragedy, and particularly by the Oslo mayor, whose words were so inspiring: “I don’t think that security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.” I wish that our politicians here at home responded similarly in such circumstances.

      As Kim has said so beautifully, theatre has a very powerful role to play in reminding us of who we are, of getting us to face ourselves, and of hopefully allowing us a space in which we can see a different way of responding to our kneejerk reactions of fear and distrust, and perhaps of turning that fear into understanding, compassion and respect.

      I hope and trust that as you process the events of the last few days, you will find ways to gather meaning and strength from your work, from one another, and from the knowledge that there are people all over the world who share this dark moment with you.

      And I join with and celebrate the young girl who survived the horror on the island in saying, “If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.”

      You are in our thoughts.


      ASSITEJ President

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