by Laura Puchalski
ASSITEJ. World Congress. Warsaw. Poland. Next Generation.
Was it all just a dream?!
This was the question that kept repeating itself over and over again in my mind on my return back to the USA after spending 12 days in Warsaw, Poland for the ASSITEJ World Congress. I was 1 of 23 emerging theatre artists from around the world chosen to take part in the Next Generation residency program during the triennial ASSITEJ festival. Although I knew what this meant, I didn’t REALLY know what this meant until I was in actually in Warsaw meeting all these lovely people face to face. I almost felt like I was part of an experiment, going to a country I’d never been to and agreeing to work closely with people who were practically strangers. I wondered how this was all going to work.
What I found was this was much more than a residency program and these people were much more than mere strangers. Our time together was completely shared in every way- rooming together, eating together, seeing plays, classes and whatever else our schedule had for us to do together. We were us, and we loved it. As we began to connect individually and bond as a group, we realized this program was truly special. Through conversation and exchange our eyes were opened not only to each other, but to the WORLD through each other. We could feel the burden of our new friends when they spoke of challenges they faced as artists in their individual countries. Our hearts softened and opened when we realized we could not only listen, but we could help each other.
Our time was precious and we knew it. We enjoyed our shared time together, but we also knew we had a purpose to create something together as a group before the week’s end. We began to brainstorm and workshop ideas. Our creativity and group dynamics were a delight as we saw that we could; in fact create wonderful things together, but our focus began to shift. We realized as the Next Generation working in the field of TYA we have one main focus: children. They are the people we create theatre for and whom the future belongs to.
Our focus for our final performance became clear. What will we do to honor children in the process of our theatre making for them? What can we promise them for the future? As we put all of our thoughts together as to what is most important when creating theatre for young people, we created our pledge. A pledge of not only what we promise to children of the future, but we promise to ourselves as theatre artists creating art for children. We read our pledge during our final performance and welcomed the audience to sign it, agreeing with us in our pursuit to serve and honor children.
There are many wonderful memories I will cherish forever of my time during the ASSITEJ World Congress in Warsaw, Poland. The majestic Palace of Culture and Science, seeing new and intriguing plays, and participating in symposiums and classes that bonded our group together. The easy going nature of the city of Warsaw and the splendor of its history is something I will never forget. I am forever grateful to come together to exchange and learn with other theatre artists from all over the world in a unique way unlike any other.
I took away something from my experience in Warsaw that was far greater than all of my memories, the bond of friends with a common purpose: a commitment to making the future better for children with what we have in our hands right NOW. We realized we are the Now Generation looking forward to the Next Generation and we wouldn’t want it any other way.