It all began in January 2017. I was invited by Theatre Communications Group (TCG) to attend the International Santiago a Mil festival as one of twenty-eight U.S. delegates. Santiago a Mil is a festival of performing arts that takes place every year in January, mainly in Santiago de Chile. The intentions of this festival include increasing exposure to international work, establishing global partnerships, broadening the platform for international theatre pieces, and networking with international colleagues. It was there I saw a piece of theatre that moved me to my core – Nomadas – performed by La Llave Maestra from Santiago, Chile. I knew I needed to foster a relationship with this company and bring this work to my community. In October 2017, Nomadas performed for over 750 audience members in Greensboro, NC. La Llave Maestra engaged in a three-week residency with university students and refugee youth.
Why did I pursue this project with such passion?
What is the value of an international partnership/ global exchange?
The exposure to different values, cultural norms, and aesthetic approaches transformed me as a human being and an artist. It evolved my creative process, enlarging my spaces of creation. Inviting me to broaden my understanding of other people and another culture, I was forced to expand my range of communication. I engaged in cross-cultural sharing of art forms, learning how Visual Theatre techniques are practiced in South America. The entire process inspired me to re-examine my priorities while simultaneously inviting me to advance my artistic process. It affirmed for me that living in the uncomfortable place of not knowing can often be where I learn the most.
There were many obstacles I faced in the process of realizing this global partnership: grant funding originally awarded by the US Embassy in Santiago de Chile (in the amount of $20,000) was, in the end, not allotted. The priorities of the US administration apparently did not include Embassy Small Grants Arts and Culture programming addressing the plight of refugees and immigrants. While other funding did come through, it was not enough to sustain the project. I was left with having to seek alternative resources in the community, working relentlessly to secure the necessary support. I was mired in the bureaucracy of paperwork: NRA-001s, DS-160s, DS-2019s, J1 As, J1 Bs, while also securing Visas and making flight arrangements for each company member from Chile and the composer from Spain. It was a tremendous amount of work that kept me awake late at night every night as I chipped away at all the details. However, my vision for the impact this work would have on my community drove me to persist.
What did the global partnership do for my home organization and community?
In this particular instance, the cross-cultural collaboration strengthened my relationship with immigrant and refugee organizations in Greensboro. I worked closely with the founder and president of Casa Azul – an organization whose mission is to promote Latino Arts and Culture in Greensboro and the surrounding community – to increase awareness of the production. I worked with FaithAction International House, an organization in Greensboro serving the immigrant population. “FaithAction International House serves and accompanies thousands of our newest immigrant neighbors, while educating and connecting our diverse community across lines of culture and faith … Our goal is to help Greensboro become a model Stranger to Neighbor city, and to share our experience with other communities at this urgent time in our nation’s history.” (website) I hand delivered over 50 tickets for Nomadas to the staff at FaithAction to be distributed to individual families. I chose seats with intentionality, selecting seats throughout the house for each family rather than seating all FaithAction clients together. I provided over 150 tickets to the students and families at the Doris Henderson Newcomers School (a school serving refugee and immigrant youth in grades 3-12 in Guilford County). I personally sat many of the families that came to the historic UNCG Auditorium for the performance.
Why did I make such a concerted effort to connect to these organizations and people? I knew the story being told on stage directly related to their stories. Nomadas (The Nomads) addresses themes of immigration, travel, and exile. It is a story of loss and gain: what we lose when we leave people and places, and what we gain when we enter new communities. It is a story of traveling into the unknown – something every one of these members of our community know well. It was a story they needed to see. And it was a story I had the responsibility to tell.
This illustrates how cross-cultural collaboration builds a new and diverse audience. Many of the 750 people in attendance were first-time theatregoers.
Nomadas expanded our audience – pulling in people who otherwise would not attend the theatre while simultaneously opening the hearts and minds of the traditional audience base to the diversity of our community. It brought people from divergent worlds together – people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to interact with each other. Experiencing live theatre together is a unifying experience; the role of the audience matters – and, therefore, the people in the audience matter. We need to see our entire community reflected in the seats of our theatres – not simply the privileged. Especially now.
Why are global partnerships more important now than ever before?
Now, more than ever before, we have a responsibility to engage in meaningful dialogue addressing differences...as artists, we have access to a platform with the potential to spark critical engagement in the world in ways others do not.
Now, more than ever before, we have a responsibility to engage in meaningful dialogue addressing differences. The sharing of distinct cultures is vitally important at a time in our world when narratives are being generated (and spread, gaining momentum with every re-telling) propagating the story that difference is to be feared – not embraced. As artists, we have access to a platform with the potential to spark critical engagement in the world in ways others do not. That platform carries with it a deep responsibility. The national debate over DACA continues; the countries on the no-fly list grow on a regular basis; refugees and immigrants are marginalized now more than ever before. It is time for us to take a stand. We must engage as Citizen Artists now more than ever before.
The Citizen Artist marries artistic excellence and social impact. In the words of Yo Yo Ma: “They transcend technique in order to seek out the truths in our world in a way that gives meaning and sustenance to individuals and communities.” Those communities need to include everyone from around the globe; we need to break down the walls that separate our nations and unite as a global community – exploring the inherent contradiction of the human condition together.
The US Department of Arts and Culture states it beautifully: “Cultural pluralism is a social good and the wellspring of free expression. Its support and protection require equitable distribution of public resources, particularly to correct past injustices and balance an excess of commercialization. Cultural equity means full inclusion, participation, and power-sharing in all of our communities and institutions.” This, of course, includes our global community.
We, as theatre artists, have the capacity to expand the hearts and minds of those who walk through our doors. Global partnerships are a pathway for us to do this with passion, power, and purpose. As IPAY begins, may we all open ourselves to the possibilities that await us in far away places we may someday call “Home.”