Belarus Free Theatre defies extreme dangers to perform

Posted by Laura Wade on the Guardian Theatre Blog, December 13, 2010

Belarus Free Theatre is an underground group based in Minsk. "Underground" not because it's cool and edgy, but because Belarus is a dictatorship and any opposition, artistic or otherwise, can be swiftly and harshly silenced. Citizens are subject to extreme censorship and human rights violations, to which other governments turn a blind eye.  Activists have been kidnapped, imprisoned and killed.  The BFT runs plays that tell people what's going on in their country. It is subject to continual harassment and death threats. But it doesn't stop.  The BFT has to perform in secret, at considerable risk: performances have been raided by police and multiple arrests made. Audience members are contacted by text message and told to meet at a secret location, from which they are taken to the show. At the moment the company uses a near-derelict house where two rooms have been knocked together; the audience, some of whom have travelled for hours to be there, squeeze onto benches at one end of the space and the play is performed at the other. The anticipation is palpable. At the end, the applause comes with a wave of relief, not just because the police didn't storm the building. Many of the audience have seen nothing like this before; to hear the problems of their country spoken about honestly makes them feel a little braver and less alone.  What the company needs more than anything is the solidarity of the global theatre community. The more international friends the company has, the more likely that people in Belarus will join its struggle (and the less likely that members of the company will disappear). There's a petition you can sign.


As 1.6 million refugees return to Congo, using theater to build peace

Posted on the Common Ground blog, December 13, 2010

In 2010 there has been a steady return of Congolese refugees from Zambia and the beginnings of an official process for the return of refugees from the camps in Burundi.  Search for Common Ground's (SFCG) initiatives to educate refugees and the communities in the return zones about the conditions of repatriation and reintegration, to build trust across ethnic lines, and to shift attitudes to favour the fight against sexual and gender-based violence [use an] arts-based approach.  SFCG (known locally as Centre Lokolé) collaborates with 100 local partners including radio stations, youth associations, religious organisations and civil society networks. Since 2005, the Participatory Theatre for Conflict Transformation has reached 1.6 million Congolese in refugee camps and return zones in eastern DRC. Actors trained by SFCG in conflict transformation skills and participatory theatre techniques travel to refugee camps in Tanzania, Burundi and Zambia, as well as throughout the refugee return zones in South and North Kivu and Katanga provinces.  Live theatre mirrors the conflicts that the target populations have experienced and, with the participation of the audience, the actors search for non-violent solutions to the conflicts, highlighting key information as well as collaborative attitudes and behaviour. The theatre troupes perform under the banner of Jirani ni Ngugu (Swahili for 'My Neighbour is My Brother'), the name of SFCG's popular Swahili radio drama that addresses the issue of conflict and collaborative solutions. The most common conflicts addressed through the theatre performances are land/property disputes, conflicts related to assistance for returnees, inter-community tensions, rumours and manipulation, and conflicts related to pervasive insecurity and a weak state.


In the murder capital of Mexico, a local orchestra is a refuge from violence

From National Public Radio's All Things Considered, December 14, 2010

Known as the murder capital of Mexico, Juarez is plagued by drug-related violence and organized crime. A quarter of the population is estimated to have fled, and thousands of businesses have closed.  But the Juarez Symphony Orchestra plays on to grateful audiences that choose violins as a refuge from violence.  The orchestra was founded only five years ago, just before the cartel war broke out and the city began its descent into lawlessness. But that hasn't slowed down the orchestra, which has staged five operas this year along with five orchestra concerts.  With the violence in the city so extreme that schoolchildren are taught how to dive for cover, its 42-year-old conductor, Carlos Garcia Ruiz, has not canceled concerts -- he's expanded them. This is not to say the Juarez Symphony is immune to the unrest. 18 of its 22 well-heeled patrons in Juarez have fled to El Paso, Texas. Some still support the orchestra; others no longer do.  Most of the string section has had to be replaced with student musicians. What's more, orchestra members have been robbed, carjacked and extorted.   Though many Juarez residents lock themselves in their homes after dark, a devoted audience still comes out at night for concerts. Rosa Maria Olivas, a chef, says she never misses a performance.  "The orchestra represents enrichment for the soul and the spirit," she says. "A moment of peace, a moment of enjoyment in this madness we're living."


Commentary: Much as we'd like it to, music can't bring peace to the world

Jessica Duchen, writing in The Independent [UK], December 14, 2010

Christmas: peace on Earth, good will to all. But as the profile of music as a tool for social transformation grows ever higher, more organisations appear to be latching on to the idea that music can bring peace. The sorry truth is that, much as we'd like it to, it can't.  The original culprit was the World Orchestra for Peace. Since 1995, it has been bringing together musicians from 40 countries twice a year, usually to perform in locations of global significance. Its idealistic founder, Sir Georg Solti, once explained its raison d'être: "We are playing so beautifully, we prove that we can live in peace. I wish that politicians, left and right, could do the same." The orchestra is now flourishing under Valery Gergiev's baton.  Gergiev commented earlier this year: "Of course, we cannot bring peace. But what we can do is make a statement. We can show the world that people from many different cultures, who have never met, can work together."  Now smaller organisations have started using the word "Peace" in their monikers. There's the South African Quartet of Peace [and] the Denmark-based Middle East Peace Orchestra, which offers a maverick concatenation of Arabic, Jewish and Western music, and does devoted education work with Arabic children in Copenhagen. Education work can make a serious difference to children's lives. "Making a statement" does nothing but make a statement.  These ensembles comfort the sensibilities of well-heeled audiences. They focus our attention on utopian ideals while distracting us from reality on the ground. We've fallen into the trap of using music as a shield to protect us from the pain of what's really out there. 

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."