We at ImaginAction wish you all the best for the year 2016 as we share with you a look back on 2015. This last year that brought deep transformation and evolution in our work including internal changes as well as consolidation of new directions internationally.
We started 2015 with two new original productions: “Estamos aqui…where do we go?” a Forum Theater piece created with the Latino community in partnership with the Pasadena Playhouse and their project Mi Historia/Mi Manera funded by the James Irvine Foundation.
Our second original play, “Second Chances,” was inspired by the Theater of Witness model. Torture survivors served by the Program For Torture Victims (PTV), our partner of many years, performed their own stories in their own words for the general public. The program was supported with grants from the LA Department of Cultural Affairs and from California Humanities. In a second phase of the funded project, we created a website, http://SecondChancesLA.weebly.com/, to present oral histories not only from PTV clients but many other survivors of State-sponsored violence.
In May, Angelo Miramonti, UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist in West Africa played matchmaker bringing our director, Hector Aristizabal together with Diol Mamadou , director of the Association Kàddu Yaraax , a Senegalese theater company dedicated to using the techniques of Theater of the Oppressed.
Our group of internationals lived together with extraordinary Senegalese artists in the fishing village of Toubab Dialaw as we collaborated on a piece of Forum Theater dealing with issues of women’s rights and the organizing of a fishermen’s union.
The Hector returned to his native Colombia where he has been developing projects connected to the current peace negotiations taking place in La Habana between the Colombian government and FARC, the oldest guerrilla group in the world. Hector has offered trainings in the use of Theater of the Oppressed, Council Circle and Healing Rituals to psychosocial teams from different international NGO’s including OIM (International Organization of Migrants http://www.oim.org.co/) and IRD (International Relief Development http://www.ird.org/).
With these organizations and in collaboration with Corporación Otra Escuela http://www.otraescuela.org/ Hector traveled to several communities affected by the Colombian conflict and developed original Forum Theater pieces that facilitated dialogue and explored alternatives to the many challenges being faced by these communities.
Soon we will be able to share some videos from the different processes that took place in the community of Bojayá, Chocó where FARC committed their worst act of war, killing almost 80 people. We were asked to be part of the complex process of asking the community if they were willing to consider offering the act of forgiveness demanded by FARC members.
Hector also traveled twice to the border city of Gaziantep, Turkey where he offered trainings to people working inside Syria as well as with the growing crisis of Syrian refugees in Turkey. This work was supported by GIZ (German International Cooperation).
GIZ also supported his work in 2015 with The Mandala Theater group in Nepal.
On the other hand Alessia Cartoni (http://alessiacartoni.wix.com/hazdeluz) has moved back to Europe where she has been developing her unique line of work ,“Unveiling myself”, which she took to Belgium, Spain, Italy, Colombia and The Basque Country. These series of workshops are nurtured by the introspective techniques of the Theatre of the Oppressed arsenal, elements of creative ritual, art therapy, mythology and autobiographical storytelling.
In her hometown, Madrid, Alessia continues to develop her social work by working with at-risk and special needs youth in the multiethnical Orcasitas neighborhood, one of the most affected by unemployment and its consequences in Spain. In her groups, Alessia uses elements of Theatre of the Oppressed, movement and Council Circle to address diversity, bullying, evictions, racism and poverty.
In September 2015, Alessia travelled back to Colombia where she was invited to offer an intensive workshop on Theatre and Historical Memory at the Second Theatre of the Oppressed Festival of Bogotá, hosted by Corporación Otra Escuela. There, she also shared her experiences with Theatre of Witness as a model for working on processes of Historical Memory – honoring the past of a community. In Bogotá she also offered her workshop Unveiling Myself- Desvelándome.
Besides collaborating with Hector in developing the scripts for “Estamos aqui .. where do we go/ and “Second Chances”, Diane Lefer also worked with Sayda Trujillo (our wonderful new collaborator and co-director on “Estamos aquí”) on a Forum Theater project funded by the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Family Foundation through which we were able to bring our methods to members of the POPS the Club at Venice High School. http://popstheclub.com/ POPS is an innovative program that provides support and opportunities for self-expression to young people affected by the criminal justice system, usually due to the incarceration or deportation of a parent.
We have started 2016 with new projects and challenges. Hector is working in Colombia with OIM and Casa Ensamble http://casae.com/ in a unique theatrical experiment with 20 victims of the Colombian conflict, including: 5 civilians, 5 soldiers, 5 ex-paramilitaries and 5 ex-guerrillas. Hector will be working in the psycho-social aspects of this project using theater as a laboratory of reconciliation. Later on in the project we will work with the psychosocial teams of La Unidad Para Las Victimas http://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/ in designing laboratories of reconciliation using theater and other methodologies with communities affected by the war.
Diane’s relationship with PTV (Program for Torture Victims) in Los Angeles has deepened at the invitation of new Clinical Director Carol Gomez. She now offers multilingual creative workshops in which English speakers, Spanish-speaking Latin Americans, and Francophone Africans use their imaginations and focus on hopes for the future rather than past trauma through writing exercises, games, improvisations, song, and shared meals to build community among people who often find themselves living in isolation in their new country. She also serves PTV as interpreter for the LGBT Resilience project and periodic asylum-readiness workshops.
Brian Biery laid the groundwork for us with Victor Vasquez and the Pasadena Playhouse so that during the entire month of February our team will work with the community in District 5, developing an original Forum Theater play exploring the issue of gentrification. The play will be performed February 27 and 29. (As we return to Pasadena, we will miss Jennifer Iadevaia who brought her multiple skills and vital Prescott energy to our project and Julian Scharmacher who came to us from Leipzig, Germany for an internship after completing his Psychology degree and brought his talent, genuine warmth – and his ukelele – to the work on “Estamos aquí” and “Second Chances”.
Then Hector is on the road again. In March he will return to Colombia to work on projects of reconciliation. From April 4 to April 10, he has been invited to the A. E. Havens Center for Social Justice at the Sociology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, http://www.havenscenter.org/vsp/hector-aristiz%C3%A1bal and he will return to Oberlin College for the 10th year in a row from April 14 to April 18 to work with both student groups and community members.
From April 20 to May 1 Hector has been invited to return to Ukraine to work with the Theater of the Oppressed groups operating in that country.
We have many more exciting projects that we will announce on our website and Facebook page. Please stay tuned and thanks for your support. Also let us know how you might wish to get involved. We are constantly on the lookout for new allies who feel called to work with us.
Thanks for supporting us,
Hector, Diane, Alessia