John Jay College: “Human Rights/Forum Theatre Workshop with Hector Aristizábal”

Hector Aristizábal_a registration flier

The “Human Rights/Forum Theatre Workshop with Hector Aristizábal” is a series of workshops and one performance occurring in the Black Box Theatre at John Jay College over the period March 19-24, is free of charge and open to faculty and the John Jay Community as a whole.

The workshops will occur over the period of one week and include one public performances and one open session of the workshop for the public. Aristizábal will have 24 contact hours with students in a human rights/creative theatre workshop setting. The results of those workshop meetings, spanning over the period March 19-24 will be part of an open workshop on the evening of Thursday March 24.

Additionally, Hector Aristizábal will perform his one man show NIGTHWIND with an open forum discussion on Thursday March during community hour 1:30-3:0 pm.

Description of the guest artist/scholar

Hector Aristizábal was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia when it was the most dangerous city in the world. One of his brothers was seduced by the power of crack cocaine and another by the promises of revolutionary armed struggle. Aristizábal’s path was different. He worked his way out of poverty to become a theatre artist and pioneering psychologist with a Masters degree from Antioquia University. He survived civil war, arrest and torture at the hands of the US-supported military. In 1989, violence and death threats forced him to leave his homeland. In exile, Aristizábal struggled to overcome his rage and desire for vengeance and to channel these energies into constructive social action. Since arriving in the US, he has won acclaim and awards as an artist and also received a second Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, leading him to combine his training in psychology and the arts with lessons gained from life experience in his therapeutic work with torture and trauma survivors, incarcerated youth, immigrant families, and people affected by HIV/AIDS. As an activist, he uses theatrical performance as part of the movement to end torture and to change US policy in Latin America. Aristizábal founded ImaginAction to help people tap the transformative power of theatre in programs throughout the US, Latin America, Europe, and as far afield as Afghanistan, India, and Palestine, for community building and reconciliation, strategizing, and individual healing and liberation. Through workshops based on participants’ own experiences, Aristizábal invites participants to explore embodied knowledge, challenge the inevitability of violence, and use their imaginations to create theater performances towards a more just and joyous life for all people. Aristizábal has served on the core council of the Colombia Peace Project-LA and on the boards of the Program for Torture Victims and of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, a global forum for social justice based on the ideas of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal.


The Workshops in the Black Box Theatre will be held Sunday 19, 4:00 – 8:00 pm; Monday March 20, 1:30 – 3:00 pm (community hour); Tuesday March 21, 500 – 9:00 pm; Wednesday March 22, 1:30 – 3:00 pm (community hour); Thursday March 23, 500 – 9:00 pm; Friday, March 24, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm & 4:00 – 10:00 pm (final session open to the public).[1]


Performance: NIGHTWIND

Thursday March 23, 1:30 – 3:00 pm (community hour) Black Box Theatre.

The 30-minute performance based on Hector Aristizábal’s true story of being arrested and tortured by the US-supported military in Colombia. After his release, he witnesses the killings of many of his friends. In exile in the United States, his taxes fund the war in Iraq including torture at Abu Ghraib and continued bloodshed in his country. In 1999, when Aristizábal’s brother was abducted and killed by the paramilitary, his own rage and desire for violent revenge was awakened–what he calls “the terrorist within.” Inspired by his own young children, he finds ways to re-channel this terroristic energy into constructive action. Aristizábal’s movement-based performance becomes a springboard for audience members to explore issues of importance in their own lives. The direction of the workshop will change depending on audience member’s interests and desires. Immediately after the performance Hector invites the audience into a brief dynamic meditation as a way to provide catharsis to the different emotions awakened by the theater piece. Afterwards using the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed (please see description below), Aristizábal invites participants to express their reactions to the images of torture by creating their own images in response. The content of the performance and the scenarios often lead to explorations of other cycles of violence – family violence, gang violence – and the exploration of ideas on how to break them.

Opportunities for students

The opportunities for students are multiple. Since Aristizábal was part of the recent peace-making process in Colombia which resulted in a referendum and accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas, and he used theatre workshops in the remote villages to get those who were unaccustomed to voting to change their habits, all who participate in the workshops will learn the kind of theatre techniques most associated with educating for justice, specifically pursuing social justice through immediate community action, in this case theatre. In the workshops students will not merely perform, they will learn the techniques of theatre for conflict transformation from an educator/practitioner who is a pioneer in the field. This in and of itself is a rare opportunity and privilege for the students who take the workshop. The workshop is open to all students and thus many will find practical application of theatre interwoven with their various studies in other justice related disciplines. That is another asset to the workshops. Furthermore, neither in CTA nor indeed in any other CUNY theatre program are such techniques taught, and if they were to be taught at CUNY, John Jay College is the most appropriate college to host such a guest artist/educator as a model for what we can do with theatre in the near future as we enhance our curriculum. Additionally, Aristizábal is eager to visit with our students in classroom settings and hold dialogues in English and Spanish.

Opportunities for the community

Witnessing the practice of Aristizábal in the performance and post-performance discussion is an opportunity for community engagement in which his experiential artist/educator approach will give all who attend the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with a highly qualified post-trauma therapist whose work with trauma victims, displaced peoples, immigrants, and disenfranchised indigenous people is acutely appropriate in the current socio-political environment. Additionally, the training Aristizábal in conflict transformation offers students who will soon be leaders in various justice professions in this new environment is invaluable when globally people with power have the opportunity to solve conflicts and serve justice through peaceful means via negotiation and dialogue; so the long-term impact on the community is part of the package.

Students are not required to attend every workshop gathering though it is ideal when they do. We would appreciate that all attend the final gathering Friday evening for the culminating workshop and presentation.