Can the Arts have a place in assisting with healing and reconciliation in areas of conflict?
This topic was answered creatively in the documentary by filmmakers Cynthia Cohen and Allison Lund, Acting Together 0n The World Stage, (www.actingtogether.org) which was screened on the evening of March 22nd to over 70 people at the Justice Institute of BC (JIBC). The film was a collaboration between Brandeis University and Theatre Without Borders and highlights the experience of artists, musicians, playwrights and community activists from nine countries, as they share how they have contributed to the creative transformation of conflict through performance. Project Director Dr. Cynthia Cohen introduced the film.
A Ugandan playwright wrote a play about rape because, he says “We must deal with issues that are taboo.” A First Nations woman from the USA told of her experience in Australia when she went to visit an Aboriginal friend. There she learned about the Sorry Day, the apology to the Aboriginal people and the Welcome to Country ceremony in the Parliament building. In Argentina people discovered that they could resist the abuses of the military dictatorship through their responses to classical works. In the USA, a group is using Story Circles as a way for people to share their stories, from which plays are then written.
Theatre is useful in building peace because it offers ways of expressing emotion without judgment. It can make people stop and change as it brings new awareness and allows people to hear truth in a fresh and powerful way.
Following the screening, Dr. Cohen dealt with very thoughtful and insightful questions from some in the audience who are engaged in the work of healing in many areas. She said that artistic work is important in addition to historical work. In answering a question about people who have gone through trauma and whose stories need to be told she said, “We need to acknowledge harm without perpetuating it.”
One question focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC ) in Canada as the questioner felt that non-Aboriginal people were being left out of the process. Dr. Cohen replied, “Reconciliation is a very complex process. Some steps are done in community,some individually, and at some point the dominant group will need to be present. The key element is building trust.
Facilitating the Q&A time was Michelle LeBaron, Professor and Director, Program on Dispute Resolution/Faculty of Law at Allard Hall on the UBC campus and the initiator of Dr. Cohen’s visit.
During the day she and Dr. Cohen had led an interactive workshop with 22 participants on the theme Acting Together: Accessing Creativity to Transform Conflict. Both these events were made possible by the partnership of UBC, JIBC and IofC.
For more information about Acting Together on the World Stage, including the film, a tool kit for practitioners and 2 anthologies visit www.actingtogether.org