Us and Them: The Play image

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History of the Project

About 90% of Headlines' work happens as a response to an invitation from a community or an organization.
Although almost 150 organizations are now involved, the original impulse for this project was personal


What makes it possible for people to:

Witness hardship and even atrocity and not reach out?
Pollute someone else's 'back yard'?
Drop (so many different kinds of) bombs on people?
Turn a blind eye, a deaf ear?
Racially profile?
Divide into polarized camps?

What makes these, and so many other ways that we compromise the planet's and humanity's well-being, possible? The creation, over and over, of 'the other': the creation of the 'them' in 'us and them'.

If global warming teaches us anything, it must be that on this tiny, fragile blue speck hanging in the middle of a vast nothingness, there is nowhere to go. Inside this reality in which humanity lives, who are 'they'?


• What can a theatre company do?

Us and Them exists in a territory that John Paul Lederach calls constructive social change. He defines this in his book The Moral Imagination as:

"…the pursuit of moving relationships from those defined by fear, mutual recrimination, and violence toward those characterized by love, mutual respect, and proactive engagement. Constructive social change seeks to change the flow of human interaction in social conflict from cycles of destructive relational violence toward cycles of relational dignity and respectful engagement."

This is the second phase of a two-year project. To understand where we are now, we need to know where we have come from:


Year 1

In the first year (2010/11) we mounted a series of 23 public inquiries on our experiences of Us and Them. No script, no "actors", no play - everything came from the audience each night. These events took place in a wide array of venues (cafes, community halls, people homes). There were 27 community partners co-hosting the 23 events and 149 community-based organizations involved in the networking of this first phase of the project, which garnered rave reviews and played to 77% houses. Read more about Us and Them (the inquiry) here.

"Being the person who's story was used in an Us and Them (inquiry), it was at times uncomfortable to relive past injustices that still haunt me today, yet very liberating in sharing with others some of my life. Through David's thought-provoking and interactive model of inquiry, by the end, my story had transformed to "our story", because all of us present that evening were able to deconstruct it at a level that I myself still had not, and take home mental artifacts of that learning. Thank you! And by the way, my colleagues also raved about the experience."
Peter Wanyenya, audience member, Vancouver BC, Nov. 18, 2010

"Us and Them (the inquiry) has the power for both individual and societal transformation like no other theatre event I have ever witnessed. Be prepared to leave the venue viewing your relationships and interactions with others in a new light. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be talking and thinking about this event for a long time to come. "
Anna Vogt, audience member in Surrey BC, Oct. 24, 2010


• Skills transfer

26 people, who came to Us and Them (the inquiry) events, attended a focused, two-day and very successful training in Rainbow of Desire, the theatrical technique used for the inquiry events. Each trainee signed a letter of agreement with Headlines, saying they will mount an Us and Them (the inquiry) event in their own community within four months of the training, and will report back to Headlines, in writing, about the results.


• International component

Us and Them (the inquiry) events took place at Bethlehem, Jenin and Bir Zeit, as well as the UNRWA Girls' School in Ramallah in Palestinian Territory March 16 - 26, 2011 as part of the Ashtar Theatre Festival.


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Year 2: Us and Them

Us and Them (the inquiry) could have stood on its own as a legitimate project. However, in the second year (2011/12), Headlines' 30th Anniversary Season, we will take the research from the public inquiries and develop a large main stage production that fuses theatre and dance into a groundbreaking audience-interactive project.

Us and Them could tell so many stories. The best theatre focuses into a specific story.

I was very struck during the Inquiry events with how much audiences were ready, perhaps even hungry, for a new "model" a different lens through which to see the world and ourselves. There is a deep fatigue about the polarization all around us and also inside us. It is easy, of course, to sit back and judge others. It is more challenging to take the story into our personal lives. Into our workplaces, our families, our relationships. But of course, over and over again, we saw that it was and is the personal moments that create the larger picture.

So many times Paulo Freire's writing became relevant. His observation that winning the revolution is not the challenge; the real challenge is having won the revolution, not becoming the very thing we were fighting against. Why does this happen throughout history? I will suggest it happens because we trick ourselves into believing we are prisoners of the structures we inhabit and therefore focus our activism only on structural change. Nature teaches us that it is patterns of behaviour that create structure - not the other way around. So, of course, if we neglect changing our patterns of behaviour we are doomed, regardless of our good intentions, to recreate the very structures we have been fighting against.

In order to change patterns of behaviour we need to embrace the truth that in an interconnected universe the boundaries between "oppressor and oppressed" are very fuzzy. Are children born to rape? Born to torture? Born to discriminate? Born to rob or pillage? Of course not. What happens to us? How and why does humanity grow people and groups of people and institutions that oppress others? The answers are not, I believe, in the "big moments". They are in the small, human moments, woven throughout the individual stories of people's lives. This is also the territory of great theatre.

In terms of the upcoming play, at the moment we are thinking about how humanity turns in on itself; that a story that starts with 'us' deteriorates somehow into 'us' vs 'them' as now opposing sides dig into their own certainty; how assumptions grow; how violence in various forms manifests and how this is sometimes connected to issues of identity (race, religion, gender, etc.), economics and/or health (physical, mental).

We have to tell this story simply and in a grassroots way, and give audiences the freedom to expand the images themselves into the larger, universal arena. And so the current task is to search for workshop group of 14 and a cast of 6. We want these people to have knowledge of what it means to have found themselves ‘on the outside' in terms of identity; If they have ever created a division between 'me' and 'them'? To have a knowledge of what it means to be 'them'. We are looking for people who are willing to participate in a collective creative process. Recruitment material is available here. (Update: As of July 2011 we know have found the 6 cast members and the workshop participants).

In 1994 Headlines created and produced the critically acclaimed production, Mamu, which was a collaboration with Kevin Finnan, the Artistic Director of Motionhouse in the UK.

Mamu was a non-interactive performance piece, with facilitated discussion sessions after the show each night.

I want to experiment, coming into Headlines' 30th year. The audience interactive Forum Theatre work of the company is very powerful and recognized globally as at the leading edge of the theatrical form. As an artist, I want to challenge my own evolving work.

The subject matter of Us and Them, while needing definition to be able to tell an effective story, may also be highly metaphoric. Humans think in metaphor – this is what makes theatre and dance such powerful media. Dance, in particular, lends itself to metaphoric (and perhaps non-verbal) images.

Can we translate the potential for constructive social change inherent in Forum Theatre beyond the "realism" of community-created projects and into the metaphoric language of highly physical theatre?

Kevin Finnan and I met in 1984 in a workshop given by Augusto Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed. Kevin's journey as an artist has taken him to very high level performances and tours of theatrical dance creations. His roots, however, are intertwined with my own. Kevin has a lot of experience creating issue-based art with "non-dancers" ranging from work in prisons to work with people with severe physical disabilities. We are excited about creating this experiment together. Integrating theatre and dance means both languages are used simultaneously to forward the narrative of the play. It will become an interactive Physical Theatre piece. Together, we have the ability to create something very artistically innovative that is also thematically essential in today's world.

David Diamond, Artistic/Managing Director.