Us and Them: The Inquiry Image

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Us and Them / About

a theatrical inquiry during 2010/11 about our need to create the other. The project builds into Headlines' 30th Anniversary  mainstage production in 2011/12


About 90% of Headlines' work happens as a response to an invitation from a community or an organization. The original impulse for this project is personal, and we now have tremendous support from a broad diversity of community organizations.

What makes it possible for people to:

Hoard food or money?
Over consume with no regard for others or the planet?
Racially profile?
Witness hardship and even atrocity and not reach out?
Plan and carry out the annihilation of cultural or ethnic groups?
Pollute someone else's "back yard"?
Drop (so many different kinds of) bombs on people?
Turn a blind eye, a deaf ear?

WWhat makes all 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"?

A new revolution is required on the planet. Somehow, we must find a way to let go of our mechanistic need for certainty – our need to know that "we" are right and entitled and therefore "they" must be wrong and not entitled.  We must find a way to relax into the certainty of UNcertainty – to know that in whatever geography, whatever politic, whatever context, there is no certain "them"; there is only an ever-evolving us.

What can a theatre company do?

Theatre for Living has evolved from Augusto Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed". Since 1989 Headlines' work has slowly moved away from the binary language and model of "oppressor/oppressed" and now approaches community-based cultural work from a systems-based perspective: understanding that a community is a complexly integrated, living organism.

Humans think in metaphor. Theatre is a metaphoric language. Combining this with the immediacy of flesh and blood authentic stories makes theatre a very powerful medium for self-reflection and transformation.

Us and Them hopes to live in a territory of what John Paul Lederach1 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."

We are proposing a multi-layered,  two year long project. In the first year (2010/11) we will mount a series of up to 20 public inquiries on our experiences of Us and Them, using a similar Theatre for Living format as our very successful public workshops on global warming: 2° of Fear and Desire. (See below for a detailed explanation.) During this phase we will also do a Vancouver-based skills transfer, so that people can take the theatre techniques into their own lives and work.

"2° of Fear and Desire was the most profound activism I have ever witnessed."
Molly Caron, Vancouver BC (March, 2008)

"I had a great time at 2° of Fear and Desire. It takes honesty and sacrifice to change profoundly. I understood that while at 2°. Thank you very much for the courage and determination to face reality in a very interesting way and inviting us to do the same."
Oliver Lane, Vancouver BC (March, 2008)

Us and Them (the inquiry) could stand on its own as a legitimate large project. However, in the second year (2011/12), which will also be Headlines' 30th Anniversary Season, we will take the research from the public inquiries and develop a large main stage production.

Us and Them (the play) could tell so many stories. The best theatre focuses into a specific story. During the inquiry phase, we will let the public events help us find potential workshop participants and cast members, an understanding of the human motivations that lead to the creation of "the other", and therefore also help determine the content and the form of the main stage project in the next year.

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The booking process for events in Metro Vancouver

Go to the events listing in Metro Vancouver

These Inquiry events can happen almost anywhere where space can be contained and controlled. In cafés, theatres, community halls, churches, homes, workplaces, enclosed courtyards…we will offer up to 20 of these events during the months of October and November 2010 in Metro Vancouver.

Through our 29 years of community-based theatre work, Headlines has very effective networks. The schedule ranges from a two evening "run" at the Rhizome Café (2° of Fear and Desire played in this venue to great success), to "one-night only" events in interested parties' living-rooms.2 We have the ability to network the events into a broadly diverse set of communities and circumstances, which would be of great benefit to an inquiry of Us and Them.

We will not charge community organizers for the event, but we will take donations at the door, to generate some income. The average donation is $6.00.

Community partnerships

Community partnerships are an essential element in the booking process for the Inquiry events and for the mainstage process the next year. As of August 24, 2010 these organizations will overtly 'use' this work, hosting events and activating their constituencies around the Inquiries in Phase I. They have committed to follow the process through to completion with us through the other Phases: (Serving youth/youth at risk): Qmunity, Transformative Communities Project Society, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Youth Initiative Canada, KAYA, Quirk-e, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (MPNH); (serving faith communities/organizations)Langley United Church, the Unitarian Church; (serving immigrants)Jews for a Just Peace, Agricultural Workers' Alliance, Collingwood Neighbourhood House, (also also MPNH above), North Shore Welcoming Committee, MOSAIC, Foundation Radio, Black Dot Roots and Culture Collective, National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre; (Serving broader communities including above) Phoenix Society,  First Nations House of Learning, Interurban Gallery, PHS Community Services, Heart of the City Festival, Neworld Theatre, Vancouver Coastal Health, SFU Dialogue Programs. The network will grow as we continue to work.

A full listing of Community Partners are available here.

These organizations will overtly 'use' this work, hosting events and activating their constituencies around the Inquiries and the mainstage.

A viral skills transfer

A hope for the inquiry phase is to give people in Metro Vancouver the tools to see, analyze, and work on this issue in their own contexts, and also to pass the tools along themselves. People do not have to be "theatre practitioners" to speak the language of theatre; it is a language that belongs to humanity.

As the public events happen, we will make audiences aware that in February 2011 we will offer a two day, very focused training in Rainbow of Desire. People must register for the training in advance. The training will be highly subsidized at $100 for the two days.3 We will look for a diverse group, who we feel are both committed to and capable of following through.

We will request that the trainees keep Headlines informed, in writing, of any events they do. In this way we can help them, and also receive very short reports about how things went and what they may have learned.

International component

A tentative invitation has also come to do Us and Them work in Palestine in March/April of 2011 as part of the Ashtar Theatre Festival. The logistics of this are currently being investigated. This opportunity would both expand the scope of the research, and seed the philosophy of the project in a vastly different context.

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Transitioning into the main stage project

Of course the inquiry events will create a "buzz" and enhance our already existing network. This will be beneficial to both the organizing and the audience development of the rest of the project.

We also expect that the inquiry will change, sometimes quite dramatically, from community to community, venue to venue. This richness is an asset. Patterns will become apparent, as will key people, both which will help us recognize the most relevant focus and possible participants/cast members of Us and Them (the play). The production will be mounted during October/November of 2011 as Headlines' 30th Anniversary production.

A theatre/dance collaboration and innovation to Forum Theatre

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

"…(Mamu is) a bold, ambitious and breathtakingly imaginative play…achingly beautiful images."
Barbara Crook, Vancouver Sun (1994)

"…flying actors, a spectacular musical soundscape and more imagination and genuine passion that you'll see in a full season at most Canadian theatres...(Mamu is) one of the most moving and powerful pieces of theatre I've ever had the privilege of experiencing."
Mark Leiren-Young, Theatrum Magazine (1994)

Go to Mamu Home Page

In 2002, Headlines collaborated with dancer/choreographer Kathryn Ricketts (who was at that time Artistic Director of Vancouver's Main Dance) on THIR$TY a play on water privatization.

"…moments (in THIR$TY) are intensely physical, and the seven tons of water that make up the set distill a complex range of emotions, enhanced by Noah Drew's seductive sound design. In the play's haunting final image (the actors) waltz in water littered with corpses, while the empty bottles float on the surface, providing a whispered percussion. … moments of visual, visceral poetry have enough resonance to make you think differently next time you turn on the tap."
Kathleen Oliver, Georgia Straight, March 2002

Go to THIR$TY Home Page

Mamu and THIR$TY were both non-interactive performance pieces, with facilitated discussion sessions after the show each night.

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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 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 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. We also share the same definitions of "collaboration" – not a "my turn, your turn" process, but a "together" process. Integrating theatre and dance means both languages are used simultaneously to forward the narrative of the play. Together, we have the ability to create something very artistically innovative that is also thematically essential in today's world.

The Theatre for Living workshop and creation/rehearsal process

Throughout the course of the Inquiry process we will have gathered a diverse group of 20 participants who are 'living the issues' and who want to participate in the larger, mainstage project. In June 2011, we will interview all the participants and decide on a cast that is representative of the core issues that rose up from the Inquiry.4 The reason to do this is so that the workshop itself is not an audition. It is important that each person coming into the process knows what their involvement and time commitment will be.

All 20 workshop participants will be paid to participate in a week long Theatre for Living

workshop, out of which will emerge the "territory" in which a Forum Theatre play will live. What are these people's specific experiences of Us and Them? Why and how have the 'dividing lines' been drawn? What has this meant to the health of the individuals and the communities they inhabit?

Using the workshop as the material from which the performance grows, the cast, a professional production team of designers and Kevin and I, will have 6 weeks to create an artistic production to perform. This is essentially the same creation model used in after homelessness… (2009),  Meth (2006), and Here and Now (2005), and many other main stage plays, except that the creation/rehearsal time is three weeks longer. I want more time because of the physical nature of creating a theatre/dance collaboration. We will be pushing boundaries, both artistically and physically, and this cannot be rushed. Some of this time will be spent building up a vocabulary and the physical strength of the cast, who will not necessarily be "dancers" or "actors". 5

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The Performances

Of course it is impossible to say at this point what the actual content of the play will be. It should ask questions we actually don't have the answers to, about what takes humanity down this path of "othering".

We will schedule 20 performances over a 3-week period. We are currently in conversation with two venues: the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and the Roundhouse Community Centre, both medium sized, professionally equipped theatres in Vancouver.

The Community Network

As with all of Headlines' work, Us and Them will come together with strong links to community organizations who are working on the issues central to the production. The opportunity for the organizations is to use the play as a way to fulfill their own mandates and serve their constituencies by participating in the Inquiry phase and through that, participant/cast recruitment. And, of course, the performances and Forum Theatre events. Historically, a Headlines' main stage project has attracted the direct participation of (on average) 100+ community organizations.

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Reaching further (a live, interactive tele/web cast)

Headlines has a long-standing relationship with SHAW Community Television. We have tele/web cast many of our main stage productions with SHAW's co-operation.

The tele/webcasts reach a truly global audience. We have had viewers and live, interactive interventions from across Metro Vancouver, Canada and the US as well as Australia, the Philippines, Japan, India, Croatia, Germany, Israel, and other locations.

A great deal of effort goes into these broadcasts, but they are very exciting and increase the reach of the project tremendously. The broadcast also leaves us with an archival DVD of the event. We do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars, nor do we have a mainstream broadcaster. However, the barriers to accessibility are breaking down more and more every day. Part of this experiment will be to engage with people early on who know how to use social networking sites to increase Internet viewership.

With an eye to touring

The production would be designed to tour. Depending on the success of the Vancouver run, the play could then be marketed as a "magnet" around which discussions, planning sessions, other performance, etc. on specific local Us and Them issues could take place in communities across Canada. The tour would be booked in parallel, with a theatre venue and local community organizations working together to bring the production into town.

Why is this project important?

John Paul Lederach, mentioned above, is very affirming as far as my beliefs about the effectiveness of theatre in these issues. At the heart of his book, The Moral Imagination, is his discovery that his own work and the work of his colleagues in the peace-making sector has been 'upside down'. Common practice in brokering peace agreements is to try to understand the complexity of the conflict and design an agreement that deals with that complexity. Over and over again this hasn't worked. Why? Because humans act and react for simple reasons, not complex reasons. A peace agreement must recognize the simple, core reasons for the conflict and address these; the complexity will build, through the living communities of the affected people, from the simple, truthful recognition and addressing of the core issues.

I strongly believe a new kind of revolution is required on the planet; one that recognizes there is no "them", only an ever-evolving "us". I thought a lot about this after an international gathering of "Theatre of the Oppressed" practitioners in Rio de Janeiro in July, 2009. Something coalesced in my mind on this trip, in conversations with many. It is all about what we want. What do we want?

A Palestinian woman I talked with at dinner one night, understood this. There she was, sitting next to an Israeli man who served in the military; a man who had literally, personally, been involved in military actions in her community that affected her family. He is a very courageous guy; he has the ability to accept responsibility for these actions, to talk about them, apologize for them, dissect how they happened, and the process he went through. Also, at the same time, he insists on being related to NOW, not THEN. She, also in her courageousness, admits that a part of her hates him – and a part of her recognizes his hope and courage.

In the mechanistic lens through which I believe much of the world today gazes, he would 'not be worth our bother'. I don't mean him today, but the man who was in the military, before his transition, before he started questioning anything. He'd be the oppressor who will always be the oppressor; he'd have no chance of change. And yet here he was.

She talked about how she recognizes that with THEATRE FOR LIVING, I am hoping for a different paradigm, outside the oppressor/oppressed model. She talked about how much she wants to embrace and live in that other paradigm, and how scary and challenging it is.

Its true. It is filled with uncertainty, in a world that wants to be certain. The certainty is on the two sides of a coin. One side of the coin:  the oppressed. The other side: the oppressor. They are fixed there. They can't really see or hear each other on their opposite sides of the coin, and yet they are inextricably bound to each other. My impulse is to throw the coin away, and find a new currency. Humanity needs a new model.

At Headlines, we know it is very unlikely that one theatre project will accomplish this kind of shift in global consciousness. We also know we can make an important contribution. This creative model, developed and constantly adapted over many years of work, involves the public in real dialogue: dialogue that leads to individual and community transformation. Taking on this subject matter also feels very appropriate for Headlines' 30th year.

1 John Paul Lederach is one of the world's foremost experts on peacebuilding and reconciliation. He is Professor of International Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and Distinguished Scholar at Eastern Mennonite University's Conflict Transformation Program. His books: The Moral Imagination (2005); The Journey Toward Reconciliation (1999); Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (1997). back to text

2 We have already had a request for an event in a home. back to text

3 Deeper subsidy will be available on a discretionary basis. back to text

4 If more than 20 people apply, which is highly likely, we will need to do selection interviews for the 14 workshop participants as well as the cast of 6 = 20 participants. back to text

5 Some could be professionals, if they are also 'living the issues'. Mixing the casts this way has proven to be very effective in previous projects. back to text