Arena Stage’s Voices of Now program, which organizes ensembles of young people who devise and perform original works of theater, has earned a grant from the State Department to send the nine members of Arena’s community engagement department to India. There, in four cities over three weeks in January, Arena’s staff will lead Voices of Now workshops and productions with local children and teenagers.
This will be Arena’s third international partnership with the State Department; Voices of Now went to India last October and is spending three weeks in Croatia this month.
Anita Maynard-Losh, Arena’s director of community engagement, was part of last year’s India trip and will go on the upcoming journey, too. Last year’s visit attracted a range of participants, she said. There were “people from different backgrounds: women who had been rescued from trafficking; college students; theater people; [homeless] ‘platform’ children.”
“We worked with them to create autobiographical pieces of theater that explored questions of social justice that were important to that particular group,” she said, adding that the groups wound up skewing much younger than she’d expected. The youngest students in U.S. groups tend to be about 14; in India, 6- and 8-year-olds joined in.
Voices of Now “creates a safe space for people to share information,” she said. “There were groups [whose members] did not know each other at all, so you’d hear somebody talk about their experience in trafficking, and other participants in more fortunate circumstances saying, ‘I’ve always heard that this has happened but I’ve never known anyone before, who had that happen [to them].’ . . . And it helped cross certain kinds of social barriers that still exist there, as well as everywhere in the world.”
Voices of Now will travel from Jan. 13-29 through Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Performances will be live-streamed.
Although the language barrier was a challenge last time around — Maynard-Losh recalls needing a desk clerk at a hotel to translate a poem “in the wee hours of the night ” — none of the Arena staff speaks Bengali or Hindi. “We have been very lucky in that every place we have been, there have been members of the ensembles who have very good English skills, and they help translate,” she said. “And we have a lot of help from the State Department.”
As for the surprises, whether they were about the size of the ensembles or the languages they did (or didn’t) speak, “What we found was, you just roll with that, and see the benefit” of it, Maynard-Losh said. “Oh, look, it works with younger people! Oh it works with a bigger group! It works in a different language!”
“The idea of the program is to build community, to promote a dialogue across populations that may not usually talk to each other, and to publicly give voice to populations that may not traditionally be heard,” she said.
Maynard-Losh is hopeful that Voices of Now will be put to use in other ways, such as “bringing people together who are on opposite sides of a conflict and seeing if this works on conflict resolution.”
Have you thought about bringing it to Congress?
“Oh, I was thinking about war-torn countries,” she said. “But you may be on to something with that idea.”
Readers, please jump in your DeLoreans and travel with me to a beautiful, simple time: 1998.
Leo’s on the inside of every locker, Tara Lipinski just skated triple axels around Michelle Kwan. The Unabomber is serving four life sentences without parole, so breathe easy on that front. And in relevant, local news — for and about Washington, for now! — “The Fix,” a rock musical about all the sketchy, scandalous characters in American politics, has its U.S. premiere at Signature Theatre.
For its 25th anniversary season, Signature is bringing back “The Fix,” a production which, unless the political process somehow gets squeaky clean between press time and when you read this, is as relevant a show today as it ever was. “The Fix” will run in 2015, from May 12 to June 28.
“I say it’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ meets ‘Caligula,’ ” said Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, who directed the 1998 production and will helm 2015’s as well. For the young’uns, that basically means it’s like “Scandal” meets, well, “Scandal.”
The script will be getting some tweaks to allow for changes in “the communication things, sending this picture and that,” Schaeffer said. Even our fictional politicians don’t know that no one wants to catch them with their pants down on Twitter. “John [Dempsey, who wrote the book and lyrics] is looking to make it even more dangerous.”