‘Hope is a verb’, says David Diamond, the founder and artistic director of Vancouver’s Theatre for Living. As the company celebrates 35 years of creating award-winning, interactive community theatre, Diamond reflects not only on what it takes to keep hope alive but also on what has effectively become his ‘life’s work’.
‘Nobody is more surprised than me,’ he jokes as he recalls the loose beginnings of the company in 1981 when it was ‘a group of writers, actors and directors frustrated by the housing problem’ who created theatre that toured the country addressing that issue.
35 years later Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre) has a remarkable body of work of over 550 projects and trainings not only in Canada but also throughout the world, addressing complex issues such as climate change, globalisation, rampant consumerism, endemic violence, substance abuse and addiction.
Influenced initially by the radical pedagogy of social educator Paolo Freire, Diamond later trained with Augusto Boal, adapting Forum Theatre and other Boal methodology.
Boal called Diamond’s work ‘extraordinary and groundbreaking’ referring in particular to his adaptation of Forum Theatre for TV and the Internet and most notably, his highly acclaimed work with First Nation communities throughout Canada.
Diamond, who, among many awards, has received an honorary PhD from the University of Fraser Valley, the Otto René Castillo Award for Political Theatre and the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Harmony Award and the Mayor’s Award for Culturally Engaged Art, attributes some of the success to the company’s approach when working with communities.
The work is being hosted by different organisations including a joint Jewish, Christian and Muslim organisation and environmental groups. For our North American friends you can find more information on www.theatreforliving.com.
Later in the year Diamond will be joining the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he has been asked by the Dean to help change the culture of the teaching environment using the Theatre for Living approach.
At the same time fund raising has already started for a large 2017 project that is examining the reality behind ‘reconciliation’ in Canada, ‘what does reconciliation really look like in today’s society?’.
David Diamond rejoices in what he considers a great privilege ‘ I get to have crazy ideas and do them…and work with incredible people in intimate and interesting ways!’
When I first met Hector at the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed conference in Austin 2010, I was impressed by his open, clear energy and his strong but gentle presence; when I found out about his work and life experience I was truly inspired. Hector Aristizabal embodies hope.
The founder of ImaginAction, a social theatre company based in Los Angeles, Aristizabal is himself a survivor of violence who was captured and tortured by military groups, and who lost his brother to the violent events that have ravaged his native Colombia. A true artist and social practitioner, Aristizabal combines the aesthetic and transformative power of theatre and performance with his own experience of extreme oppression into a creative source of power to help communities around the world. His work has taken him to many zones of conflict including Palestine, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan.
When I spoke to Aristizabal earlier in December he had just returned from Gaziantep, a region of Turkey bordering war torn Syria. He had been teaching theatre techniques such as Boal’s Image Theatre and Rainbow of Desire to the staff of a German organisation working with Syrian refugees. Most of the traumatised asylum seekers had fled the city of Aleppo where bombs have left the town in ruins.
“Sometimes when we were eating people around the table showed me photos on their phones of the (destroyed) town…sadly everyone had photos of people who had died or who they might never see again”, he recounted.
“What we can do with the theatre is create a container for the stories and that alone is very humanising and healing…sometimes all we need is for our stories to be heard and theatre allows many ways of processing, where people recognise themselves, their story and their humanity.”
Speaking from Colombia, Aristizabal was about to embark on the next phase of an ongoing reconciliation project that he holds close to his heart. He spoke excitedly and optimistically about the healing process that had been taking place in Bojaya, in the region of Choco where 119 people were massacred and 6,000 displaced by FARC (guerillas) in 2002.
Working with FARC, para-military, military and locals from the region, Aristizabal is hopeful about the role that theatre has played in facilitating alternatives to violence. When asked why theatre matters Aristizabal is quick to respond:
“Theatre is the closest thing to life itself because it is something that happens once and cannot be repeated; yet different because it’s a symbolic game; it’s a human laboratory par excellence”.
“…theatre is a place where humans can learn about ourselves and our behaviours; reinvent ourselves and rehearse our life”.
This means really learning the skill of improvising and this means having good awareness of yourself; ‘know thyself and be thyself!’
3. Invest in your professional development
For Sorenson, this is a service and it has to be done with love and tolerance and no judgments, continually developing cultural competencies so that you can accomplish something ‘…a moment to shine’.