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Theater’s Power to Unite and Heal

By Rick Pender · May 25th, 2011 · Curtain Call

I have a dramatic story for you, dramatic in every sense of the word — impressive and theatrical.

It’s about a collaborative project involving drama students and a professor from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and others in Dadaab, Kenya, the site of the world’s largest refugee camp, a desolate place originally intended to accommodate 90,000 people but with a present population of roughly 300,000, mostly from Somalia.

Michael Littig and Juliana Bloodgood, both 2005 graduates of the CCM drama program, are the connection. Earlier this year they launched a small pilot theater group at the camp where they have engaged 10 young refugees, ages 18-30 — four Somalis, one Somali Bantu, one Sudanese and four Ethiopians. Two are writers, two are dancers, three are musicians and three are actors. Working with Save the Children, Bloodgood and Littig have developed “child friendly spaces” where kids from 3-12 can have the freedom of creative play. They have also established two clubs, one focused on drama and another on leadership. They are assembling a Dadaab Theater Festival for June.

Bloodgood and Littig founded their project to recognize humanity in the face of others, especially outside the American narrative.

“As artists,” they have written, “we believe in the power of art to unite people and to heal even the most broken spirits.”

Their efforts will connect the young refugee theater artists in Dadaab with five current CCM drama students — senior Mikayla Stanley, juniors Cameron Davis and Kristopher Dean, sophomore Will Kiley and freshman Alyssa Caputo — and department chair Richard Hess, who have created an original theater piece about identity, The Collapsible Space Between Us, in preparation for a trip to work with the troupe in Kenya.

The piece was presented in a benefit performance on May 21 at CCM.

According to Dean, “This is my first opportunity to use my art to tell stories that must be told. I am going to Kenya to share, to listen, to grow and to return with stories that I must tell.”

Hess looks forward to the experience.

“As a theater teacher and director, I believe in storytelling,” he says. “I believe in celebrating diversity through storytelling, and I believe that we must find a way to expose students to our multicultural world. As an artist, I believe we must go where we are afraid to go and listen to and share with those whose voices have been marginalized.”

The CCM team will work with Littig and Bloodgood’s group of artists and refugees to share performance work, engage in leadership training, take master classes and share dialogue. In particular, their joint efforts will culminate in another original piece of theater to be performed in Nairobi on World Refugee Day, June 20, sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The student group from CCM is the only such delegation from the United States participating in the project.

Their partnership has a lofty goal: “Using theatrical facilitation as a tool for communication, expression, transformation and healing, we want to inspire these refugee youth in creating their own opportunities and platforms for positive personal and community change.”

To learn more about this effort, I urge you to go to www.ccmdadaab.com and watch the powerful video. You’ll be moved in a most dramatic way.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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