In a world filled with anxiety and fear due to the ongoing pandemic, as theatres remained shuttered and the future seemed uncertain, a group of women from all over the world started an online project. These women met virtually during the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award 2020 event week. Initiated and developed by New Perspectives Theatre Company, Theatre from the Streets was launched in August 2021. This program’s goal was to reach a global community and combat biased narratives created by media and politics.
Theatre from the Streets was a weekly Zoom event that showcased original work by theatre artists from Venezuela, Palestine/Lebanon, and India. Each of the three regions presented twelve pieces. Each week three pieces were featured, curated by Iman Aoun (Ashtar Theatre; Palestine/Lebanon), Lupe Gehrenbeck (Teatro La Comarco; Venezuela), and Mallika Sarabhai (Darpana Academy of Performing Arts; India). Concluding with a moderated discussion allowed audience members to ask questions and discuss the context of politics, society, and injustice within each presented work.
When the program shifted from Palestine/Lebanon to Venezuela, the organizers observed common threads linking them. While each piece had a distinctly unique situation with cultural context, there have been unifying and universal themes for every artist regardless of national origin. As Iman Aoun, the organizer from Palestine stated in discussion with Golden Thread Productions, “I had never read or seen a Venezuelan play before.” She now has an interest in performing in or staging readings of plays from India and Venezuela for local audiences.
As many discovered during the Zoom era, there are countless difficulties to be faced in the presentation of online events. The organizers and artists from Palestine/Lebanon and Venezuela lacked reliable Internet and electricity; the pieces had to be presented in English, the common language of the project, but not a native language for the performers, to be accessible to a global audience. Regardless of the struggles endemic to the digital world the show went on and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In the Venezuela sessions, several pieces were about government oppression, leading many attendees to explore the nuances of their tense political situation. In India, where they have more resources than the other regions, political oppression is on the rise, creating dangerous situations for artists.
Melody Brooks of New Perspectives Theatre Company has dreams for the future of Theatre from the Streets. “We want to inspire the next generation of theatre-makers who will make a change,” she says, “so we’re targeting universities.” Other long-term goals include expanding the number of countries represented in the program, holding global festivals with the curated work, and creating a community of artists and activists around the world who are willing to take action and make a difference. But one thing has already happened: these artists have created something that has broken through the constructed narratives of their respective countries, sparking dialogue and stirring discussion.