David Diamond
Publication Date
September 1, 2003

Headlines Theatre

In this essay, David Diamond uses three very different projects to discuss various approaches to using cultural work as a community development tool responding to issues of globalisation.

"Artists have a central role to play globally today, because cultural work that originates in community expression is the very heart of dialogue-creation on local, regional and international levels. Any process that stimulates true dialogue helps to combat the negative impacts of globalisation."

Through Headlines Theatre, a Vancouver, Canada–based company, David has entered a community, having been invited to do so, and worked with people in that community to help them tell the community's story using a symbolic language - the theatre. "I have come to see this work in every instance as creating space for dialogue. Whether it is working with street youth in Vancouver on criminalisation issues (Squeegee - 1999), the local activist community on global trade agreements (Corporate U - 2000), the local Muslim community on post Sept. 11 fears and desires (Reaching Across - Oct. 2001) or collaborating with artists and activists on privatisation-of-water issues (THIR$TY, scheduled for March 2002), or members of the Passamaquoddy Nation in Maine on issues of language reclamation (We Have to Find Our Voices – ongoing through 2003),the core impulse is the same: to create space where true dialogue can take place."

An excerpt describing one of David's projects, "Reaching Across", details the steps taken to produce the event and discusses the impact on the audience:

"As a response to events of September 11, we thought it would be a good idea to reach out into the local Muslim community. Phone calls led us to the head of the Muslim Youth Centre in Surrey, just outside Vancouver and a wonderful collaboration happened. The two hour event was called Reaching Across. There was no play, no actors and no script. Our desire was to create safe and creative space for two nights where people could come together to use the language of the theatre to explore the fears and desires that have surfaced between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and find ways to 'reach across' the fear.

Admission to the two nights was by donation and all proceeds went to the Muslim Youth Centre. Graphic artists donated a graphic. The Muslim Newspaper donated ad space. Other community papers did stories. The Croatian Cultural Centre donated space. Even the local butcher where the Muslim community buys its meat was handing out flyers with each purchase!

We used Boal's technique called Rainbow of Desire in which audience members populate the stage as characters that represent various, internal voices of fear and desire inside one person's (the story-teller's, or Protagonist's) head. I also develop a 'rainbow' for the Antagonist and then use the exercise to peel the layers of complexity away from what has become a largely symbolic moment for the community.

During the two nights, one in Surrey and one in Vancouver, about 170 people attended. The story the first night was offered by a youth. He is sitting watching the news with his parent. They have a screaming disagreement about US foreign policy – not for the first time. They walk out of the room in separate directions. The second night focussed on a woman's story: On September18 she had put a peace sign on the door of her apartment. A delegation from the building knocked on her door with a petition, signed by everyone in the building, saying the symbol was disrespectful to the families of the victims in NY and insisted she take it down.

The audience understood these moments in many ways. Certainly they were at the heart of many conversations I had had and heard about in the months of September/October, 2001. During the event we investigated with great care both sides of the equations. Muslims and non-Muslims worked and played together on the stage, switching roles, investigating fear, desire, assumptions, presumptions. We used the theatre in a very grassroots way, responding to current events in the moment, and in so doing helped people see and hear 'the other' through different eyes, while our Government made preparations for war. In the process we raised almost $500.00 to help support safe space for Muslim youth to gather in hostile times."

Editor's note: This article is no longer available online.