A downtown Los Angeles theater, a play written by an Italian about a Russian journalist and performed bilingually, a call to free an Iranian political prisoner ““ it’s just another day in the life of social activist Bari Hochwald.
President and artistic director of the Global Theatre Project, Hochwald has gathered a group of volunteers, fellow activists, performance artists and professionals to stage a multi-faceted theatrical event and fundraiser with socio-political underpinnings.
The evening, entitled ESPECIALLY NOW: Create the World Together, comprises three acts. It will be staged at the Los Angeles Theatre Center next Sunday, December 11.
First is an elaborately staged reading of Florentine playwright Stefano Massini’sÂ play A Stubborn Woman, a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya, to be performed by an ensemble of nine young actors from the US and Italy.
Next is a panel discussion that will explore the impact on civil rights in developing and existing democracies when journalists suffer violent reprisal for reporting truth in conflict zones. Formed in collaboration with the International Women’s Media Foundation, panel members include attorney-turned-Hollywood-journalist Allison Hope Weiner and Amnesty International Western regional field director Kalaya’an Mendoza, with the panel moderated by longtime journalist, teacher and radio documentary producer Sandy Tolan, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC.
Observes Tolan, “There are a lot of places, outside of more comfortable countries such as the United States, where journalists frequently risk their lives to tell the truth. It happens occasionally in so-called Western countries also, but in countries like Mexico and in war zones around the world, and of course in Russia, as we so clearly see in Stefano Massini’s play, people risk their lives to try to bring the truth to a broader public. Here in the US we enjoy a greater freedom than many other countries but we often take those freedoms for granted. We don’t appreciate, sometimes, what risks people go through to try to tell us what’s actually happening. The courage of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya has been an inspiration to me during my 30-year career. People in the West don’t always realize what the cost is of the work that they do, especially when people are fighting and risking their lives for freedom against the forces that don’t want the truth to come out, whether it is a drug cartel or the people who conspired to murder Anna Politkovskaya. Unfortunately it often appears that those forces are winning. It takes plays like this one to shed light on…their situation, as well as organizations such as the International Women’s Media Foundation.”
The discussion will be focused on the topic “Who is the enemy?” This dialogue will be sparked by audience participation, as Hochwald intends to pass out a simple questionnaire, asking participants to answer the topic posed.Â Their responses, and the subsequent discussion, will be implemented to seed her next project, which has the goal of a theatrical staging entitled Who is the Enemy? This next work will be researched and devised over the next couple of years by American actor and playwright Victor Bumbalo under Hochwald’s direction. (Readers who would like to participate in the “Who is the Enemy?” project can simply answer that question and send the answers — whether a word, a few sentences or a page — to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Commenting on the discussion topic, Tolan recalls his Milwaukee childhood. “I used to read Walt Kelly’s old Pogo cartoon in the afternoon newspaper. It was one of my dad’s favorite things, and I’ve repeated this quote from the cartoon over the years, “˜We have met the enemy and he is us.’ I think that’s the best answer, but it’s certainly not the only answer. A lot of times the enemy can be found in our inability to understand or our willful ignorance or even our own greed. The way that we often use subtle and even unconscious prejudice to decide that a certain group are terrorists or drug dealers or lazy or inherently hostile to us is all based on fear. Fear is the fertile ground of ignorance, so if you can get some knowledge and awareness then you can wipe a lot of that out.”
The third act of the evening is an on-stage reception for those seated in the orchestra, while those in the “cheap seats” in the balcony (and others) are invited to assemble in the lobby and participate in a call to action led by actor James Cromwell and representatives from Amnesty International. Actor and activist Mike Farrell also will join Cromwell to support the Amnesty action. Participants will be asked to sign petitions and tape video messages petitioning for the release of Majid Tavakkoli [spelled Tavakoli in some English language media], a young student in Iran who has been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for speaking out against his government during a university rally.
The evolution of the Global Theatre Project.
It’s an ambitious project, but that’s nothing new for Hochwald. The director formed the Global Theatre Project in Los Angeles in 2010. It evolved from a locally focused theater group called the Florence International Theatre Company she created and ran in Florence, Italy fromÂ 2005 to 2010.Â But GTP has a more international focus. Hochwald maintains that Global Theatre Project seeks to promote cross-cultural alliances and improve the perception of Americans abroad by placing two segments of the citizenry into productive action — professional theater artists and youth.
Since she moved back to Los Angeles earlier this year, Hochwald has staged three Global Theatre Projects on two continents. The Belarus Free Theatre Project (http://www.lastagetimes.com/2011/02/being-belarus-free-theatre/) was staged in February, also at LATC. The celebrity reading of Being Harold Pinter, a compilation ofÂ Pinter’s words from his plays and his Nobel Prize speech, was combined with statements by political prisoners of Belarus. The evening served to shine a spotlight on Belarus Free Theatre, a group of theatrical artists in Belarus who literally risk their lives to stage theater and inform their audience.
In April the multi-lingual Shakespeare Project was produced as Global Theatre Project’s second annual participation in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare birthday celebration. Around 75 residents and theater artists, from teens to senior citizens, came together to createÂ The “Double Double” Sonnet Project in downtown LA.
Hochwald returned to Florence this past summer as part of the Global Creative Campus Initiative and worked with university students to workshop and present Massini’s play A Stubborn Woman”¦ in an open-air piazza. ESPECIALLY NOW: Create the World Together marks the fourth “happening” for this socially aware group.
About the play and its subject.
Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, author and human rights activist known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and then-Russian president Vladimir Putin. On October 7, 2006, she was shot and killed in the elevator of her apartment block residence. Her assassination remains unsolved and continues to attract international attention.
Written following her murder, Massini’s drama presents an array of frightening “snapshots” from the frontlines of the inferno of the Chechen war. Atrocities and abominations, scenes ofÂ violence and attempts at critical analysis follow one another, as seen through the eyes of reporters and those involved on both sides of the conflict. A descent through horror, Massini’s play becomes a reflection on the freedom of the press and on the gritty profession of journalism.
Hochwald says Massini wrote A Stubborn Woman, a theatrical memorandum on Anna Politkovskaya because of a comment he heard on the news shortly after the murder, when a Russian official disavowed all knowledge of the importance of this assassination by remarking, “I’m sorry, I have no idea who Anna Politkovskaya is.” Massini could not believe that an official of Russia could claim he wasn’t aware of such an acclaimed, confrontational and award-winning journalist and was compelled to find out why he would make such a statement. In doing so, the playwright immersed himself in all her notes, journals and her articles and became committed to creating a piece of theater that kept the memory and works of Politkovskaya alive, exposing what it was she saw and reported on that posed such a threat to the establishment. Massini’s play also makes a powerful statement on freedom of the press and truth telling.
Massini has said,Â “I cannot stand by and do nothing. It is my obligation as an artist to respond to my world.” His play will be presented bilingually, with video-projected supertitles translating English and Italian.
For her acting ensemble, Hochwald has cast nine young actors and one musician. The director explains, “The format of Massini’s play is completely open to interpretation by each director and production. It has been performed as a one-person show, it has been performed with 13 actors…The playwright gives no instructions on the staging of the play. He feels that it is up to the directors of each presentation to interpret the play as they see fit.”
Under Hochwald’s direction, three of the actors serve as narrative voices while six others speak collectively and in unison, much like a classical Greek chorus. Eugene Alper will accompany the performance on guitar. Born and raised in the Soviet Union and a member of the Antaeus Company, Alper performs renditions of traditional Russian songs.
Massini’s non-linear play has 11 “snapshots.” Hochwald describes how each piece has its own identity. “The first piece, Ambush, gives the historical context. Another piece, The Human Faggot, has Politkovskaya speaking to a young orphan soldier in Grozny about killing Chechens. Then there are moments during that piece where the other two narrative actors explain the history of how those kids got where they are, by commenting and educating.”
Some pieces are introspective and observational, some involve dialogue, while some segments have a narrative aspect. Says Hochwald, “I have one of the narrative actors speaking in Italian and expressing Politkovskaya’s interior thoughts, while the conversation swirls around her.” The director hastens to add that no single actor will portray Politkovskaya. Rather, she says, this is an integrated rendition of a writer’s life and work, rendered theatrically. “There are 10 performers on stage, all of whom are telling her story.”
Hochwald says she’s not simply putting on a play ““ she’s trying to change the world. “Yeah, I am,” she laughs ruefully. “It’s a nutty thing! But I truly believe that we can. If we can just remember how we’re connected and how we all are part of the same community. Creative acts can remind us of that.”
“ESPECIALLY NOW: Create the World Together;” presented by Global Theatre Project. Sunday, Dec. 11. Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 1, 514 S Spring St, LA. Doors open at 6:30 pm. Event begins at 7 pm. Tickets: $15 for students and unemployed persons; $25 for balcony seating; $75+ for orchestra seating.Â Â www.globaltheatreproject.org. 818-823-0891.
Several excerpts from Massini’s play have been read on Italian television by Roberto Saviano on Rai Tre. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=538Vwzz0_VA ““ in Italian.)