“What is it like for you to act in a country so far away from your home?” an elementary school student asks the performer on stage, leaning forward in his chair. As the moderator for a post-performance talk-back of Stella Den Haag’s Rumplestiltskin, I was struck by the sincerity of the question, and the dialogue between artist and audience that followed. As I listened to the Dutch actors respond about their personal experiences performing abroad, I realized that the impact of international performance presented to a New York audience extends far beyond the content of the show. Don’t get me wrong, the latest international offerings at The New Victory from the Netherlands, the Zoem New Dutch Theater festival, represent some of the most exciting performances for young audiences in the world, offering imaginative storytelling and demonstrating innovation in both content and form. But in addition to the actual show, the international exchange that occurs between a New York City student and a foreign performer is an incredibly valuable educational and cultural experience in itself. These moments offer students a window outside of their neighborhood and a glimpse into the lives of people from around the globe, expanding their world view and breaking down barriers of language and cultural difference.
|One of a Kind Photo: Eyal Landesman|
During the following season, Dodgy Clutch’s Elephant offered an African folktale performed by a cast of South African and British performers. The show was a mash-up of cultures and artistic forms that allowed the audience to experience the show on two levels: the emotional story and artistry of the performance and the cultural blending within the acting company. The student response at Manhattan International High School was particularly overwhelming. As a school that draws students from literally around the globe, and with many of its students brand new to the country, Manhattan International is a melting pot where students from diverse backgrounds collaborate. Not only were the students excited by the representation of African culture on a stage on 42nd Street, but the show’s creative team embodied the type of cultural exchange that is inherent in their school community. This experience inspired the students at Manhattan International to create a performance at the end of the year that reflected their own cultures and lives.
|Wuthering Heights, Restless Souls Photo: Joep Lennarts|
In our travels to scout work all over the world, it is clear that artists from the US are not as frequently represented at international conferences and festivals as one might hope. While funding is a constant obstacle, it is important for our community to understand the value of art as a vehicle for cultural exchange - and do what we can to ensure that local artists are also bringing their work to young people in other countries. At the same time, international artists are struggling for funding in the realities of the economic climate and are having a harder time getting visas to perform in the US. How can we ensure that international exchange remains a vibrant and thriving part of our cultural ecosystem? “I want to travel the world like you,” remarks the student at the end of the talk-back with the Dutch performers, making me realize how important it is to keep this door open.
For more on Zoem New Dutch Theater, check out Dennis Meyer's blog posts on the state of theater for young audiences in the Netherlands.
Jonathan Shmidt is the Assistant Director of Education at The New Victory Theater. He manages the New Victory Education Partnership Program, which provides 30,000 students with access to school-time performances and in-classroom workshops. Jonathan is on the adjunct faculty for the Program in Educational Theatre at New York University. He has collaborated on Theater for Young Audiences initiatives with the Boston Lyric Opera, Theater Offensive and Immediate Medium. Jonathan is the co-founder of YEA: Young Educators in the Arts, a networking group for emerging professionals in Arts Education. He holds a Masters Degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. @jshmidt