In the summer of 2008, I traveled to Universidad Javeriana, Cali, Colombia, to take part in the E.F.E. (Español Funcional para Extranjeros) program. This is a Spanish language course offered as part of The Twinning Agreement, a faculty exchange arrangement between Gonzaga and Seattle Universities in the US, and Universidad Javeriana in Colombia. US faculty travel to Javeriana, study Spanish for six weeks, and are asked to initiate a project with faculty counterparts from Javeriana. Projects reflect the interest of faculty and have ranged from water treatment to ministry or, in my case, theatre.
I was paired with Juan Palencia (English) and John Alex Castillo (Media) who both assisted me in carrying out my project, which was to locate a group of actors, theatre enthusiasts, and acting students, and hold a workshop on basic acting technique. I hoped that from this workshop, the group might develop a performance that could be presented to an audience from Javeriana and the surrounding community. As my time was short, my expectations were modest. Happily, seven participants committed to the work, and we presented a short, original folk play, La maldición de Doña Luz, based on a story about a witch, a magical bird, and a proud boy that one of our group brought in.
An audience attended and enjoyed the performance; the actors too were satisfied with the experience. Ultimately, the project was considered a success. I hoped that if I ever had the opportunity to return, I could work on a piece of more depth, hopefully with more experienced actors.
I had just that opportunity in the summer of 2010. Gonzaga University, being a Catholic and Jesuit institution, concerns itself with social justice issues and service learning. So when, at a planning session for Colombia, a colleague spoke of his work on forgiveness and reconciliation, I was interested—perhaps [End Page 157] this could be the focus of my theatre work. He encouraged me, citing the example of South Africa, where theatre has served as a vehicle to explore this theme. I emailed my counterpart, John Alex Castillo, told him of my proposed theme (forgiveness and reconciliation), and I was happy to hear that he wanted to work on this project; fortunately, he would be free of artistic commitments during the weeks of my stay.
My fantasy of the project went something like this: actors would gather stories from Colombia’s recent troubled past and we would dramatize them. The reality turned out differently. When I met with John Alex in Colombia, we decided that we did want to work with stories of forgiveness and reconciliation, perhaps in a form of documentary theatre. Also, members of the experimental troupe Altergesto (Other Gesture) he founded over ten years ago would also be available. This was great news because it fulfilled my hope of working with experienced artists, as opposed to newcomers; new actor resistance and self-consciousness would not be a barrier.
We also decided that we wished to involve the audience, making them true participants in the work. John Alex suggested that to aid audience participation, we present in a non-traditional or “found space.” This all sounded great, but there was a tension in our process before we even began: how to present stories while also actively involving the audience in a non-traditional space? Stories suggest plot and character, the stuff of traditional acting and directing, which also implies the traditional role of the audience as passive spectators, consumers of stories. This style of presentation would not produce the outcome we sought in terms of our audience or space. We would work through this contradiction in the first weeks of our meetings.
By the end of the first week and a half, we had gathered material of two forms:
1. Five stories around ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation brought back by our actors.
2. Three extended improvisations around our theme:
a. negative space explorations,
b. finding gestures to express forgiveness and reconciliation,
c. repetition exercises around our theme.
The gathering of stories and improvisations were attempts to try and find a language to express what forgiveness and reconciliation might look like, might...