- Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict. Volume I: Resistance and Reconciliation in Regions of Violence. and Volume II: Building Just and Inclusive Communities ed. by Cynthia E. Cohen, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, and Polly O. Walker
An artist/scholar/producer native to Uganda and studying in the United States reflects on the Ugandan National Theatre as both an agent of colonial domination and host to anti-colonial artistic resistance. A US-based artist/professor from Argentina narrates the moving use of theater to remember the disappeared and (in some cases) locate loved ones following state-sponsored violence and terror in Argentina and Peru. A US-based playwright/professor recalls a peacebuilding project responding to the Gujarat massacres in India, discussing performance that implicates many of its own participants and audience in acts of violence. A [End Page 582] legend of the US civil rights movement speaks to the spirit and efficacy of story circles as activist method, sharing his own stories of frank dialogues (and evaded dialogues) on racial, gender, and economic privilege. These are just a few of the compelling case studies and historical/theoretical explorations offered by the two-volume anthology Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, a valuable contribution to the fields of peace studies, performance studies, and performance and social change.
The anthology constellates a variety of artists working toward (differing notions of) peace, but more specifically it focuses on work that the editors believe exhibits what peacebuilding scholar John Paul Lederach calls the “moral imagination” (3). The editors describe the moral imagination as “the ability to stay grounded in the here and now, with all its violence and injustice, while still imagining and working toward a more life-affirming world” (3). Both volumes arise from a larger network of affiliations and events, including the Theatre Without Borders working group (which began in 2004) and the symposia, conferences, anthology, website, and documentary on peacebuilding performance that the working group has inspired in the years since. Supported by a collaboration with Brandeis University, those outgrowths of Theatre Without Borders—conferences, anthology, documentary, and website—have come to constitute collectively the Acting Together project, which connects artists creating in myriad locations around the globe. As the editors themselves acknowledge, the anthology is heavy on US voices, due to the origins of the initial Theatre Without Borders working group and the project’s Brandeis affiliation, but the collection does largely avoid the familiar trap of representing the United States as somehow outside or above devastating violence.
The editors have organized the types of violence addressed by the anthology into three categories, while recognizing that the lines dividing those categories occasionally blur. Volume I, section one describes case studies of performances happening in the context of direct, ongoing, largely physicalized violence and destruction. Volume I, section two documents performances responding to violence and human rights violations after the fact. Volume II, section one takes on forms of structural violence: poverty, racism, sexism, ageism, capitalism, colonialism, to name just a few. In this respect, the anthology wisely maintains a capacious sense of what “counts” as violence, also attending to forms of injury and oppression that do not necessarily leave tangible or visible scars on flesh. Epistemological violence matters deeply in this collection; the editors and many of the contributors note that to attack culturally specific or age-specific ways of knowing is to attack (or even sometimes to annihilate) actual people.
The remaining sections of Volume II contain recommendations for practitioners, sample discussion questions, and meta-reflections about connections across chapters. In these latter sections it becomes increasingly [End Page 583] apparent that the books operate most successfully as a set (read...