The recent release of Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict seems like a good time to share a behind-the-scenes look into what happens when a new book arrives at a small press. We had been receiving pre-orders for Acting Together for months, which added to the excitement. As the newest member of New Village, I could see the flurry of activity building up to the arrival even if I didn’t understand everything that was happening. The printer’s first proofs of the book had to be revised: the cover had some flaws, a couple errors were found in the interior even though the book had been proofread by numerous professionals, and the disappointment in the office was palpable. The editors and contributors were very patient—everyone knew Acting Together was something special—but the waiting was awful! When the delivery man knocked on the door ready to unload our pallet of the official edition, I’m pretty sure our director considered hugging him. We unpacked a box of the books, editors first, then each staff member grabbed a copy and started thumbing through. It seemed reasonable to raise a toast (and we did, clinking glasses all around) to Acting Together and (double clinks) to world peace!!
New Village likes to bring new perspectives on important topics to the table. Acting Together
is particularly noteworthy because it marks in a moving and elegant way the elevated stature of performance—theatre as a viable tool in resolving some of the gnarliest human conflicts. As Devanand Ramiah writes in the afterword, “theatre has been used for peacebuilding, but more as an afterthought or as an add-on.” In the works documented in Acting Together
, however, theatre is central to the peacebuilding process. Ramiah continues that the book will be an important resource as “we move to strengthen collaborations between peacebuilding and performance fields.” Acting Together
presents case studies from theater artists committed to performance and ritual as a means of social transformation and healing. Reading selections of the book, I felt it was perhaps best described as revolutionary; creative community action is the source for understanding and for moving beyond violence. The editors, Cynthia Cohen, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, and Polly O. Walker describe it as “ethically informed creative action at the boundary of human suffering and human possibility.”To give you a slightly less meta-view of the book, let me share a little bit about one section of Acting Together
that particularly moved me. The piece, by Ruth Margraff, is about a PeaceWorks production in India in response to the Gujarat Massacres in 2002, where approximately 2000 Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists with state approval. The first part of Margraff’s essay walks the reader through a play, “Hidden Fires,” performed for an audience made up mostly of Hindus. The first monologue is performed by a teenager, playing the role of an older man, who is suddenly caught up in the violence and finds himself an active participant in the riots. The words “Gujarat,” “Muslim,” “Hindu,” “riots,” etc. are never used—the subtext points unmistakably toward acts of cruelty committed by fellow Hindus living in Gujarat,” Margraff writes. The play challenges the audience and all of us “to think of our own culpability in the deepest and most hidden
‘essence of our selves.'” Most movingly, at the end of the play, all of the actors, who are all Hindu, lay down en masse. One of the actors describes, in his own words, that the capacity crowd did not know what to do with the 40 or 50 “dead bodies” in the aisles. When the lights came up around the bodies, everyone just sat there for a half an hour as an emotional audience dealt with the “dead bodies” surrounding them. It is impossible not to be moved by this description, or to think about my own complicity in acts of violence and conflict when reading these words.
There is much, much more to this piece, and to the book, and I could insert a catchy salespitch here, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll bring it back to the original focus of this post: the excitement of a new publication. What starts as a big idea for a group of inspired authors and editors and contributors and artists and publishers and proofreaders becomes reality in a tangible object, and it’s amazing. E-books are of course amazing, too, and will soon be coming to New Village. I’m looking forward to this excitement, as well. In the meantime, I won’t forget this Tuesday afternoon!
PS. The photo above is Stefania De Petris, staff editor for Acting Together taking her first look at a printed copy, and our mascot Lulu! I’m Lauren Briskin, new apprentice at New Village.