Art and activism are long-time partners. What better place than the DC area to meld the two in an effort to stimulate social justice and discover humanity from a progressive perspective. Or should I use the more passionate word “agitate” in response and opposition to tweet-storms from on high based upon fear?
That is not the usual way for me to open one of my columns, but a recent conversation with Elena Velasco made clear, in her words, that “theater can be a vehicle for change.” As an instrument for social action, Velasco spoke of the need for theater to be “visceral,” especially during fraught times.
Who is Elena Velasco? She is the Artistic Director and Co-founder of Convergence Theatre. Convergence is a home and collective for socially conscious artists who wish to spark dialogue between diverse communities through new theatrical structures, according to the theatre company.
Velasco is also an affiliated artist with Óyeme, which seeks to provide safe harbor for the area’s unaccompanied minors through the creative and performing arts. Óyeme has a mission as an immigration advocacy professional performance company.
Velasco is clear about attacking problems to “help marginalized communities.” An example of this is Convergence Theatre’s upcoming Guerrilla Theatre Works: A New Nation. The production will get itself into the center of the ongoing fray about immigrants and refugees coming to America. A New Nation seeks to “to press the troubling and changing concept of home, both here and abroad,” noted Velasco.
Guerrilla Theatre Works: A New Nation is the latest performance piece generated through Convergence Theatre’s Guerrilla Theatre Works model. Velasco described the guerrilla theater approach as a synthesis of performance art, poetry, interviews, and physical theatre–and significantly, as a way to get an audience involved.
A New Nation aims to probe the immigration situation in the U.S. from the lens of those affected. It is to give those affected an opportunity to take on current perceptions that immigrants are strangers in our midst to be petrified of. According to Velasco, A New Nation aims to amplify diverse voices “to challenge fear and strengthen our sense of home.”
How will this be accomplished by Convergence? For A New Nation, it will be through the journey of an unaccompanied minor from Central America, a deportation notice and everyday life in America. Velasco noted that the narratives on the stage will not be stage-bound but move beyond those boundaries. As in real life, the characters in the production “are human beings in crisis. Human beings trying to find home.”
In the continued conversation with Velasco, there was no retreat or quit in her goals to impact social policy and the justice system through theatre. Her vision is not of the audience sitting passively, but becoming engaged and ready to take action. Guerrilla Theatre Works: A New Nation is not a traditional performance. It aims to have the audience engaged and ready to take action as advocates or more inclusive citizens.
“It is our hope and invitation to all to become a witness to our neighbor’s story. We are a nation of immigrants, whether we are eighth generation or first. In a time when we are building walls to shut out one another, Convergence Theatre offers individual stories and experiences to define our intersections,” said Velasco. “Performances end with community engagement events, providing time and space for audiences of all backgrounds to connect to local leaders.”
A production of A New Nation will run approximately 70 minutes, to be followed by 20 minutes of community engagement. The production is co-directed by Natalia Gleason.
Performances will include what Convergence calls “Converging Minds.” These are coordinated events at the Anacostia Arts Center, with its role as a community hub, to enhance and extend the audience’s experience of the play.
Velasco ended our conversation about theater and “invisible” populations, such as unaccompanied minors and adult refugees, with these words from Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unlike.” Wise words, indeed.
Guerrilla Theatre Works 3: A New Nation plays through July 29, 2018, at Convergence Theatre, performing at Anacostia Arts Center – 1231 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.