(Washington, D.C.) Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia and the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, sent four Arena Stage Voices of Now (VON) devisers/directors to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for three weeks from January 26-February 17, 2019. The artists worked with three ensembles of young people, two in Croatia and one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and through workshops and rehearsals, three original plays were created and performed by the ensembles. The U.S. Ambassador to Croatia attended one of the performances featuring the Croatia ensemble’s piece, and much to the students’ delight, they were featured on the evening news.
“Voices of Now is a fantastic program that shows young people how to express their inner thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a creative way through drama,” shares Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. “This is an important time in our world to encourage empathy and express free speech. Arena is a proud partner with the State Department in sharing Voices of Now with young people in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and making a positive impact on their lives—and on our lives too.”
“We were delighted to host Voices of Now in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” says Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo Elizabeth Blumenthal. “The program is an incredible way for young people to learn about each other and develop relationships by exploring issues they all face and then creating something together.”
Arena Stage’s Director of Community Engagement and Senior Artistic Advisor Anita Maynard-Losh, along with Director of Education Ashley Forman, School Programs Manager Rebecca Campana and Master Teaching Artist Psalmayene 24, worked with teenagers and young adults to create unique theater pieces that bring light to important social issues facing the participants. The unique content of each Voices of Now piece comes from each ensemble’s collaboration. Some of the questions explored by the ensembles included: How do you know when to hold your ground? When do you compromise? What gets in the way of doing what’s right? They also wanted to investigate what keeps people apart, brings them together and how can people who have been separated, connect?
“Voices of Now was such an amazing experience,” shares Ana Križanić, VON participant in Petrinja, Croatia. “We met wonderful people, learned a lot of acting skills and most importantly, had fun. It was nice to be listened to, and we felt like we could [say] anything we wanted without being judged. We worked and communicated like a group, and although we are all very different, we made it work. If we could turn back the time, we wouldn’t change anything and we would apply for this project again.”
For more information about Voices of Now International (which has sent teaching artists to India, Peru, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in partnership with U.S. Embassies and the U.S. Department of State), including photos, video, and personal accounts, visit arenastage.org/education/voices-of-now.
Currently in its 15th year, Voices of Now is a season-long drama program that devises autobiographical plays with ensembles of middle-school, high-school and adult artists locally and internationally. Voices of Now plays are fast-paced, collaboratively-written physical theater pieces that pose challenging social questions relevant to the ensemble of artists and their communities. The plays investigate those questions through poetry, movement and the recounting of the artists’ personal stories. One of the primary goals of the Voices of Now program is to create positive change within the artists’ communities by engaging in dialogue centered on the artists’ experiences in their worlds.
Voices of Now is made possible by support from the Hattie M. Strong Foundation, Rockwell Collins, Friends of Southwest D.C., Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, Raytheon, GEICO, the Weissberg Foundation, and Wells Fargo & Company.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacts the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its seventh decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000. arenastage.org