Arena Stage's Voices of Now Program to Return to India

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater announces its Voices of Now devised theater program has been selected from a competitive proposal process with the United States Department of State to send all nine members of the theater's community engagement department to Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, India to create original plays, based on the lives of the local participants and inspired by the cities in which they take place. The three-week program, January 13-29, 2014, becomes the third international partnership with the U.S. Department of State and Arena Stage, following a successful two-and-a-half week program in India in October 2012 and a three-week residency in December 2013 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Now in its 11th year, Voices of Now equips participants to write and perform autobiographical theater that poses questions about social, cultural and emotional issues, with a focus on creating projects that give voice to-and spark dialogue about-issues of relevancy for the artists involved.

The Arena Stage arts-educators will send teams to each city and will devise plays with their varied partner organizations in each community. They will use Voices of Now program techniques to build performance skills, link populations that do not normally interact and increase a sense of community among participants. Using writing, discourse and movement they will devise plays that will be performed for audiences on each city's final day of workshops, and will be followed by a post-performance discussion. Final performances and discussions will be livestreamed publicly.

The Arena Stage team, which includes Arena Stage Director of Community Engagement Anita Maynard-Losh and Director of Education and designer of the Voices of Now process Ashley Forman, along with Rebecca Campana, Raymond Caldwell, Anthony Jackson, Sean-Maurice Lynch, Fareed Mostoufi, Psalmayene 24 and Ariel Warmflash, will also conduct professional development training seminars in each city.

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith shares "We are so grateful to have forged this partnership with the State Department, and can build on the success of our time in India last year. It is meaningful to see this locally-grown program, which reaches hundreds of youth annually in the D.C. area, extend its scope and impact to our participating artists and audiences in India."

Forman adds, "With the additional resources of time and staff, we are incredibly eager to delve deeper into dialogue with our participants as they create plays that are dynamic and nuanced. It is such an honor to use the tools of Voices of Now to facilitate the transformation of these brave artists' stories into theater."

Voices of Now first partnered with the U.S. Department of State to go international in October 2012 when four Arena Stage artists went to Kolkata, Patna, New Delhi and Hyderabad, India to create original plays inspired by the cities in which they took place. Last year the performances created were fast-paced, physical theater pieces that included poetry, movement, music, dialogue, monologue and collaborative storytelling in English, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu. Participants used the plays to celebrate their cities and raise questions about significant social issues including power and how it relates to gender, pollution, lack of accessible health care, poverty and how to maintain positive cultural traditions in a new world. The various ensembles included professional theater artists, activists, trafficking victims, orphans, street children, high school and college students, among others.

Communication with the participants of the 2012 trip to India and Arena Stage has continued through social media as well as through a digital video conference at the Mead Center with the D.C.-based Voices of Now mentor ensemble and participants of the Kolkata ensemble surrounding the May 2013 Voices of Now Festival. The Kolkata ensemble has also continued to create Voices of Now plays using their training, including a recent play performed at the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata last month entitled Circles of Life, which focused on the issue of violence against women in India.

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