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Bond Street Theatre Joins Burmese Troupe Thukhuma Khayeethe to Spread Conflict Resolution

Bond Street Theatre Joins Burmese Troupe Thukhuma Khayeethe to Spread Conflict Resolution

New York-based Bond Street Theatre joins Burmese theatre troupe, Thukhuma Khayeethe (Art Travelers), in a joint project to engage youth in creative, peace-building activities. In response to current inter-ethnic violence in Myanmar, the Youth Initiative uses theatre as a means to examine problems, address local issues, and improve community relations. The project, funded by the Open Society Foundation, takes place this July and August, and will reach youth in locations across Myanmar.

As one of Asia's most diverse nations, inter-ethnic violence has long plagued Burmese society, leaving 400,000 people displaced from conflicts in eastern Burma alone. The recent political shift from a strict military regime to a more permissive government has led to increased tensions, especially targeting the thousands of Muslims in the western Rakhine state. Burmese youth are facing a critical juncture as they come of age in a changing political environment without the education to understand their role and responsibilities in a free society.

The Civic Engagement Youth Initiative will train youth in leadership and problem solving skills. Workshops using theatre-based exercises allow students to role-play, debate, discuss the issues and propose solutions.

The two theatre companies will also create an educational performance that illuminates issues of diversity, discrimination and coexistence. The performance presents the roots of the problem, its damage to Burmese development efforts, and the meaning of freedom in relation to personal responsibility.

An Innovative Approach

For over fifty years while Myanmar was under military control, free expression and civic dialogue were suppressed. Now Myanmar is in a state of transition. Although official reforms promise a more open society, misinformation regarding ethnic and religious differences abounds, and few outlets for balanced public discourse exist.

The Youth Initiative engages young people directly, giving them a safe outlet through theatrical activities to express their hopes and fears, and reflect the concerns of their community.

Based on their four years of collaboration, Bond Street Theatre and Thukhuma Khayeethe will focus on youth aged 16-25 in Pakokku, Magwe Division, in central Myanmar. The companies will present 10 shows reaching hundreds of youth, and conduct workshops using the insightful and uplifting theatre methods that have come to be their trademark. Thukhuma Khayeethe will go on to train 15 youths, including former political prisoners, family members of political prisoners, and individuals of diverse ethnic and religious groups to create their own performances that will tour in Myanmar. Performances are followed by participatory activities with audiences to encourage community dialogue.

New Freedoms Require New Responsibilities

"People are happy to take advantage of new freedoms," said Thila Min, Director of the Thukhuma Khayeethe theatre group, "but they do not accept personal responsibility."

Workshops for students and teachers will give youth the tools to better understand the value of a cooperative, cohesive society in supporting economic and social development as the nation progresses. The studies focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, self-expression, and presentation skills to prepare youth for responsible leadership roles.

Pakokku was selected as a focus area since it was the birthplace of the Saffron Revolution, the massive, monk-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in 2007. Pakokku remains an important religious center and a powerful emblem for the democracy movement, and places this region and the monks at the forefront of the movement. Yet the monks are now among the most outspoken against the perceived "Muslim invasion" and some are seen as adding to growing tensions.

Bond Street Theatre has a long history of initiating creative projects for peace in conflict zones globally. The company has been working in Myanmar since 2009 and served as Cultural Envoys through the US Embassy in 2010. Thukhuma Khayeethe is Myanmar's first contemporary theatre company. Formed in 2009 following Hurricane Nargis, the group is dedicated to social development and service through theatre. Bond Street Theatre has enjoyed close collaboration with the Burmese group since its inception and continues as they navigate Myanmar's uncharted theatrical territory.

Bond Street Theatre, founded in 1978, initiates theatre-based projects for education, conflict resolution, and healing in areas of conflict and poverty globally. The company collaborates with local artists to enjoy the benefits of artistic exchange and promotes the value of the arts in shaping a peaceful future. Recipient of a MacArthur Award, the company has also received support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, Theatre Communications Group, Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, Association for Performing Arts Presenters, ArtsLink, Asian Cultural Council, US Institute for Peace, US Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs, NEA, US Embassies, and other organizations. Bond Street Theatre is a non-profit organization, and an NGO in association with the United Nations.

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