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BWW Interview: Playwright and Director Jessica Litwak on THE FEAR PROJECT

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Presented by the H.E.A.T. Collective on October 25 and 30

BWW Interview: Playwright and Director Jessica Litwak on THE FEAR PROJECT

THE FEAR PROJECT, produced by The H.E.A.T. Collective, is written and directed by Jessica Litwak, based on interviews conducted by the actors: Mariana Čížková, Evangelos Lalos, Joan Lipkin, Zach Rothman-Hicks, Fiona Rene, Amir Levi, Elishka Soukupova and Jessica Litwak. It is a theatrical action based on those interviews about fear.

The experience includes pre-show interviews, the viewing of a play, and a post-show discussion with the artists about the 14 FEAR questions. THE FEAR PROJECT aspires to create an atmosphere of restoration by giving people a chance to communicate about fear in a safe and creative space. It has been produced in The Czech Republic, India, and in the U.S.

Background on Jessica Litvak, writer and director of THE FEAR PROJECT:

Jessica Litwak is an award-winning playwright, actor, drama therapist, puppeteer and recognized leader in the field of creative activism and socially engaged theatre. Working frequently with communities in conflict and oppressed populations around the world, Litwak successfully uses theatre performance and practice to heal trauma and promote change.

As an expert puppet-maker and a trained practitioner of Playback, Psychodrama, and Theatre of the Oppressed, Litwak's workshops are imaginative, compassionate, and responsive to the cultural and personal needs of her workshop participants. Her work has taken her to countries such as Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, India, and throughout Central, Eastern, and Western Europe.

She is a core member and on the steering committee of Theatre Without Borders and a Fulbright Scholar. In 2005, Litwak founded and began serving as Artistic Director of The New Generation Theatre Ensemble (www.ngte.org), she built training and performance opportunities for youth to learn how to build bridges between people of different cultures, ages, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations by making theatre in safe community.

In 2010, Litwak founded the H.E.A.T. Collective (www.theheatcollective.org) in order to coalesce her practice and workshops, events, and productions that bring together the practices of Healing, Education, and Activism through Theatre. THE FEAR PROJECT is her latest production.

Shari: Tell me more about the creation of THE FEAR PROJECT

Jessica Litwak: This is a project that I worked on during COVID (started it when I had it and was fairly out of it) to talk about FEAR (it's a project I've done many times before but never like this). We will interview participants then show the video of the theatre piece we created, then have a conversation with everyone in a safe and nurturing space.

It's an experiment that began with a question. A man was sitting next to me at an immersive experimental theatre performance in Prague. There was a large map taped to the table in front of us. Participants were asked to add or colour their countries of home and work. I got busy drawing the Middle East and India on one side of the flat spectrum of the world and the United States on the other.

The man watched with curiosity as I ran around the table trying to establish my geography. He asked me, 'You work all over the world, don't you think, since the Czech Republic is not a racist country, that we should keep refugees out so we don't become racists?' I was shocked by the question.

I repeated it to several people over the next few days and discovered that the man's query was a not atypical of the general response to the growing refugee crisis in Europe. By asking other Czech citizens about their opinions regarding refugees from Arab and Asian countries, I uncovered a surprising amount of animosity for the 'other'. One woman I spoke to said, and I am paraphrasing here, 'The Vietnamese are OK, the gypsies are horrible but Muslims want to kill us and must be kept out'.

I couldn't understand how this seemingly friendly country, which had welcomed me so warmly, was harbouring so much hate especially when their refugee numbers from any country are quite low compared to most of Europe. Then a Czech colleague hit the nail on the head. He said: 'In the basement of The Hate you will always find The Fear'.

I began to wonder whether fear really is at the root of most intolerance and conflict, and if people get angry before even realizing they are afraid. San Suu Kuy (1991: 167) who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fearless work advocating for human rights in Burma claims, '[i]t is not power that corrupts but fear'. But fear is not only the cause of misery, it is also our way out of it. As Lederach (2005) observed, we must reach out to those we fear and imagine the possibilities. Only then can we overcome fear and hatred. Through a detailed description of THE FEAR PROJECT, I hope to demonstrate how four approaches: drama therapy, education, social justice/activism and theatrical art can work in concert and be brought into conversation for personal and social change.

Shari: What are some of the guiding influences of the H.E.A.T. Collective?

Jessica Litwak: The H.E.A.T Collective is a company that has been active since 2005. Its mission is to promote the artful expression of courageous generosity for artists, audiences and students through socially engaged theatre actions. In The Fear Project, my collaborators and I worked to achieve positive therapeutic experiences for artists, interviewees and audiences (Healing), by incorporating and disseminating clear research and information (Education) and inspiring action: awareness, discussion, outreach and community building (Activism) through vibrant and meaningful performance (Theatre).

Shari: Can you tell me a bit more about your actors/collaborators of THE FEAR PROJECT?

Jessica Litwak: The company includes:

Mariana Čížková (Jana) comes from Slovakia. She did her studies in Prague and partly in UK. She used to be a member of an international company Stella Polaris (Norway). Now she is based in Prague, working as a freelancer

Evangelos Lalos (Pedro) is a Greek actor and director currently working with the company ConClave Teatro based in Madrid. He has studied theatre in DAMU (Prague) and RESAD (Madrid) and has worked with different companies in Greece and Denmark before.

Amir Levi (Tzachi) is a non-binary performer and activist based in LA. Watch Amir on the Blank Theatre's YouTube Channel: Nathan C. Jones: A Love Story? theamirlevi.com. IG: @theamirlevi. Twitter: @lunifiedmaggs. Facebook: facebook.com/theamirlevi

Joan Lipkin (Rickie) is an award-winning playwright, director, producer, educator, actor and social activist, specializes in devising/producing work with underserved populations, telling stories of individual and collective relevance.

Jessica Litwak (playwright, Lucille) is a theatre artist focused specifically on leading theatre for social change and community engagement. She is a playwright, actress, director, educator, drama therapist, and puppet builder. Her plays have been produced in Europe, the Middle East and throughout the U.S. She is a core member of Theatre Without Borders, a Fulbright Scholar and the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective. www.theheatcollective.org

Fiona Rene (Morgaine) is an actress based in Los Angeles, California. She works in a range of mediums and genres with passion for personal and community growth.

Zach Rothman-Hicks is an Actor, Director, Designer, and NYC Public school teacher who enjoys creating devised work with the community.

To watch THE FEAR PROJECT, please register at the following sites:

OCTOBER 25th Europe: You are invited to a Zoom meeting.

When: Oct 25, 2020 07:00 PM Madrid, 2:00 EST, 11:00 PT

Register in advance for this meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYldeihrzsqEtG4zl_i1v-5g_GpJMofUaBN After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

OCTOBER 30th Los Angeles: You are invited to a Zoom meeting.

When: Oct 30, 2020 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAldOCqrzMoHd1OlrUQYsdlRWQGavujzpQs After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


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