These are not easy times we live in. Violence is all around us – the imagined violence of video games and the alternate realities of cyberspace, the real world violence of war, and threat of terrorism, and the real life violence of bullies, guns, gangs, and domestic violence that many children and youth contend with in the home and school yard. These are the lived experiences of the young people that we work with. Young people who grow up in homes or neighbourhoods fraught with violence, economic hardship and divisiveness. Children and youth, more so than others, are oppressed by violence. They are the most susceptible and the most often affected by the violence both locally and globally.
Our challenge as artists, as an organization creating peace, and indeed for all of us, is how to transcend a seemingly endless spiral of intolerance, conflict and violence, while living in communities and a world that continues to manufacture it. As artists, how do we inspire our children and youth to take up the practice of peace? If nothing else, we must remember that art is derived from the freeing up of all boundaries combined with the ability to imagine something new, and the ability to recognize the humanity of others. Who else, therefore, is better suited than the artist to inspire alternatives and alternative ways of thinking?
For over a decade, we have been developing our arts-based methodology to practice, document and disseminate a culture of peace. The methodology is rooted in the belief that if we give children and youth the opportunity to expand their mental horizons, they will break through the barriers of their socio-economic disadvantages or the effect of negative personal experiences or whatever it is that is holding them back from a new and attainable vision of peace.
Our work exists as an antidote to the violence that pervades young people’s lives. Through collaborative play- making projects like Peace Camp and the Youth Leaders Theatre Project, Children’s Peace Theatre helps bring another reality to their lives, teaching them a vocabulary of peace, helping them deal with conflict in their day-to-day lives and with the violence in the world around us. Through the work, we have learned a great deal from the children and youth about what it takes to transcend the real and imagined worlds of violence. Making the connection to the lived experience of our young participants is a crucial first step to the development of the compassion and empathy necessary for peace building and for compelling theatre that is rooted in experienced truth.
Fundamental to our artistic vision is the belief that children and youth have the capacity for profound artistic expression, that they can be engaged in social issues and that they have the power to change their world and ours for the better. Our vision for the next decade is to find ways for children and youth to create a new narrative.
The real value Children’s Peace Theatre offers to the children and to the youth is the permission to examine and question the world they live in. Our programs are designed to inspire them to envision that other worlds are possible. With a common artistic goal, they find common ground with each other, and engage their peers and their communities through performances and exhibits in a powerful dialogue about how best to live and share our planet. Our programs have the power to transform individuals, to make the unspeakable heard, and to create meaning out of seemingly senseless violence. The collaborative experience of creating theatre on subjects of importance to them gives children and youth the understanding to develop their own moral compass and further the cause of peace in their lives, in this troubled community, and in the world.