Artists unlock the paralysis of trauma using the tools of laughter and tears

Witness : Responsibility is an independent, artist-driven initiative created to actively support artistic response to catastrophic testimony and narratives related to trauma, and to present related works in mainstream venues to mass audiences.

I’m a theatre artist. Like most artists, my work is inspired by traumatic events, often based on personal experience.  I have had the privilege over the past ten years, to have received commissions to create plays based on my experience in Israel and the Middle East, mid-Intifada; and on my immersion in Holocaust and Genocide materials.

This past year, I was invited to interact with the story of Rwanda, as International Creative Director of the 20th commemoration of the genocide. My job was to create a series of national events, and frame a 20-years-after lens on 1994.

I come away convinced that artistic response to these awful narratives — with which it is deeply difficult for a broad audience to engage — can serve as a powerful tool to increase and expand public awareness, transform perception, provoke active citizenship. Make change.

We begin our work in Los Angeles during the spring of 2015, when we gather a group of ten local artists — theatre makers, dancers, musicians, visual artists — for a two-year process where they’ll collaborate and support each other in the creation of works based on “catastrophic testimony.” This might be their own stories, stories from their families or communities.

“Catastrophic” testimony includes narratives related to current, past or potential perpetration of mass or personal violence, abuse, bigotry. It might take place half-way around the world, in the barrio, behind closed doors in the house across the street.

We are looking to address trauma, the trauma of those who have experienced terrible things, and the trauma of the rest of the world which has no way of processing the unspeakable and so chooses not to look.

We have to look. We have to speak out. Because terrible things grow in silence, and more and more people are hurt. Including us.

We step out.

Stacie Chaiken

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Artists unlock the paralysis of trauma using the tools of laughter and tears