About Witness : Responsibility [Artists Unlocking Empathy]

In 2011, I was asked to produce a one-day conference for the Association for Jewish Theatres, where I was teaching at the time, and where the Shoah Foundation is currently housed. I wanted to expand the scope of our inquiry beyond sentimental plays about how horrible the Holocaust was. (It was horrible.)

Why not take this opportunity to unroll a larger canvas? We acknowledge the power of theatrical storytelling: how can we use that power? I called that conference Witness and Responsibility.

I am a theatre artist. I live and work in Los Angeles. I have — by virtue of family history, perceived identity, and the work I have made — been hired to create work based on immersion in cultures defined by terrible histories: Second-Intifada Israel; the Holocaust; the Rwandan genocide. (I was the  International Creative Director for the 20th commemoration.)

In the US, the perception of the worlds in which I have been entrenched is largely limited to rigid polarity and impossibility.

I want to nurture the creation of work that communicates the deep nuance of these worlds to American audiences, because when we distance ourselves from violent events — because they are awful, because we sense ourselves impotent in the face of their horrors — perpetration continues with impunity in lands far away, in a barrio on the other side of the freeway, in the house across the street.

Witness : Responsibility gives artists like me a name for what we have been doing all along, intuitively. It provides our process and product as invaluable tools to practitioners working to understand and mitigate trauma. I am eager to pass on what I’ve learned in such a way that it can be transmitted to others.

Bringing life and breath, heart and soul to our engagement with the paralyzing muck of trauma. That’s what unlocks it.

Our premise  =  It is difficult for most people to fully engage with testimony related to catastrophe or mass atrocity,  which here includes current, past or potential perpetration of genocide, femicide, abuse, bigotry —  on any scale or level, local, personal, national, global.

Artists, by virtue of their training, are able to stand in the face of unspeakable things and translate their own experience into works with which a broad audience is willing to engage.

Witness : Responsibility

Commissions a broad-based global community of mature and emerging artists to create work responding to catastrophic historical and current events.

Collaborates with main-stream arts presenters, across genre who commit to presenting such work and working with W:R to design programming that offers a lens through which new works, commissioned by W:R and existing works in their collections or seasons can be viewed in the context of history and current events.

Creates and distributes educational curricula related to artistic response to catastrophic testimony for K-12 and college students, as well as and working artists.

Provides a global platform for ongoing conversation amongst artists, social scientists, arts presenters, faith communities, educators about the nature of trauma and the effectiveness of artistic expression in its treatment for the individual and community.

[Artists Unlocking Empathy]  =  Trauma is a locked system for the witness and for the survivor.  Artistic expression and engagement with works of art can unlock that system by inciting empathy,: a full expression of grief  — or joy.  Our tools are  laughter and tears.  We say,  “We see you :  You are not alone.”

Stacie Chaiken

photo:milk and honey
photo:milk and honey

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