“SEE YOU YESTERDAY” MEETS THE FUTURE: Cambodian cast leads workshops for 800 student teachers

(PHOTO: “See You Yesterday” cast members lead a workshop with students at the Teacher Training Center in Siem Reap, April 2018.)

This past March and April, Global Arts Corps re-joined the cast of “See You Yesterday” to tour three major cultural hubs in Cambodia and conduct workshops at the regional teacher training centers, the colleges where all of the country’s future educators receive their training.

For decades, the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge was excluded from Cambodia’s national schoolbooks. Survivors of the regime were often too traumatized or ashamed to speak about their experiences openly, and younger generations didn’t feel safe enough to ask their burning questions about what had happened. 

“See You Yesterday” was created to break a silence.

During 19 weeks of development and rehearsal spread out over a 5-year period, the cast created a theatre production using their spectacular circus skills to explore their parents’ and grandparents’ memories of a genocide they had never lived. In the process, they discovered powerful and simple ways of creating understanding and empathy between themselves and their elders. After touring “See You Yesterday” to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center for a festival and then performing for 18,000 people in the Kigeme Congolese Refugee camp, this group now felt ready to share their insights with their country’s future teachers back at home.

They performed for diverse audiences in outdoor, free, public performances in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang to over 4,000 people. In these audiences were a total of over 800 young Cambodian teachers in training.

On the days following each of these performances, they shared with these teachers what it felt like to live in the shoes of their elders; to imagine their lives out of the broken, inherited fragments of stories and rumors that floated through the silence. They talked about what it felt to start asking questions for the first time. They shared their feelings about how it was frightening at first… and how they needed to learn to trust their own feelings and not run away from uncomfortable truths. They demonstrated some of the empathy and trust exercises they found they needed to perform as a community of actors. They talked about learning how to let their own personal humor and courage and compassion enter into the pain of the stories they were revealing. They told how hard it was to rehearse things they didn’t believe in, only to realize that once they rehearsed something, they could understand it.

A big point for me, and something that makes this project so special is that the play they saw last night came from all of us, from our real stories. When Michael and his team came to work with us, they came with empty hands, no scripts. During our rehearsals, every one of us had a chance to tell our own stories, and that’s how we created this play. It came from all of us.”
— Sambath, “See You Yesterday” cast member (2018)
 
“For me, it’s not just a performance or an episode for us to share; it’s a chance for all of us to help each other to really understand the past and what happened. Also, when the students ask us questions, we learn from them… they give us something back. It’s kind of like working really closely together so that we can preserve this history for our own country, and for others as well.
— Heang, “See You Yesterday” cast member (2018)
 
“I wanted this audience to feel how our parents had felt and be able to share the feelings of anyone else who went through this painful past. […] Among us, we only have nineteen artists to help spread the word and share with others. But these teaching students will reach millions of people in this country, so they can spread the word even better. When the teaching students understand, see, and are eager to learn more, they’ll spread the information to the younger generation so that something like this doesn’t happen again. […] If we can do it, I’d like to perform in every provincial city, all 25 provinces. I’m very greedy!”
— Sinak, “See You Yesterday” cast member (2018)
 
“From the performance, we could see what Angkar [the Khmer Rouge] was really like. We now understand. The show makes us want to know more about our own history, and that makes us love our country even more.

— Student, National Institute of Education, Phnom Penh (2018)

All of us at Global Arts Corps would like to thank the supporters who have stayed with us throughout the time it took us to reach this point, in particular, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, who gave us confidence as well as support from the earliest stages of this project. We’d also like to thank Khuon Det and everyone at Phare Ponleu Selpak and Phare Performing Social Enterprise for inviting us to collaborate with this extraordinary group of young artists; and the teams at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Amrita Performing Arts, and Cambodian Living Arts for all of their counsel and support over the last six years.

We would not have been able to create this piece without all of the work that came before it, out of places like Belfast, South Africa, and the Balkans. On this tour, we witnessed 19 young circus performers using theatre-based techniques to teach 800 future teachers how to approach a past their elders could never talk about. Thank you to everyone who has invested in us and stuck with us up to this point. We can now promise you that this is the jumping off point for a larger educational movement, driven by youth teaching other youth. This piece is just a culmination and a result of all the experiments that came before it. Stay tuned.

–The Global Arts Corps Team

Global Arts Corps in the Huffington Post!

Dear Friends,

We’re writing to share an article about Global Arts Corps in the Huffington Post, written by one of our Board members, Arlene Lear.

Arlene has spent the last 35+ years working in international development–the majority of them with Counterpart International–with a focus on building institutional and leadership infrastructure in Eurasia, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. In the Huffington Post article, Arlene discusses her passion for supporting our work and shares a collection of photos and stories from the recent tour of our Cambodian production, See You Yesterday, to Rwanda.

Arlene writes,

“Led by its Artistic Director, Michael Lessac, the Corps replays and rehearses conflict and reconciliation on stage by giving equal value to the painful memories and lingering fears felt by both victims and perpetrators – unveiling the humanity in each side to provoke mutual empathy and make consideration of reconciliation even possible. What is unique about the Corps’ methodology is that all productions are co-created by its actors who themselves have lived through the results of the conflict being portrayed.

The Corps’ productions have universal appeal as they touch the hearts and minds of audiences daring to examine what it means to be human facing the loss of loved ones, home and identity. Musical elements of the production further stir emotions and reflection about one’s own buried, or not so buried, prejudices and empathy deficits.”

To read the full article, please visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58b07ec8e4b0658fc20f949d

Thank you all for your continued support,
— The Global Arts Corps Team

A message from one of our Cambodian cast members

Phounam Pin (second from right) translates during a Global Arts Corps production development workshop at the Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang, Cambodia.

We’d like to share a message with all of you, as supporters of Global Arts Corps, from one of the young Cambodian artists who worked with us throughout the development of See You Yesterday. Phounam Pin joined Global Arts Corps’ project during our first visit to the Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang in 2012, and continued working with us as a cast member and translator up until our world preview performances in Phnom Penh last year, when she left for the US to pursue a college degree. 
 
Phounam is currently studying and raising funds to earn her Associate’s Degree from a community college in the Washington, DC area. Her goal is to go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree at a 4-year college in the United States and then return home, where she can pursue a career transforming the lives of other young Cambodians through the arts.
 
Phounam wrote the statement below about the ways in which her training in circus at Phare and her collaboration with Global Arts Corps impacted her life and her goals for the future. Like all of the young artists we’ve collaborated with in Cambodia, Phounam brings an enormous sense of optimism and openness with her wherever she travels, and we hope that her classmates here in the US learn as much from her as she does from them and her education here in the United States. We encourage all of you to visit her website at https://www.phounampin.com, where you can make a donation to support her studies and read more about her background and experience here in the US.
 
From Phounam:
 
I’m living my dream of pursuing an education in the US. I chose to come to study in the US because this is the country of freedom. There are so many positive and also negative things I can learn from my education here in America. I wish to be part of the solution to the problems in my country by enriching the messages through the arts. I wish to empower young artists and help them to unlock their potential and talents, to help them know that they have the power to change our society. 
 
Growing in a poor family in Cambodia, I’ve transformed my life through the arts. It is the only thing I’ve known since I was 7 years old. It has been the only activity that I had to make a living and to support my family before I came to study in the US. When I was younger, I never understood why my family was so poor and why there were so many orphans who lived in the streets, starving and never having the chance to go to school. Then, I began to see the causes behind it. And one of those causes was the impact of the wars that destroyed everything in my country, leaving us all in poverty and with scars in our heart that are very hard to heal. The genocide killed almost 3 million people in my country, including most of the intellectuals, the artists and many of the parents of those orphan children. 
 
Through the arts, I learned to express myself and to share these messages with my audiences. The Global Arts Corps has helped me to learn about the roots of the problems and the pain that remains deeply in my parents’ generation and in the survivors of Cambodia’s genocide and war who are still too afraid to talk about it. I’m honored to have worked with the team and to have been part of the show “See You Yesterday.” It is so inspiring that the young artists of the second generation from the genocide like us can tell the pain of our own stories through the arts. I now realize that it is only when we have understood our own histories that we can move forward into the brighter future and help bring peace to the world. 
 
I believe that we can use the power of the arts to change society. Art has played such an important role in my life and other young artists in Cambodia. I think it is time for us Cambodians to be united and make a change for our country and the future generations. 
 
I need your support to reach my dream and to help me transform Cambodia. Please donate generously through this website www.phounampin.com.
 
Thank you from the bottom of my heart,
Phounam Pin

“The stuff that peace is made of…”

As we begin a new year, we would like to share the quote below with all of you, our friends and donors, from an article written by a drama teacher who witnessed our rehearsals and performances with our Cambodian cast in Phnom Penh.

Thank you for making this work possible over the past twelve months. We ask that you support us again in 2017 by making a tax-deductible donation through our website, or by mailing a check to Global Arts Corps at 790 Riverside Dr. #6P, New York, NY 10032.

“On the floor of the black box there are some 20 actors working together forming the play that is: See You Yesterday, they are all from various parts of the country, with more or less unfortunate backgrounds. They work their way through the memories; there is absolute silence, outbursts of laughter and sometimes someone who breaks down crying. The stage is void of props and furniture, the set is their bodies and with intense physical theatre a story with hardly any words is taking form, it is so clear that I find myself completely immersed to the point that I lose my breath.

Together they tell a story of a genocide they didn’t live through, but that they live with everyday, a story of silence and suppressed emotions. Horrible acts of cruelty that shaped the society for generations to come.”
— Sita Ljungholm Verma, Plays to See

To read the rest of the article, please visit: http://playstosee.com/see-you-yesterday/?platform=hootsuite

Wishing you all a peaceful and courageous New Year,
The Global Arts Corps Team

Download our Visual Report from Rwanda

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Global Arts Corps recently returned from the Rwandan tour of our Cambodian production, See You Yesterday. After our world premiere at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival, we went on to perform in the Kigeme refugee camp for over 15,000 Congolese refugees.

Click on the image above to download our visual report from the tour, with photos from our performances in Kigali and the refugee camp and a selection of responses from our cast and audience members.

From the World Premiere of See You Yesterday in Rwanda

Performance of See You Yesterday from the Kigeme refugee camp

Performance of See You Yesterday from the Kigeme refugee camp

 Dear Friends,

This past week the World Premiere of our Cambodian production See You Yesterday–produced in partnership with Phare Performing Social Enterprise, Phare Ponleu Selpak Association, and Amita Performing Artstook place at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda, which brought together companies from over 20 different countries to perform for Rwandan audiences on the grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

We are writing to you now from the Kigeme refugee camp in southern Rwanda, where our Cambodian cast just performed for the third time, attracting audiences of over 5,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo at each of our 3 performances.

Please stay tuned in the coming weeks for a more complete report on this extraordinary tour. 

– The Global Arts Corps Team

Performance of See You Yesterday from the Kigeme refugee camp

Performance of See You Yesterday from the Kigeme refugee camp

After our final performance of See You Yesterday at the Kigeme refugee camp

After our final performance of See You Yesterday at the Kigeme refugee camp

Global Arts Corps would like to thank the

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who have generously supported See You Yesterday throughout the production’s development and whose long-standing committment to this project have made this Rwandan tour possible. 

Looking to 2016

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, we have just returned from nine weeks in Cambodia, teaching and collaborating with one of most exciting group of performing artists our directing team has ever experienced in our combined years. When these young circus performers present their exploration into their past on stage, they will be sharing their creative memory with young people around the world struggling to come to terms with their own violent histories.

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2016 looks to be full of significant opportunities for Global Arts Corps and these young performers:

  • The project has been chosen, out of thousands of applicants, to be one of 10 presented to an audience of over 400 performing arts presenters from 40 countries at this year’s annual ISPA conference in New York City in January.
  • Already a 2017 American tour of the production is being planned, with confirmed interest from over 10 presenters across the United States. It seems likely that an international tour will follow;
  • We have been invited to premiere the Cambodian production in Rwanda and South Africa (funding pending), exactly ten years after Truth in Translation premiered in Kigali in 2006, and 20 years after the establishment of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
  • We will be working with a Grammy and Academy award-nominated composer and music engineer, Michael Jay, to create the production’s score, as well as premiere lighting and sound designers from NYC;

We have shot an extraordinary new segment of film capturing the drama, the excitement and occasional sadness that has gone into the creation of this piece along with the personal stories, aspirations, memories, fears and hopes of the actors involved. With the trip to Rwanda and South Africa, the first installment of that film will be completed. With the American tour, a second film will follow their journey as they share their stories with youth around the world.

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We would of course not be at this point without the sustained support of all of you–our friends, donors, and colleagues–and cannot hope to achieve all we have set out for 2016 without your contributions.

We ask that you please consider supporting this project and our plans for the new year by making a tax-deductible donation to Global Arts Corps at http://globalartscorps.org/home/donate/ and by helping us spread the word about this project to other potential friends and supporters who might be in position to join us.

Thank you all for your continued interest in our work, and we wish you a happy and healthy new year,

All of us at Global Arts Corps

Can you teach me about Pol Pot?

Thembi and Sibu from the Truth in Translation cast with the students at Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Jackie, Nick, and I have just returned from Battambang, Cambodia, where we were invited by an extraordinary collective of artists, themselves former child war orphans, who take care of at-risk kids between the ages of 6 and 23. The village of artists is called Phare Ponleu Selpak (The Brightness of Arts). It is a place of hope. The students we worked with are part of the Phare Ponleu Selpak and have been professionally trained as circus performers.

These children are storytellers; their language is circus. To work with them, we invited Andrew Buckland, Thembi Mtshali-Jones, and Sibu Gcilitshana from the Truth in Translation cast to join us. We were there to teach them acting and to create a story about their recent perceived and imagined history. We were invited because we had experienced such a journey personally and felt we could help these young performers probe into places where, at the moment they are hesitant to go and where their teachers, quite reasonably, might be hesitant to take them.

So all of us were searching for a theme, a question that had to be asked to create this production.

When we started our workshop a young boy asked, “Could you please teach me about Pol Pot?” I think he knew about Pol Pot. Why would he ask this question of a foreigner? Is it because he feels like the story of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge should be clearer in his mind? Is it because of what he’s heard, what he’s pieced together from his elders’ whispers and off-hand references that never made any real sense (eat your rice…we died for that rice)? Is it because these kids feel a kind of shame that he doesn’t understand? Or is it that Pol Pot just wouldn’t make sense to a kid? Continue reading

Global Arts Corps Ongoing Projects

Nick Boraine and Michael Lessac and Truth in Translation cast member Andrew Buckland (far right) working with the students of the Phare circus group in Cambodia

As we move closer to the end of 2012, Global Arts Corps would like to share with you some updates on all of our current projects.

CAMBODIA:
Michael, Jackie, and Nick Boraine, (who came on this year as Michael’s Associate Artistic Director), are currently in Battambang, Cambodia, where they are doing the initial work on a project with Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus (www.phareps.org). Phare is no ordinary circus. It was started by 8 young people who came back to Cambodia from a refugee camp in 1994. They share our vision that art can be an instrument for human development and social change, and they have offered children a way out of poverty. We will be making a joint production over the next 3 years.

In addition, we have been invited to participate in workshops with young people from Youth for Peace (www.yfpcambodia.org) as part of the joint grant we received along with Sites of Conscience (www.sitesofconscience.org) from the Fetzer Foundation. Sites of Conscience use the past to engage people in making a difference in the future…they see Global Arts Corps as a traveling site of conscience.

NORTHERN IRELAND:
We are very excited to announce that after a difficult start, we have re-grouped and are close to getting our next production on the boards with a wonderful team of NI talent. We are currently raising funds for the completion of this important project, and have invitations in Dallas and possibly Boston and London to finish the development if we can raise those funds. We are in discussion with a Canadian foundation that is interested in Truth Commissions because of the indigenous issues in Canada. Because there is a large Irish community in Montreal, we have been asked to explore using the Irish production in that pursuit.

Work with children: We feel the work in Northern Ireland has been important in many ways. In addition to our work on the current production, we have been doing, and will continue to do, outreach and sustainability work there with local Protestant and Catholic young people who are part of a group called the Talent Tribe. These children are from the most difficult areas of Belfast and are learning life skills through the arts in addition to the other skills the arts give them. Last June, while we were in Belfast working with our professional NI company, we spent another 3 days with the Talent Tribe and made the following 10-minute video of our work with them (https://vimeo.com/49385225). Some of the actors from our company joined us the last day so you will meet a few of them also. Our work in Northern Ireland has been generously funded by the Embrey Family Foundation. Continue reading