“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

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

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. 

Announcing the World Premiere of See You Yesterday in Rwanda

Global Arts Corps is honored to announce that we have been invited to present the World Premiere of See You Yesterday at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali on July 17th, 2016.

The Festival will bring together companies from 18 different countries around the world–including Syria, Kosovo, Sudan, Iraq, and the North of Ireland (among others)–for 4 days of performances and dialogue on the grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, all dedicated to fostering reconciliation. This year, the participating companies will also include 2 of our cast members from previous productions: Global Arts Corps Associate Artists Thembi Mtshali-Jones (from South Africa) and Vincent Higgins (from the North of Ireland).

Immediately after the festival premiere, the cast of See You Yesterday will travel to the Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda, where they will play for audiences of over 8,000 Congolese refugees at each performance who have sought shelter from the long and devastating war in their home country. Between the Congolese threatened by decades of violence and its repercussions across generations; Rwandans remembering the 21st anniversary of their own genocide; and these young Cambodian performers who have used their physical skills to build a production from memories handed down to them by their parents and grandparents of a genocidal regime–we have an opportunity on this tour to achieve an amazing milestone in cross-border communication and to share the incredible joy that these Cambodian artists bring in this new work. 

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For more information, click the image below to download our press kit.

Please stay tuned in the coming weeks for more information as we prepare for the World Premiere and Rwandan tour of See You Yesterday.

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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. 

See You Yesterday – World Premiere Phnom Penh

Global Arts Corps is thrilled to announce two upcoming World Preview performances of our Cambodian production, See You Yesterday (formerly known as REBOUND), in Phnom Penh on March 11th & 12th.

The cast of See You Yesterday in rehearsal at ISPP in Phnom Penh.

The cast of See You Yesterday in rehearsal at ISPP in Phnom Penh.

Jointly presented by Global Arts Corps and Cambodian Living Arts, the two performances will take place at the International School of Phnom Penh Black Box Theater. The event details are as follows:

See You Yesterday – Two World Preview Performances:
A Global Arts Corps Production
Produced in partnership with Phare Performing Social Enterprise and Phare Ponleu Selpak Association
Friday, March 11th, 7pm Saturday, March 12th, 6pm

Venue:
International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP) Black Box
Hun Neang Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (click here for directions)
For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact Line Producer Amrita Performing Arts at +855 (0)77 945 015 / +855 (0)77 986.

The cast and creative team of See You Yesterday in rehearsal at ISPP in Phnom Penh.

The cast and creative team of See You Yesterday in rehearsal at ISPP in Phnom Penh.

In preparation for these two performances, Global Arts Corps’ team is currently in the midst of our final 10 days of rehearsals with our young Cambodian cast. An award- winning composer and lighting designer, both from New York, have joined us in Phnom Penh and we are all working along with a local costume designer to add final production elements to the piece.

These two preview performances bring Global Arts Corps together in close collaboration with several of the most significant Cambodian arts organizations–Cambodian Living Arts, Amrita Performing Arts, Phare Ponleu Selpak Association, and Phare Performing Social Enterprise–and will allow our cast to perform before an international audience deeply invested in the subject matter of the production they have created.

Please stay tuned for more updates as we approach the performances.

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

“Mud was up to here”

From Our Production Development Workshop in Cambodia:
A Note from Michael Lessac

Belle's mother

…Just had our first run-through. For all of us, the directing staff and the circus performers, this was the first time we didn’t just know we were exploring the past…we felt it. One young performer, referring to a Khmer Rouge scene in a muddy rice field, said, “Up until now, when I worked on this scene, on the best days, the mud in the field was up to here (he points to his ankle), but this time it was up to here” (he points to his upper thigh). I had to smile, thinking maybe that was perhaps the most sophisticated statement of acting I have heard in a long time.

A few days later, we were visited by the mother of one of our associate artists, Belle Sodhachivy Chumvan. Belle’s 76-year-old mother, Nou Sondab, was a famous actress before the genocide and survived the Khmer Rouge regime to continue on to be one of the preeminent actresses and singers in Cambodia. Interestingly, she is credited with being one of the first actresses to introduce realistic perceptual acting in the country. When she announced her age to the cast, she took her teeth out to demonstrate what happened when a Khmer Rouge soldier kicked her in the mouth.

At any rate, when I visited her after the run-through (she had tears in her eyes), she said to me through a translator, “These children…they weren’t there, but now they are and it is so good to see that they understand.”

Why else are we Global Arts Corps?

When a present generation plays back the past to the older generation, a fine and beautiful healing communication is achieved. If nothing more, there is an understanding between generations, an empathic acknowledgement of what their elders went through…which is perhaps forgiveness for ourselves as well as for each other. An exchange of gifts.

All best and happy holidays,

Michael Lessac

End of Year Review of Global Arts Corps’ Current Projects

THE NORTH OF IRELAND / NORTHERN IRELAND

Hold Your Tongue, Hold Your Dead

In September of this year, Global Arts Corps premiered our Northern Irish production—Hold Your Tongue, Hold Your Dead—in four workshop performances at ArtsEmerson in Boston’s historical theatre district. The performances came after a 2-week script and music development workshop at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annamakerig, Ireland, in July 2013, and a 5-week incubation period at ArtsEmerson from late-August through the end of September. Each presentation of the production in Boston was opened up to the local community and talkbacks were held after each performance with audiences composed of students, local members of the community working on social justice issues, members of the Irish-American community, and many others. In the discussions following these productions, what surfaced was not only a sense of shared concern of what is lacking between generations but a parallel shared history of North Ireland’s conflict with that of the 1976 busing conflict in Boston itself. To support the music of the production, we enlisted students from the Berklee School of Music to perform with our cast on-stage. We filmed throughout our final week in Boston and are currently editing a short film on the project that we hope to share with all of you in 2014. 

Stay tuned to our website and future newsletters for updates on performances and future tour destinations.   If you have the time, check out this ten-minute film we shot while working with young children in Belfast from both sides of the divide: http://vimeo.com/49385225

CANADA 

In November of 2013, we took the first step towards developing an original theatre production in Canada that would be created by a cast of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal actors, storytellers, and musicians and a group of local mentors, including “Elders”, to the project. To this end, with lead support from the J.W. McConnell Foundation and the Counselling Foundation of Canada, in collaboration with The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples, we brought together a group of stakeholders that included indigenous artists from across the breath of Canada, NGO leaders involved in formal healing and reconciliation efforts, youth, Elders, and philanthropic foundations, as well as performing artists and storytellers.  Over two days in Winnipeg, we shared approaches and exchanged ideas on how a GAC production in Canada could extend the work already being done; become part of the legacy of Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and how we might use our global experience to create a national touring production built around the multiple truths, languages and cultures that both divide and strengthen collective consciousness in Canada today. We are working toward building a consortium of Canadian foundations to support this large project over the next three years.

SOUTH AFRICA 

Global Arts Corps, in collaboration with master teachers of the Arthur Lessac Institute of Voice and Speech, presented a ten-day workshop in South Africa, which included students and teachers from local South African townships, three actors from our Northern Irish company, former cast members of the Truth in Translation company of South Africa, and special invited artists from the United States. The workshop was a tremendous success, and we look forward to incorporating teachings from the Lessac Institute in our future productions and to organization future workshops.

KOSOVO

The first international gathering of Global Arts Corps artists and supporters from eight countries around the world

In July 2012, Global Arts Corps brought together actors from Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, South Africa, France, the USA, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland to participate in a 2-day workshop in Prizren, Kosovo. Over the two days, we shared our storytelling and ensemble-building exercises and discussed the future of applied theatre in the area of conflict resolution, identity, and the use of conflict transformation to prepare for the future. We worked with simultaneous translators throughout the discussions and brought shared a rough cut of Truth in Translation with audience members from eight different cultures. This event was tremendously exciting for us, as it constituted the first of what we hope will be many more such gatherings of Global Arts Corps artists across borders. Following the workshop, we were able to bring three of our cast members from our Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland cast to South Africa for the work described above, and we have just finalized plans to bring one of the Albanian actors who joined us in Kosovo with us to work with the Phare Ponleu Selpak in February, along with members of our South African cast.

CAMBODIA

In February 2013, we will be traveling with three members of our Truth in Translation cast and one actor from our Kosovo project to Battambang, Cambodia, where we will be conducting our second workshop with the youth of the Phare Ponleu Selpak (“the brightness of art”)—the Cambodian Arts School that provides circus and related arts training to orphans and destitute, impoverished children.

Please take a look at our initial theatrical workshop with the young circus students and performers at Phare and witness their extraordinary potential in this short piece of film:

https://vimeo.com/62121947 (password: GAC)

The touring circus/theatre production is tentatively called “Landmines”. It will explore the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime by examining the silence that lingers between generations.  In Cambodia, as in many countries emerging from genocide, violence and conflict, communication between generations tends to be avoided. Out of feelings of shame, guilt and a desire to “move on”, Cambodia’s troublesome past has been swept under a rug of discarded memories and untold stories, resulting in an entire generation of young people who have little sense of identity and an overbearing sense of hopelessness and isolation. The working title of the piece comes from the landmines that still litter the Cambodian landscape, waiting to detonate under the feet of unsuspecting passersby – an event that happens regularly.  But in this production, we are focusing on the emotional, historical and inter-generational “landmines” and the psychological consequences of leaving them buried for the current and future generations.

SCREENINGS OF TRUTH IN TRANSLATION – THE DOCUMENTARY

In the spring of 2013, we completed our documentary feature film on the South African project Truth in Translation. Since its completion, the film has been shown in private and educational screenings in cities around the world, including:

  • Berlin (DNA Gallery, in coordination with the exhibition “SEE New Perspectives: from Balkan photographers)
  • Munich (Robert Bosch Stiftung Annual Forum)
  • Kabul (Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, as part of the Transitional Justice, Reconciliation, and Peace International Seminar – Nick Boraine flew to Kabul at their invitation and participated in the four day conference))
  • Boston (Paramount Theatre, as part of our collaboration with ArtsEmerson while incubating the NI production)
  • Atlanta (Carter Center)
  • New York (Columbia University, Institute for the Study of Human Rights)
  • Winnipeg (Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, as part of our stakeholders conference)
  • Soweto (Wits University)
  • Paris (Le Laboratoire arts and design center, sister cultural center to The Laboratory at Harvard University)

2014 will see a number of screenings of Truth in Translation in New York, Washington DC and elsewhere. We’ve also submitted the film to festivals throughout the world and are waiting on feedback… watch out for newsletters and blog posts with outdates on upcoming screenings in your area!

INTERNSHIPS

A search has begun to bring into the Global Arts Corps College interns to work closely with Sarah Case, our current Development and Program Manager. If you or anyone you know is interested, please contact us at info@globalartscorps.org. We will be posting additional information on the position on our website in the coming weeks.

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