The Global Arts Corps’ prototype production, Truth in Translation, told the story of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the eyes of the Commission’s young interpreters. Over two and a half years, Truth in Translation toured to 24 post-conflict areas around the world, posing the question Nelson Mandela asked of his country, “Can we forgive the past to survive the future?” In each of these places, audiences expressed the desire to share their own stories, using their own humor and music.

It is this reaction that inspired the creation of the Global Arts Corps.

Here’s what we do: We work with people who could have easily been staring down the barrel of a gun at each other at some time in their past. We work to create stories between them and between generations surviving atrocity who, for all kinds of reasons, cannot talk to each other anymore. We now call ourselves the Global Arts Corps because we are no longer just American and South African but represent talent and passion from Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Rwanda, Ghana, the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. And in the next three years, we intend to expand this list to include Muslim, Jewish, and Roma populations in France to collaborate for social change through theatre and film.

– Michael Lessac


In 1973, Michael and Jackie Lessac founded the Colonnades Theatre Lab (CTL) in New York City as a developmental center for theatre and film. Its primary goal was to develop an ensemble company that would nurture playwrights and screenwriters and produce new work that would not traditionally be considered by conventional, commercial enterprises.

Incorporated as a non-profit repertory theatre, it ran an active rolling repertory for 10 full years. During that time, CTL was also an official Ford Foundation “challenge grant” theatre; an annual recipient of grant awards from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; the Axe-Houghton Foundation; the Xerox Corporation and many other sponsorships and philanthropies. The Colonnades Theatre Lab received numerous accolades during its rolling repertory years for its work, most notably for its premiere productions of international theatre including original adaptations of the novels of Bulgakov (Moliere in Spite of Himself) and Frank O’Connor (Guests of the Nation, later seen on Public Television in the US). The Colonnades production of Shakespeare’s Cabaret transferred to Broadway where it was nominated for several musical Tony awards. CTL also co-produced a documentary film on the Dali Lama, ‘The Cry of the Snow Lion’ (2003), which was released to excellent reviews.

In 2005, CTL established a South African non-profit branch. Its primary mission was to develop theatre and film pieces which identify situations around the world where there is, or once was, struggle for justice, human rights or basic human dignity, and which celebrate the possibility of change. South Africa has managed to create an exceptional environment for change to take place in the last decade, and CTL aims to further establish environments where thinkers, artists and scientists from South Africa and the international community can collaborate in processes of exploration, research and artistic development – an invaluable resource in helping to change preconceptions, eliminate the need for denial, and promote a culture of human rights and mutual respect.