Children's Radio Project

- What can the world’s children teach each other about this moment? -

Letter from the Artistic director:

Global Arts Corps has worked in some of the most dangerous and hate-filled regions imaginable. Most of the time we have been lucky to be able to find ways of bringing opposing sides together. I say lucky because it was still a time when former enemies could cautiously share the same stage and audience, and the notion of reconciliation was in the air. Today the idea of reconciliation seems increasingly remote; We see fragments of hatred and fear entrenched in developing identity filling the minds of generation after generation. It is time to use our experience and expertise to help our children directly.

What would be the impact if young people were given the opportunity to create stories incorporating their dreams of the future and react to the adult chaos that surrounds them? Left alone, and working with each other, how would they create their own civil society?

Back in 1999, Indian educational researcher Sugata Mitra placed an internet-connected PC into a wall bordering a slum of New Delhi. Soon the children of the area were going online, teaching themselves and each other, all without the structure of formal educational instruction. The initiative, called ​The Hole in the Wall Project​, expanded to other cities. It demonstrated that young people could learn and teach each other on their own, not just where there was well-funded infrastructure and support, but also in areas of economic hardship and very limited resources. The project currently operates in Botswana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Cambodia.

On our 2016 tour in Rwanda with the GAC production of See You Yesterday, we witnessed similar peer-to-peer interaction with our young Cambodian cast conducting youth training workshops with refugee children in the Kigeme refugee camp where they performed for 6,000 Congolese refugees each morning. Upon returning home, the cast conducted workshops in five different towns for young student teachers who were struggling to teach their students how to investigate the past without trauma. We intend to build on this peer-to-peer phenomenon in our next decade of work and we will use radio as our platform. Why radio? Because it is the purest form of listening.

The goal is for children to explore what is around them by listening to other children without adult mediation—to begin to trust that what they feel, is also felt by millions of other children around the world. These storytellers, as sound effect creators, musicians, singers, poets, writers and actors, will create and broadcast a soundscape of their imagination. These young storytellers are freed to delve into the mystery of who they are—village kids listening to urban kids, privileged kids listening to refugee and migrant kids, indigenous to “settler” kids, forgotten to entitled. Children need to imagine—especially in this time of adult anxiety and chaos. They need to be able to create and express with openness to voices of strangers their own age. All this takes a curiosity, a faith in imagination. As a director I have always looked for ways to find a sensory bridge where both audience and actor are in the same perceptual space. As a child I experienced this listening to episodes of ​The Green Hornet​ on the radio while trying to figure out what the ​Green Hornet​ (and his car) looked like. Listening demands the use of imagination; visuals diminish that need.

I have always had two professional passions: in my early years when I made a living researching and teaching graduate courses on childhood development and perceptual learning, we investigated how we could retrieve talent lost from childhood. A few years later, when I began my first theatre in NYC (The Colonnades Theatre Lab), we incorporated this into our rehearsal training. Over the past 18 years a group of international actors and directors have joined GAC to create a theatre in a different kind of laboratory. Working in conflict zones, we developed techniques of rehearsing seemingly intractable mistrust and hatred with brutal honesty, within a resting framework of humor and music. This could not have been achieved without radical listening. It’s no accident that our first production was called ​Truth In Translation​.

It’s a given that everyone wants to be listened to. We should now make it a given that we listen to our children. We can expect two things here—strong, self-determined youth, and fresh ideas of how to move forward in our present civil societies. It’s a matter of helping young people build their generation with tools to resist absorbing the inherited hatred and fear around them.

Michael Lessac
Co-Founder and Artistic Director
Global Arts Corps