We're Here Now: Bridging Gaps, Creating Dialogue, and Strengthening Community through Performance in the Rio Grande Valley McAllen, TX March 23-28, 2015
We travelled to the Rio Grande Valley at the Texas-Mexico border in March 2015, to ATC's Artistic Director, Brisa Munoz's hometown. Through a partnership with South Texas College, ATC facilitated a week-long workshop with college students and community members using applied theatre techniques including improvisation and storytelling to discuss issues of migration and immigration at the border. Participants used previous knowledge and research to create original scenes that were shared with an audience at the end of the week.
In an area where people are predominantly Mexican-American, ATC facilitated conversations that explored participants’ understanding and experiences of daily life at the border and used theatre to further delve into issues of importance to them. Topics included exploration of different identities (not Mexican anymore, not American either), racism, drug cartels, immigration, the violence that surrounds the community everyday.
The workshop served as a mix of skill building, knowledge sharing and knowledge seeking. What was at first a room filled with trepidation and uncertainty, turned in to a space where participants felt comfortable to share personal experiences; reflect on new connections and realizations about the violence of every day and the intersection of art and activism; and soak in new information, particularly about the recent influx of people from Central America. In so doing, participants devised original segments of theatre exploring these topics in embodied ways.
We shared these performances and facilitated a conversation about the pieces with a wider community audience. This proved to be incredibly insightful and powerful as many in the audience, particularly older members, had lived through many of the experiences presented. Participants left with a greater understanding of not only of the issues they covered but their ability as artists to speak to them to incite change as well:
"Being confident about telling stories, our stories."
"I learned how to work cohesively with strangers and how to use my imagination."
Furthermore, after the performance many of our workshop participants, most of whom had not been politically-minded previously, attended a rally to protest the Obama administration's policy of detaining immigrant families. This was due in part to workshop discusses of these issues and because ATC, in its time in the Rio Grande Valley, connected to Equal Voice Network and La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), two leading migrant rights' organizations in the region. Our aim was to facilitate partnership between these groups and South Texas College as well as make connections for follow-up work in the Rio Grande Valley. Equal Voice Network and LUPE are both interested in continuing work using theatre, LUPE in particular, as the organization is seeking to return to its earlier roots in utilizing public theatre as an outreach and mobilization tool.
This was an extremely powerful first project for ATC to take on this year and we will continue to build on this work in the coming year.