“KIND NESS” (Elements of theater for conflict resolution) 2003
PROBLEM: The overall goal of this project is to mesh a developmental theater process with conflict resolution. The theme Kind ness evolves from the poignant play developed by the renowned theater artist Ping Chong. The double meaning of its title underscores both ideas of compassion and the importance of recognizing similarities and differences within communities and across the world. Preliminary research has focused on the themes of identity, diversity, the Other, the origins of conflict at the elementary and middle school level, and international theater methodologies. The operative theme “How am I different from and similar to others in my community and across the world? was developed as a stepping off point for youth to engage in a process that investigated both identity and worldview issues.
RESEARCH METHODS: Using theater as the backdrop, a practical methodology was developed and implemented combining the elements of theater with the tenets of conflict resolution. Under the title Kind ness, an assortment of strategies, actor training exercises, writing prompts and play structures were outlined and gathered into a handbook. Additionally, the Kind ness methodology was carried out in two distinct venues.
In the first venue a production entitled Kind ness was developed and presented for one performance with 5th and 6th graders at a suburban elementary school in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The Kind ness methodology was used to explore ideas of identity with this age group. During the course of developing, rehearsing and presenting, participants were led through discussions concerning the formation of identity in individuals. Through both dramatic encounters and choreography approximately 60 youth accumulated an understanding of the origins of conflict as an identity issue. Subsequent discussions and debriefings with participants and teachers led to a positive assessment of the use of theater techniques to illuminate complex ideas for youth.
The Kind ness methodology was expanded in the fall of 2003. New writing prompts and additional exercises were created to focus on a new target group: inner city teens in Atlanta, Georgia. Over a 10 week period 52 teens engaged in a theater production process that included writing, script development, staging and presentation. The particular focus of the endeavor was to explore the concept of reconciliation and within this framework the methodology expanded to employ three dynamics of Hip-Hop music, repetition, reproduction and replay as a way of theatrically exploring conflict resolution situations.
RESULTS: The Atlanta, Georgia venue saw the presentation of two performances of a multi-media event, 4 U and Me, under the auspices of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Atlanta on March 31 and April 1, 2004. Both venues measured an increasing understanding of issues related to conflict, reconciliation, and peace making. Participating youth gained confidence and were enabled and empowered by actor training exercises. Audience members who viewed the final presentations had a twofold experience: the themes of the plays were revealed to them while previously held stereotypes about contemporary youth were simultaneously challenged and overturned.