By Matt Harmon
The theatre is a place to develop empathy and explore one’s own humanity. By creating together, we can break down our differences and see each other as humans. With Political Science and Program in the Environment senior Emily Russell and two Kosovar colleagues, we founded and facilitated Playwriting for Peace, a five-week theatre and playwriting workshop in Pristina, Kosovo this past summer. Thanks to a Kathryn Davis Projects for Peace Fellowship, we were able to work with an incredible group of young creatives in both the capital city and in regions around Kosovo, building relationships around the art of theatre.
The idea for Playwriting for Peace originated from the glaring lack of creative arts interventions in post-conflict countries. The Kosovo War (1999) undermined institutions and deepened riffs between ethnic groups in the region. Kosovo declared its independence only a decade ago in 2008, and its sovereign status is still not accepted by nearly half of UN member states nor by neighboring Serbia. With a majority of Kosovo’s population under the age of 25, young people have the power to either slide back into conflict or resist and create a peaceful, prosperous future.
The workshops utilized multiple forms of verbal and nonverbal techniques as well as varied artistic mediums, including visual arts, text, music, and movement. Working with a variety of different cultures and languages, the nonverbal activities allowed many different groups of people to collaborate on storytelling and innovate new ways to converse.
During the course of the five weeks, students wrote their own ten-minute plays on a variety of topics, from domestic violence to climate change. By putting pressing social justice issues into their scripts, participants embraced the stage as a valid and impactful venue for political and social dialogue. While writing and rehearsing, students were cast in each other’s plays, giving them experience in telling each other’s stories. This allowed the students to know each other more profoundly and envision themselves as members of the same complex world. In one instance, a male participant was cast as the abuser in a play about domestic violence, which he said opened his eyes to how women experience trauma in their daily lives.
The program culminated in a Final Revue performance at an iconic Pristina theatre. In the audience were friends of the participants, local collaborators we had met during our time in Pristina, and members of the public who wanted to hear the words of young playwrights.
In an effort to help Playwriting for Peace continue to work in the region, we developed a Training Manual with all of our activities that we used during the program. We also hosted Facilitator Trainings in Pristina and Mitrovica, a contested city split between Kosovo and Serbia, which helped establish a cohort of participants who can facilitate future workshops for peace in applied theatre techniques in Kosovo. Additionally, we established a fund with 7ARTE, a local arts organization, to provide future facilitators with the necessary funding to run their own workshops.
We know that providing a toolkit for expression can act as a deterrent to violence, and we are hopeful that Playwriting for Peace can bring students on opposing sides of cultural and national boundaries closer to a universal language. Playwriting for Peace hopes to demonstrate that peacebuilding is not over when country borders are solidified, but rather, is a journey that is just beginning.
More information on Playwriting for Peace and week-by-week reflections can be found at https://playwriting4peace.wixsite.com/kosovo