Performing the World (PTW) was born in a conversation between East Side Institute co-founder, the late Fred Newman, and me at the end of the summer of 2000. We had already “discovered” performance, and its essential role in human development and learning was key to the therapeutic, educational and community-organizing work of the East Side Institute and its broader community. At the same time, Newman and I were also having conversations with Ken and Mary Gergen, leading social-constructionist psychologists who themselves were turning toward performance, particularly by experimenting with new performatory modes of presenting research and scholarship. During the 1990s at annual meetings of the American Psychological Association, we and the Gergens did some joint performatory symposia and Newman’s original “psychology plays” were performed—all to great enthusiasm. We were encouraged, and wanted to do something bigger and of our own structure.
My international travels had introduced me to many different performatory practices initiated at both the grassroots and from within the universities. I met dozens of people and heard of hundreds more who were using performance to help people and communities grow and create positive social change. We decided to reach out to those doing this work/play—from community organizers to business people, from artists to social workers, from therapists to teachers.
The first Performing the World conference was held in October 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11. Hundreds from all over the world showed up at the beautiful ocean side village of Montauk, 120 miles from New York City, as if this kind of gathering was what they and their communities needed at such a moment.
There have been seven PTWs since then. The last four were held in New York City, bringing the conference to one of the most vibrant and diverse cultural centers of the world and partnering with the All Stars Project as co-sponsor.PTW has been greatly enriched by having the All Stars’ performing arts and development center on 42 Street near Times Square as the conference’s home base and by the inclusion of hundreds of young people and adults who participate in its programs. Additionally, both the Institute and the All Stars reach out to friends across New York City’s many communities to provide housing for PTW participants and broaden the “performance space.” I am inspired by the growth of the global performance movement and the role that PTW is playing in it, as not only a conference/performance festival but also a unique community event bringing people together to perform a new world.