PTW 2010: Can Performance Change the World?

Sponsors: All Stars Project and East Side Institute

Conveners: Dan Friedman, Lois Holzman, Fred Newman


Conference Program

“Will it ever Happen?” Video Project



“Can performance change the world” is the question that over 500 people from 38 countries played and performed with, and created conversations, dances, music and  skits about—and simultaneously shared the inspiring and creative work they are doing in their communities, schools, hospitals, universities, NGOs and neighborhood streets. The event was held in NYC September 30-October 3.

Performing the World  was born in a conversation between Fred Newman and Lois Holzman a decade ago. The role of performance in human development and learning was already a vital part of the therapeutic, educational and community organizing work we and our colleagues were doing.The East Side Institute and the All Stars Project have worked for decades to create a performance-oriented culture and community, in conscious and direct relationship to progressive social change. Our activities involve all neighborhoods and social strata in New York City, and have created an international network of connections.

Holzman’s international travels taught her that there were many variations on development through performance being played with in countries rich and poor, in areas rural and urban, in cultures traditional and modern. 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—who were using performance to help people and communities grow and create positive social change. The first Performing the World conference was held in 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11. Hundreds showed up from all over the world, as if this kind of gathering was what they and their communities needed at such a moment. It has been, tragically, a very extended moment.

The world certainly needs new performances! There is too much that is old—war, poverty, HIV/AIDS, national and ethnic conflict, sexual abuse and oppression, greed and its violent destruction of people and nature, and countless other ways of stifling human potential and destroying environments. And just as old are the dominant ways of trying to solve these problems. Performing the World is an environment-and-activity that engages these problems by involving people in creating new performances of being human. We posed the question, “Can Performance Change the World?” in support of this ongoing “search for method,” in which the way forward cannot be known—but must be performed into existence.

Below is a sampling of sessions:

Play On Stage and Off– Program Highlights

A Day in the Life of the World – The Living Theatre has been pushing the boundaries of the theatre and working to change the world since 1947. Founder and artistic director Judith Malina and company members will lead a workshop on Living Theatre performance techniques and a discussion on the Living Theatre’s perspective on performance and social transformation.

Performing Change – One morning a group of young people fan out through the downtown streets stopping people at random to engage them in conversations about problems in their community and what they think needs to be changed in the world. A few days later this group of young people present a performance illustrative of the concerns raised on the streets. Members of the Street Spirits Theatre Company, based in British Columbia will share their play-creation process.

Towards a New Educational Theatre with Chinese Characteristics − Huizhu Sun, President of the Shanghai Theatre Academy, will share his efforts to introduce devised and educational theatre in China based on traditional characters derived from Chinese Opera.

Reinventing Avant-Garde Theatre – Projekt Theater Studio in Vienna has transformed itself from a classical left avant-garde theatre to a community performance space, the Butcherie, creating new performance forms with immigrants, refugees, women and the elderly. Founder and artistic director Eva Brenner will discuss these changes and lead a workshop in the Butcherie’s performance techniques.

Bubbles on the Subway − Play in Unexpected Places − Throughout 2009 Kristen Pedemonti played with people on the subways and streets of New York City using bubbles as a means to engage. She wanted to help people remember what it is to play and demonstrate play’s potential to help people grow. Pedemonti will share her experience and explore how adult play can change energy, shift focus and open us up to each other.

Performance and Health

Patch Adams − the Clown Laureate of Medicine, comes to Performing the World for the first time. He will share his work from around the world, bringing performance and hope to the sick and suffering. In addition to his own workshop, Patch will be joining Jim Mangia, executive director of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles, and other innovative doctors on a panel entitled, “What is Health?”

The Performance of Resiliency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital – Oncology nurses from John Hopkins Hospital and performance coaches from Performance of a Lifetime share how performance games and workshops helped the nurses to regain the sense of humanity that initially led them to professional nursing.

The Power of Performing Our Story – Lewis Mehl-Madrona will share her work helping people transform the stories of their illnesses into performance and discuss healing as social performance.

Clowning at Hospital Changes the World – Clownetterna, a Swedish hospital clown group, brings performance to children in hospitals, and shares the special magic of the clown/child encounter.