The first time I traveled to Europe, I went to a small village in Poland called Gardzienice. I was in my mid-twenties and was fortunate to be traveling with my two best friends, Tricklock co-founders Kerry Morrigian and Joe Peracchio. Joe had been to Gardzienice before, so Kerry and I relied on him and a bottle of Polish vodka to help us navigate our late-night arrival. The next morning, Joe asked if I would go to the store down the way to get water and orange juice for our aching heads. He taught me how to say my first Polish words and pointed the direction of the market.
I was afraid.
The market in Gardzienice was tiny and all of the goods were behind the counter. I didn’t know how to speak any Polish except the two words I had just learned. I didn’t know my way. I didn’t trust the people. Everything was new and scary and different.
And everything was fine.
Artists are not insignificant trinkets that people can take or leave.
The lady behind the counter did her best to help me as I slaughtered her language and pointed at things a lot. An old man held the door open for me. I got a little turned around, but found my way back to the house where we were staying. We nursed our hangovers with water and orange juice. I felt proud. I conquered my fear.
What a powerful thing fear is. I’ve been hearing about fear a lot lately, especially in relation to the unknown. The stranger. The foreign. People in our country seem very afraid. We need more security! Build a wall! Extreme vetting! Travel bans! When did we become so afraid of everyone? When did the people of the United States become so brittle?
I have to say I am far more afraid of being killed in a car accident than I am being killed in a terrorist attack. And I’m not even that afraid of being killed in a car accident. It may happen. Life is unpredictable. People drive badly. Sometimes I am distracted when I am driving. But I still get in my car and go places. I am not debilitated by my fear.
Yet our nation’s government is attempting to put into place a travel ban for security reasons. I won’t go into the politics of this thing but I will say that a travel ban does the opposite of secure us. It doesn’t make us safe. It makes us fearful. It keeps us ignorant. It shuts us off.
The Revolutions International Theatre Festival brings theater and dance from around the world to Albuquerque. It allows our community to engage with people from all over, connecting through song, stories, dance and conversation. It’s a chance to learn about other cultures and ideas. For me, the process of learning through arts and culture is one of the most rewarding parts of being human. Even when I mess up, if I say something inappropriate and I am corrected, I am learning. I am humbled. The way I see things changes for me. The way I see myself has changed. The way I treat other people has changed.
Two years ago we brought a company from Iran. They performed a 40-minute version of Hamlet in Farsi using object theater through toys. It was magical, the Farsi translation was beautiful and it was funny. It was also about censorship, both here and in Iran. It was directed by a man named Mohammad Aghebati who is now stuck in Iran because of a travel ban. He was visiting family and not allowed back to New York, where his apartment is. Where his work is. Where his life is. How is this keeping us safe?
When I got the email from Mohammad letting us know he was not allowed back in the country, all I could think about was all of the people in the US who were missing his brilliance—his warmth and his stories. I thought about how I would not have seen that show if the travel ban had been in place two years prior.
Artists are not insignificant trinkets that people can take or leave. Artists reflect the world. They tell our stories. They bring us together. They show us what we have done and what we can do. They empower us. They teach us. They hold our feet to the fire. They make us better people. How many times have you seen a show, heard a piece of music, read a book that forever changed you? It happens all the time. When that show or music or book is telling the story of someone from across the globe, think about what we learn in that moment. Think about how it changes us.
How does a travel ban affect Revolutions? It keeps people from connecting. It is already an enormous undertaking to get international artists to perform in and visit Albuquerque. We have had countless artists turned away at their visa interviews. We have canceled shows. We have postponed. I cannot imagine what it will be like if this process becomes even more difficult.
Cutting our country off from the world with a travel ban does not protect you. It is killing art. Theater made in a bubble isn’t what we want. We want stories and ideas and new forms, and we need that from people around the globe. We learn that from others. We don’t want recycled theater. How can we move forward as a society if all we hear are the same ideas? We must not become afraid of thoughts.
This past weekend we launched our Global Corridor program (a formalization of our international work) with a residency with Ndere Troupe. Ndere is a dance troupe from Uganda—but they are so much more. They are a cultural and educational center which pays for the education of the young dancers. Ndere is preserving the dance and song of East Africa that were outlawed after colonization. Ndere teaches respect and empowerment. Ndere teaches love and kindness. Here is what I learned from my weekend with Ndere:
“African music may sound complicated but it’s really just about finding your place in the space. When there is silence between the notes, you fill it. Everyone finds their sound in the space in between. This approach to creating music was likened to democracy. If you work with the sounds and find your place in the sound, we all come together and create something beautiful.”
To say thank you in Luganda is “webale.” To say thank you in Diné is “ahéhee’.” When dancers from Uganda and students from the Navajo Nation connect and share stories, thank you is everywhere. We are all one.
Respect yourself and others. Our differences exist, but our similarities are what bind us. Don’t let them stop us. Don’t let them convince us that fear is our guide. Don’t let them! Our hearts are too strong, too powerful and too good.
The 17th Annual Revolutions International Theatre Festival kicks off with a party on Saturday, March 11, 7pm at EpiCenter, 119 Gold Ave. SW. Come to this free event to pick up your passport, make your reservations, get your Reptilian Lounge T-shirt, dance to the awesome band Los Unusual Suspects and drink some delicious Tractor beer—plus there might be a sneak peek of one of the shows (everyone ready for some African dance?).
Revolutions performances and events will continue through April 1. For ticket/pass info, plus a full schedule and calendar of events, visit the Revolutions website.