Feature Image: Students of Color Solidarity Coalition and Performance Colectiva at the University of California Berkeley. Image courtesy of Natalie Sanchez.
Bubbles are meant to burst. Enter Natalie Sanchez and her collaborators of Performance Colectiva, a group composed of current students as well as recently-graduated students from the University of California at Berkeley (CAL). Natalie and the troupe’s collaborators successfully graduated from the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) with the mission to connect and bridge communities in the San Francisco Bay Area through performance. Performance Colectiva’s story is one of an exciting theatrical beginning in a class that catapulted outside the campus. Natalie recently sat down with me at CAL’s Free Speech Movement Cafe to talk about her experience and the development of Performance Colectiva.
Performance Colectiva formed out of a desire to continue the work started in a class. Natalie registered in Performance Studies Professor Angela Marino’s Teatro Lab class, created by Marino in 2013 to give CAL students an opportunity to learn about theatre in Latin America. Teatro Project is a group of Latinas/os in the Theater and Performance Studies Department advocating diversity across the campus and the local community. Working rigorously throughout the Spring semester, the lessons culminated in a community performance Bodies, Buildings, Borders: An Experimental Showcase. The student performance addressed themes directly impacting students of color by weaving personal reflections on the experience of higher education with perceptions of community struggles and political challenges. Moved by the rewarding experience of the class and the reception of the production by the community attendees, the students felt compelled to continue working after the semester ended. Thus, Performance Colectiva was born. Natalie, in the final semester of senior year, felt the determination to enroll in one more semester to minor in Theater and Performance Studies.
Natalie’s decision to stay an additional semester proved invigorating, but also critical in crystallizing the reason for Performance Colectiva. Following the initial performance, the students organized other performances and community interventions to confront and burst the “Berkeley Bubble”. According to Sanchez, the “Bubble” is the resulting effect of students from CAL closing off ties with the communities in non-campus Berkeley and the greater East Bay. In the process of bursting the bubble, she has cultivated new relationships with the graduating students and with Marino, as well as found enriching opportunities to work with distinguished Bay Area Latino playwrights.
In Spring 2014, they helped bring Octavio Solis to CAL. As special guests to the Association for Theater in Higher Education annual conference, they, alongside the Teatro Project, adapted, directed and performed Luiz Valdez’s Zoot Suit. What is more, both the Teatro Project and Performance Colectiva are assisting TDPS with bringing eminent playwright Luiz Valdez to the UC Berkeley Campus. On November 18, Valdez will give the Keynote Lecture “The Power of Zero.” The lecture is opened to both the campus and community at large.
Ultimately, Sanchez remarks, Performance Colectiva’s goal is to be a “performance pipeline so folks that don’t identify with the [TDPS] department can go in and learn about their identity and find strategies and inspiration through taking classes.” They seek to provide a dual process for community engagement: CAL students connecting to the community and the community engaging with the department. Hence, while Performance Colectiva uses performance as their practice to speak in educational spheres about issues affecting students of color, they are equally involved in the community advocating migrant justice, fair wages and political enfranchisement.
Coveringtherecent ‘wave‘ of migrant children, theusualheadlines on newspapers are everywhere. Foreigners are floodingtheborder. ‘X’ President’s policiescreated a migratorymess. Thecountry is beingoverrunandinundated by undeserving individuals. Weneed to closetheborderand keep gangmembersout. An unendinglist of blaring blaminggoes on. Evenstories that attempt to paint a humanitarianperspective on theissueunwiselychoseimagesdepictingchildrenandfamilies crossing under wiresandhoppingtrains, catchingindividuals in themidst of a supposeddeviant trespass. However, in all of thiscriticismand coverage, we are a missingseriousconversation about whatitmeansforthe U.S.A to be truly global as a place of refuge within the continental Americas.
Therise in thenumber of undocumented childrenenteringthecountry has beenattributed to at least a couple of recentlegislativeacts, supported by bothsides of thepoliticaltable. First, in 2008 President George W. Bush signed into lawthe William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Theregulationcorrectlyprotectsunaccompaniedminors that arrive at the US border. Second, thelegislativediscussion about immigrationreform in congress, andtheresulting 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act has been a pronouncedtopic which defines—forbetter of worse–President Obama’s term. These two actsalone highlight recentefforts by congress to actively deal with USA’s regionalrelationships. These are greatsteps in therightdirection to deal with regionalpolitics. Unfortunately, Congress did not payattention to therecentmigrationtrends from south of theborderearly on to recognizethat an increase in migrationwasimminent, but not from Mexico.
Migration to the U.S.A over thelast decade changed significantly. Douglas Massey, a credibleauthority on thesubject of migration to and from the USA, over a decade ago highlighted that an increasingnumber of undocumented migrantswere from Central America. In tandem with theincrease, hefindsthatmore Mexican nationalswerestarting to leavethe U.S.A than entering. In fact, Massey identifiesthat Mexican migration is characteristically fluidanddynamic. Suchfindings are independentlysupported by the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 analysisthat U.S.A’s largestmigrationsurge has reached its peak.
Recently, virulent corruption, destitutionandhomicide in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is drivingfamilies to takeextrememeasures to abate their pressuredlivingconditions. What is more, a country like Guatemala, with a staggeringindicator of roughly 14% of its populationliving under theinternationalpovertyrate ($1.25/day), highlights thelack of opportunitiesforeconomicadvancement in theregion. Theconcerningcircumstances of the Central American countriesprovidea trueglimpse of theregionalconditions which the U.S.A finds itself. The U.S.A is seen as a placeforrefugeandhope!
Weneed to changethetone of our politicaldiscourse to deal with the currentsurge in immigration as a refugeeandexileevent. Forfartoolongpoliticaldiscussion in theimmigrationreformdebate has blindlyfocused on nativist and xenophobic reactions to thelogicalfactorsthat motivate people to migrate. Lack of workandfood, coupled with fear, driveunaccompaniedminors to seek out safeplaces. Therecentarrival of children should remindall of us of our duty to protecthumanrightsand our responsibility to providechildreneverywhere a placewherethey can runand choreograph their lives, not out of fear, but out of hope. Furthermore, we should seethesechildren as examples of courage. Theyrisk their lives, beingrapedandtaken into slaveryjust to end up in a U.S.A processing center. We should treatthearrival of themostfragile, whorisk everything, as a signthatsomepeopleandplaces in theworldstillseethe U.S. as a place of hope. Ifthe U.S.A cannot acceptevenchildrenandfamilies as refugees, we cannot and should not stand under thebanner of hope.
Thesolution is tricky, butitbegins with hope. First, let‘s accept them as we would acceptanychildrenfleeingviolence. Yes, thisinvolvesinvestingfinancialresources to accommodatetheyouth. In doingso, we can providetemporaryshelterwhile their respectiveimmigrationcases are processed. Melissa Aldape,former acculturation programmerforthe International Rescue Committee (disclaimer: she is my wife), assertsthatwe must not fail to acceptthatthisprocess will taketime, thinkyears. In otherrefugeecamps across theworld, sheasserts, somerefugeesspend decades in processing centers!
Theidea of refugeecampssouth of theborder, along the Rio Grande, sounds unsettling formanyardent nativists. However, the U.S is a regionalcountry with directregionalconnections. Evenif one acceptsthatthe U.S. is exceptional, one cannot blindlybelievethatthe U.S. is alone in North America.
Again, the migrant childrenmakingthetreacherousjourneyremind us thatpeople are willing to risk everything theyhavejust to have one glimpse of America. Thechildren choreograph unknownjourneys, hopingthatthedestitutionandatrocity that surrounds them in thecountriesthattheyleave will be a thing of thepast. As a country, let‘s stage a country that knowshow to receivehope.
I’ve been privy to know about Chris Bell’s performance projects through a shared Master’s program experience in England. Upon returning to the US, I enjoyed learning about Chris’ recent work with the Minnesota Life College. He started and is currently facilitating The Community Living Program (CLP) Improv Club. The performance club is hosting a performance-based lecture June 19 at 6:15pm in the Minnesota Life College courtyard. I’ve asked Chris to take a couple of minutes to talk about his experience with the improvisation club.
-What do you do for the Minnesota Life College?
I am the out-going Program Assistant for the Community Life Program (CLP). The CLP works with alumni of the Minnesota Life College, a non-profit that provides an invaluable college experience for young adults on the autism spectrum. My main job function as the Program Assistant was to provide access to enriching community activities, both on- and off- campus.
-Why did you start a performance class?
The idea of starting a performance class first came up during my initial interview. However, it wasn’t until I started having conversations with the members that I realized how much of a demand there was for a performance-based club. From this demand, I founded the CLP Improv Club to meet once a week.
-What has been the most rewarding experience?
The most rewarding part of the experience has been watching the members develop as leaders. I took a weekend vacation in late March, and while I was away the members conducted a peer-led CLP Improv Cub. I thrive off of the moment when the student develops the confidence to make their own way.
-What has been the most challenging experience?
The most challenging part of the experience has been renegotiating my relationship with a more traditional aesthetic framework. A standard way to teach improv is to focus on keeping the actions/reactions fast and to avoid dwelling on the next move you’re going to make in the process of building a dramatic sequence. This mantra of don’t over-think and keep it fast is challenged when you’re working with individuals on the autism spectrum, but challenged in the best possible way because it redefines improvs traditional relationship to duration.
-What type of preparation goes into your classes?
At first, every class was very different. I was trying an assortment of physical/vocal warm-ups and improv games to see what was most beneficial for the group. Following two months of experimenting with approaches to the classes, I found it to be the most beneficial when I would worry less about what I was going to do and focusing more on asking the members, “What do you want to lead today?”
-Do you find that the more you lead classes the less you prepare?
Actually, I found it to be the other way around. I found myself preparing more when I was the one leading the class. Since I’ve moved to peer-led approach to the class, I’ve spent less time preparing.
-What are you up to in the coming months? Any projects?
I’ll be concluding my time at the Minnesota Life College with a performance-based lecture focusing on the similarities between co-existing within an improv classroom and within in a community. In early July I’ll be leaving Minnesota for a five month International Artist Residency with Studio Porte Bleue in Montreal, Canada. I’ll be working with performance practitioner/researcher Colin Lalonde in the development of three projects, each engaging, in different ways, with reconfiguring the traditional audience experience.
Photo credits: Sun Serpent, Childsplay 2011, Tempe AZ. Ricky Araiza, Andrea Morales, Andres Alcala. Photo by Heather Hill.
About a week ago, I was invited to join the Latino Advisory Council (LAC). LAC exists to advise Mixed Blood Theatre on ways of engaging Latino/a audiences in Minneapolis. This volunteer group, comprised of members from diverse community organizations, guides efforts that make Mixed Blood Theatre the premiere stop for Latino theatre audiences.
I am honored to join such a respectable cultural organization. Prior to arriving in Minneapolis, I performed a general web search and found Mixed Blood. Instantly, I was struck by their commitment to postcolonial discourse through the arts, as well as their dedication to making the performing arts accessible to all members of the community. In particular, their ongoing selection of polyglot shows and Radical hospitality is noteworthy. For example, their upcoming bilingual show, Sun Serpent, will be a refreshing addition to standard monolingual programming found in most places. Likewise, their approach to hospitality tumbles exclusionist models by providing obtainable performance experiences. Simply put, all shows are free. If audience members desire a guaranteed a seat, all they have to do is pay in advance. Mixed Blood’s initiatives are truly respectable.
The year is rapidly coming to an end. However, I am just starting to tune into the happenings of the year. I arrived back in the US, but I did not even get a chance to critically reflect on the choreographic seriousness of the turn.
It has been over eight months since we left Cloneen, Ireland. The weight of which I recently felt when we received a holiday card from the one and only Paddy O’Brian. Reading that card brought back many memories. Also, it settled into my mind and body the manner in which I grew to understand the value of auto-ethnographic processes.