Katt Lissard, IMA faculty member, believes theatre can be an effective vehicle for social change, especially when it comes to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, along with colleagues from the U.S., U.K., South Africa and Lesotho she founded the Winter/Summer Institute in Theatre for Development or WSI (http://www.maketheatre.org/). WSI is a multi-cultural, multi-national project that brings together student performers and faculty facilitators from three continents to create collaborative theatre focused on HIV/AIDS. The roots of the Winter/ Summer Institute project are in the Fulbright Lissard received as a Goddard faculty member in 2004. She spent most of 2005 in Lesotho, teaching in the Theatre Unit at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), directing and producing shows, and researching the "theatrical response" to HIV.
By any measure, the Winter/Summer Institute has been successful beyond the co-founders dreams. After WSI worked to create collaborative theatre with rural villagers in the Malealea Valley in 2006, the villagers decided to form their own theatre group, which they call Khalemang Bohlasoa (Eradicate Negligence). They’ve been performing issue-based theatre for their rural mountain communities ever since, and joined with WSI again this past July to create a new performance for the 08 Festival. Student performers from each of the participating countries/universities have also continued the work of the Institute in the intervening periods between residencies in Africa. "The National University students are amazing," Lissard says. "Once the rest of us left in 2006, they recreated the show we'd made together, filling in all the now-missing foreign actors with other NUL student performers, and then proceeded to do the show almost until we reconvened in Lesotho this June (2008). They took that show all over the place, including to festivals in Botswana and Zimbabwe. A performance they did in Lesotho in 2007 for National AIDS Day prompted a call by the government for a renewed commitment to the battle against the virus!"
Lissard continues to work with students in New York at Empire State College, SUNY with Prof. Lucy Winner, a WSI co-founder and colleague there; and to collaborate with students and faculty at Wits in Johannesburg and the National University in Lesotho. She explains, "The other really important part of WSI is what happens to the student performers from every culture involved in the program - not just those from South Africa or Lesotho, but from New York, too. They're transformed when they do things they didn't think they could do or that they never imagined themselves doing. Former WSIers have been engaged in some remarkable endeavors - from creating a project for urban garbage pickers in Argentina, to running a youth program in the Bronx, to starting a school in Lesotho. WSI seems to encourage a level of self-esteem and confidence along with a desire to build and create projects that serve community."
The Winter/Summer Institute is an ongoing project. WSI will offer a weekend residency in New York City March 6th-8th, 2009. See WSI's website for more info.
PHOTOS - Top: Katt Lissard in Johannesburg in 2007 with WSI 06 student performers Kim Hess and Ditchaba Lekaoto; Middle: WSI performers and village actors in procession to the 2008 WSI-Malealea Festival performance site; Bottom: Over 600 villagers from the Malealea Valley attended the WSI-Malealea Festival in July 2008.