Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why You Should Donate to the Bond Street Theatre Haiti Project.

This past February, three Bond Street Theatre ("Bond Street") performers—Anna Zastrow, Christina Pinnell, and Joshua Wynter—traveled to Haiti for three weeks to bring empowering theatre workshops to victims of sexual and political violence in the country, as part of Bond Street's Haiti Project.  Along with a local Haitian actor, the performers worked with women in FAVILEK, a group founded by Maricia Jean, originally in response to a violent coup in Haiti in1991.

FAVILEK’s name stands for “Women Victims Get Up, Stand up” (or, "Fanm Viktim Leve Kanpe") Unfortunately, since the 2010 destructive earthquake in Haiti, the situation for many women has only gotten worse.  Rape and sexual assault are not uncommon in the tent camps, and HIV spreads rapidly. As Ms. Jean stated at a fundraiser for the Bond Street Haiti Project on November 17, many Haitian women are “still fighting…for justice.”

The "Extravaganza for Haiti" fundraising event, held at Sidewalk Café, was a music, comedy and clown cabaret, with a tinge of Haitian flavor, to benefit the Haiti Project and raise money to send Bond Street performers back to Haiti in early 2012.  FAVILEK's founder was a surprise guest at the fundraiser. Jean spoke about FAVILEK's partnership with Bond Street, and explained to the audience (through a translator) that FAVILEK would like Bond Street to help Haitian women create a theatre piece to show their struggles. She hopes that, one day, the production they create together might play in the States. Bond Street board member, Frank Juliano, who was also in attendance at the fundraiser, noted that the physical theatre-method of their group “heals and empowers…educates and transforms,” with an overall goal of “improving lives.” FAVILEK's own "Theater for Action" project offers women the cathartic opportunity to share their experiences through performance.

Of course, the fundraiser would not have been complete without audience participation in exercises in which we got to experience first-hand some of Bond Street’s theatre-based methods. Christina Pinnell led us in a game called “Voulez Vouz Danse,” which had the entire room up clapping, dancing, and expressing themselves. This is just one of many games and exercises in which the Bond Street performers engaged Haitian women and girls. At the fundraiser, we watched clips of footage from some of these exercises designed to raise self-esteem and provide outlets for addressing the traumas these women have experienced. The pure joy on the faces of the Haitian women as they danced and performed with Bond Street truly warmed my heart. Pinnell described working with teenagers and children who doted on her and played with her long, straight, brown hair, which they were not used to seeing. She nearly cried as she told the audience how it felt to make such real “human connection(s)” with these young women, many of whom she later learned were former prostitutes, forced into the sex trade at early ages. 

The total budget for the 2011 trip was $15,000 for airfare, meals, and transportation around Haiti for three weeks, as well as hiring the native Haitian performer. During the November 17 fundraiser, performer, Joshua Wynter, described one of his favorite moments in Haiti, when, during a Carnival festival, he came upon a group of schoolchildren performing in a parade, and the Bond Street actors ended up giving their own impromptu performance and workshop at the students' school. Wynter described this experience as “magical." 

In case you missed the fundraiser, from an entertainment value point of view, the $25 tickets were well worth it. Some of the highlights were a performance by singer/songwritier, Erel Pilo, a petite raven-haired beauty with a mesmerizing, airy folk sound that captivated me; hilarious and quirky comedy from the all-female improvisational comedy troupe, 13 Degrees; and the fun, bluegrass-style covers of 80's and 90's pop music by cover band, Thundergrass. There were also fabulous raffle prizes given away, including authentic Haitian rum, dance classes at the Alvin Alley Extension, a gift certificate to Alice’s Tea Cup, and other goodies.

Despite a great turnout at the successful Extravaganza for Haiti, Bond Street remains in need of extensive donations in order to make their 2012 trip to Haiti a reality. Click here to donate to this wonderful cause (and make sure to write "HAITI" in the designation field"). 

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