Theater can be a magic pathway to build and celebrate new visions. Doing it with kids makes it even more powerful. We saw the Seattle performance, and it was wonderful. David Woollcombe is the playwright for Peace Child and the president of the Peace Child Foundation. For more information on their work, contact Lucia Effros at 3977 Chain Bridge Rd – Suite 204, Fairfax, VA 22030, or 703/ 385-4494.
"PEACE CHILD" IS A MUSICAL PLAY, a curriculum, a movement, and a passion. It is a strategy for cultural change that works. Here’s how:
The Story Set in the future, the play looks back to the 1980s and tells of an American boy and a Russian girl who meet in Washington, DC, where their parents are diplomats. Initially, they express distrust of each other; later, they realize they are equally frightened of fighting each other in a nuclear war. Determined to "do something," they slip unannounced onto a TV talk show, express their wish for peace, become media celebrities, and finally get invited to meet with their presidents. The heart of the play is in the dialogues with the two presidents where the children get a sense of the magnitude of the problems, and the presidents see in the innocent trusting of the children perhaps a way that points towards world peace. Inspired by the efforts of the children, the end of the story sees the two presidents going off on a fishing trip, determined to get to know each other better.
Or, it ends some other way, because the script is just a starting point. I must be one of the few playwrights in history who actively encourages kids to rip up my text and re-write it in their own words. I hate acting; nothing offends me more than to see smart-ass little kids reciting other people’s words with ghastly inflections and poses. Children need to be honored and respected as equals, not coddled as an exalted kind of domestic pet. I love kids to be real on stage, and the best way of making them real is to have the kids write their own lines within the framework of an existing play.
We encourage them to do this through a process of background reading, research, discussion, and joint analysis followed by staged improvisations. From all this, someone – usually one or two of the kids – goes away and writes up the scenes. In this way, each child who is in the play knows that they have helped to create it; the two leading children are empowered to believe that they could become the children of the story, and that they could bring peace to the world. They have explored their own inner resources and, in most cases, found that they have some views on the crucial question of survival. Expressing those views on stage gives them great confidence, makes them want to explore more.
It’s four days to opening night. The music director is hiding; his assistant (who’s going to vote for Reagan) is in a state of shock. The set designer is talking hard to the choreographer to try and forget the fact that his sunrise set has been locked in a cupboard by a jealous art teacher who is out of town for the week. A hundred kids stand on stage amid the fragments of what ought to have been a show. Lambs for the slaughter. They know what ought to be happening; they knew from the moment we started talking at the auditions; they knew as we developed the dialogue in those fun improvisation sessions. It’s all there in the energy, the jokes, the lines; but the atmosphere is killing it. We adults screwed up again. The failure shows in the sadness on their faces. God, I love them! The rehearsal’s over: "Wait!" cries Laurie, "This is supposed to be a play about peace! How can we do it if we’re always bitching at each other. We must love each other, please!"
I was kind of nervous to sing out in front of people, but if a lot of kids around you are singing out, you will too. Ethel – 11.
Birthing – Amazement – We love this thing we are creating! The audience is laughing with us. They like it!! It’s our show, and they like it!! This is incredible. We’re telling them how to bring peace to the planet. They’ve screwed up all these years, and now we’re doing it, and they’re listening. They’re clapping after every song, they’re on their feet! Oh! – this is the best night of my life.
Every time the production of "Peace Child" is on, I get a feeling I want peace all over the world. It changed my life in a way I can’t explain. Bryan – 10
The tears of happiness, the hugs – I love the hugs! They pulled it off. They astounded themselves, and us! They’re so pleased, for they didn’t just bring a play to the stage, they brought peace to the world! It happened before our very eyes: two kids, just like them, became friends and brought peace to the world. It can happen tomorrow. We’ll go to Russia – "I’ll meet some fine Russian dude and we’ll have this whole thing cracked, just like in the story!" Dede probably would, the power she has tonight! Then it’s all over – the last performance. They want to go on doing "PEACE CHILD" every night for a thousand years – tears, endless tears and hugs of sobbing children. I dread that. Cut it out. There’s work to do. What about raising the money to go find that Russian dude next summer? How about you start learning his language now? Some do.
Children of today have no goals, nothing really to look forward to when they grow up, no sense of responsibility or purpose. Your play gives them hope, gives them a direction, something they can do; it makes them think and invites them to help create where their thoughts are valued and listened to by others. Cheryl McFadzian, teacher, Valley Forge, PA.
So few of us recognize the urgency. College kids are voting for Reagan by a ratio of 2:1; the suicide rate for teenagers has tripled in the last twenty years. They desperately need leadership – a radical kick up the bum to challenge the unconscious fatalism which has spread in the wake of rising unemployment and growing awareness of the nuclear threat. For me now, human wars and the nuclear threat stand in the shadow of the ecological catastrophe that we are slowly but inevitably bringing down upon ourselves.
If only we could unite in the cause of purifying the planet! If only we could love each other, as Laurie urged the cast to love each other! Without that love, neither the play nor the planet can work.
But who gives a damn about love when there are vital interests to protect, multi-billion dollar loans to re-schedule, the rent to pay, next year’s model to check out?
I do. Kids who’ve been in "PEACE CHILD" do. "Everyone’s a Peace Child at heart . . " It’s just that that heart is too often ripped out and replaced by a hamburger commercial. Rip out the commercials, and the blood might start to flow freely again in America! We’ve got to raise a challenge to that god-awful mono-culture that spreads its aspiration to the rising generation of Americans through "Dynasty" and "Dallas," anesthetizing them with the sickly sweet drug of material self-interest. Spurn the monoculture! Spurn the yuppie uniforms! Cast loose upon that yearning sea of generosity and idealism that lurks so close to the surface of this wonderful country.
The artists – everyone! – must dare to stir up the spirit of rebelliousness in young people. Make ’em angry; make ’em see that the survival of the planet is at stake, – make them recognize the terror, then give them enough love to enable them to overcome it. Empowerment is the name of the game: give them the feeling of their own power and then teach them the means to powerfully express it. We always have to keep our aspirations one step ahead of theirs. We have to dare to be wrong; dare to be great – dare to fail – dare to hope! We must dare to rejoice in a future that is by no means guaranteed, but one that guarantees survival – something which the establishment around us clearly does not.
Having been in "PEACE CHILD," my suggestion for world peace is for all the leaders of the advanced countries to have a big meeting and have nobody leave until a decision has been made about getting rid of nuclear weapons. David – 10.
The logic is inescapable, yet within a few short years our educational system will have devised ways for David’s mind to escape that logical conclusion.
The next generation lies there waiting – a great, hectic mass of energy waiting to be translated into solid achievement. Let us all inspire within our children a lust for life that will make them more determined than even we are to ensure the survival of this lovely planet. And let us do it with art that is life-enhancing, not life-demeaning. Do "PEACE CHILD" – write your own "Peace Child," but let it be powerful, let it inspire hope and confidence as ours has done.
Last Christmas, the little mouse-like Dorothy went to Russia to sing the Peace Child songs at the Father Frost celebrations in the Kremlin. Dede and Laurie are learning Russian and preparing to come with us to do "PEACE CHILD" in Russian at the World Festival of Youth in Moscow this summer. Our kids feel that, if no one else is going to make peace, we gonna make it on our own! "We want to live!," right? I would like a world flooded with kids like that.