Peace Child

Touring the USSR and the USA with a Soviet -American cast

One of the articles in USSR/USA (IC#15)
Originally published in Winter 1987 on page 51
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

David Woollcombe keeps turning fantasy into reality with PEACE CHILD. He is the president of the Peace Child Foundation (3977 Chain Bridge Rd, Suite 204, Fairfax, VA 22030), and has written about previous steps in the Peace Child journey in issues #9 and #11.

On August 10th, 1986, 12 very tired American kids arrived in Moscow and were met by 10 Soviet kids and a group of Soviet musicians. Over the next 10 weeks, the friendships that these people formed, and "Peace Child," the musical they created together, electrified audiences across their two nations and made a significant breakthrough in US-Soviet relations.

The play tells the story of Soviet and American kids who become friends and work to bring peace between their two nations. We added Russian songs, snatches of Russian dances and dialogue: the fantasy story became real in the hands of this cast. The separation between the two cultures dissolved as threads from each were woven into the fabric of a single show. It was an inspiring symbol of the kind of relationship that could — and should — be possible between the two governments.

The vision for "Peace Child" was always clear. The characters in the play recognize the need for more communication: "A vast system of youth exchanges! If we can work together now when we are young, surely we can when we are adult, for by then we will be friends!" By our efforts with the Soviets, we are gradually making the story in the play come true. In the version that we created and performed in three cities in the USSR and 12 cities across the USA, the children were drawing on their own experience of being together, of the good times that they shared, and of their hope for peace. On this foundation, we can begin to build the system of youth exchanges dreamed of in the play.

MAKING A DREAM COME TRUE

It was a miracle that the Soviet children were able to go on tour at all, laboring and performing with American kids. It took a myriad of miracles, and many months of intensely hard and frustrating work to bring it about.

People don’t believe how hard it is to get anything done in Moscow, how hard it is to find a phone number when there are no phone directories, to find a typewriter or get a photocopy made. We had to put together an entire musical in Russian with Soviet kids who spoke little English and Americans who spoke no Russian. We were not able to make copies of the script, we had no official interpreter assigned to us, and we were supposed to do all this in three days so the Culture Minister could see and approve the play.

It is impossible to summarize the madness we lived through, but I can give some clues. The key to getting connected in the Soviet Union is in having friends, Soviets who want what you want as badly as you do. Second is having a project like "Peace Child" which appeals to Soviet authorities and people alike. But most of all, one needs to be blessed.

There is a little church a few blocks up from the Intourist Hotel in Moscow. It seems to be always open and filled with old ladies and remarkable clerics clad in Byzantine robes, swinging censers and flailing brushes of holy water. It’s an intense spot, and I try to go there every trip to light candles for friends — peacemakers — who have died: Samantha Smith, Olaf Palme, the lady who funded the first Peace Child. In that holy place, one can get a wonderful clarity on the intensely spiritual dynamic that rules inside the Soviet Union. There’s confusion and there’s pain; but with integrity and determination, one can move forward with one’s vision.

And we did just that. The joint tour of "Peace Child" represented three "firsts:" the first time that Soviet children had been allowed to come to the USA on a reciprocal youth exchange program; the first time a Soviet rock band had been officially allowed to the USA, and the first time that Soviet and American artists and children had been allowed to work together on a play. When the Soviet kids walked those few steps through the customs barrier at Sheremetyevo Airport, it felt good, but the magnitude of what has happening didn’t really hit us until we stopped over in London: the band rushed to Abbey Road to be photographed in the heart of Beatle country, and the kids clambered over the lions in Trafalgar Square. It is in such little things that the dream is realized.

A LABOR OF LOVE

This was a remarkable group of children. The development of the play was so hard, so exhausting; the children had only their commitment to peace and their love of each other to pull them through. And somehow the hardness of it intensified their commitment.

The combination of intensity and beauty made the tour group take on an aura that changed all who came in contact with it. Every audience that saw the show rose to their feet as one at the end in ecstatic standing ovations. "I’d seen "Peace Child" so many times," said one of the Santa Cruz team, "but when I saw this show in Boston, there was the story coming true before my eyes. I cried and cried!" "Since I’ve been with you, it’s impossible for me to look at the world in the same way again," said one of our security guards.

And so we hope it will be with the Peace Child Foundation. As we plan further "Peace Child" tours, we have before us a challenge to continually improve the quality of our peacemaking efforts through greater understanding and to build, develop, and professionalize our youth exchange operation so that we may become a powerful plank in the new U.S.-Soviet relationship that is being constructed at a people-to-people level all around us.

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