Theater Of The Heart

One teen's creative response

One of the articles in We Can Do It! (IC#33)
Originally published in Fall 1992 on page 41
Copyright (c)1992, 1996 by Context Institute

Creating a vision of a better world can be the first step in making change happen. Creative Response (formerly Peace Child) is giving kids a chance to act out a better vision by putting on plays in which they have final say about scripts, musical scores, and themes. One participant, Katie Christie, was so inspired, she now organizes Creative Response productions in her multicultural hometown, Miami, FL.

Katie Christie has committed her life to breaking down racial and ethnic barriers. Born of mixed-race parentage and adopted as an infant by a Greek-Jewish couple, Katie was confused about her racial identity and grew up with a deep sensitivity about what it is to be "different." She says as a child "there was this burning inside, and its still there. I still feel it. But I’ve changed because I know what I can do with it now."

And what she has been doing is impressive.

In 1988 at age 16, Katie participated in her first Creative Response musical exchange program in Latvia, then part of the USSR. The following year, she toured again in the USSR, and later that year she brought Creative Response to her hometown of Miami, as director and producer of her own show with 60 young people.

Creative Response typically brings together 30 young people – half from the US, half from another country. The youngsters create a musical production together, addressing the social issues they decide are important, and then tour one of their two countries, spreading their message.

The group also has local chapters throughout the US that create and stage their own productions. Most of the productions are called City at Peace, but each is a unique creation of the cast.

"I don’t audition primarily for talent," Katie said. "I audition kids for personality, for how badly they want to do it and whether they have good ideas. So I’ve been taking a lot of kids who aren’t singers, dancers, and actors, but who can become whatever they want to be."

In response to her growing concern about Miami’s racial tensions, Katie directed 120 teens – African-American, Cuban, Central American and Angolan – in a 1990 production of City at Peace . Since then she has produced Be a Family, a play about the importance of families of all kinds in grounding a person’s development, and Kids for Kids, in which youngsters with and without hearing impairments deal with the stigma of being handicapped. She also did City at Peace a second time with a different group of young people.

"When you bring in 120 kids, they’ll sit down in groups that they’re comfortable with. What you need to do is mix that up a little bit so all of a sudden, they become comfortable with someone they have something in common with, instead of the person who is the same color."

Creative Response has no formal follow-up system to keep track of their kids. "Alumni go to college and then we lose track of them," Katie says. But for 1993 she’s planning a series of shows that will let her see the results of her work first hand. The productions will focus on building home environments that foster love and self-esteem, and each show will lead into a community project.

Katie’s latest project was a performance in South Africa that brought together American teens – African-American, Hispanic, and white – with black, colored, Indian, and Afrikaner teens from the host country. The show was the first of its kind in South Africa and an inspiration for Katie. She says she was impressed by the way South Africans have taken up the struggle to make change, compared to the passivity she feels in the US.

Katie believes this country is on the edge of an opportunity to finally deal with racial hatred, inequality, and oppression; her job is to help young people lead the way.

"This is not in any way about a production," she says. "It’s completely about kids coming together and learning about each other, and that’s how we are going to break down the hate."

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