Bond Street Theatre Coalition brings innovative performances to war-torn regions

Courtesy of Joanna Sherman

When the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan in 1979, the militant group banned all forms of art, including theater, music and dance.

More than 30 years later, Gallatin alumna Joanna Sherman is working to bring theater back to Afghanistan and other areas in conflict.

Sherman is a founding member and the artistic director of the Bond Street Theatre Coalition, a group that uses theater arts as a tool for positive change amid political turmoil. Tonight, Bond Street will present “The Power of Performance: Theater in War Zones” at the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre for the Performing Arts. Sherman will share a video at the event that discusses the organization’s work.

Bond Street Theatre works with local organizations in the regions they visit, which range from pre-existing performing arts groups to women’s shelters. The group trains people in these areas to create and use theater as a tool for social change. In many of the places Bond Street works, other forms of entertainment are not accessible or do not exist.

“After 30 years, we’re trying to invent theater again, [for] people who don’t even know what it is,” Sherman said.

Since its inception in 1976, Bond Street has done everything from a non-verbal version of “Romeo and Juliet” in the conflicted Balkan region to a show about fracking and environmentalism in the United States, in which film footage of the nuclear disaster in Bhopal, India was used. While shows vary based on language, subject matter and resources available, conflict resolution is a common theme as it holds importance in both art and politics.

“The Power of Performance” will be presented by the Alu-mni Arts & Society Program of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Gallatin professor Laurin Raiken, a founding member of the Gallatin faculty, created the Arts & Society Program as a way to display work by, and keep in contact with, successful and influential alumni like Sherman, who graduated with a Master of Arts degree in 1996. Raiken was personally impressed by Sherman’s work with Bond Street.

“In the mid ’90s, I had a really brilliant student finishing her master’s,” Raiken said of Sherman. “Bond Street Theatre is one of the most extraordinary theaters in the country, if not the world. They take their talent into some of the most dangerous places in the world, and they’ve been very successful.”

Tisch freshman Ethan Abramson questions the relevance of theater in our own culture, but sees Bond Street’s approach as potentially beneficial in the war-torn and poverty-stricken areas the coalition visits.

“They take theater — a virtually dead art in regions of mass media — and try to bring it where live performances still have a profound effect to, at its most basic level, inspire and revolutionize society as the practice once did,” Abramson said.

“The Power of Performance: Theater in War Zones” will be held at the Jerry H. Labowitz Theatre, 1 Washington Place, at 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

Ariana DiValentino is a staff writer. Email her at features@nyunews.com

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