Humanizing Global Political Conflict through Theater at Georgetown

The Georgetown Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics explored new territory this June with “Finding Home: Migration, Exile, and Belonging,” a daylong event for theater professionals. The day began with “Shelter,” a play about unaccompanied Latin American minors crossing through Mexico to reach the U.S.

Image Source: Georgetown University

The Georgetown Laboratory for for Global Performance and Politics is known around the campus as ‘the Lab.’ Since 2012 they’ve developed and produced innovative performance pieces that humanize global political conflict. Georgetown’s Department of Performing Arts and the School of Foreign Service worked together to create the Lab.

The young actors on the stage yell out their dreams for life in America: “I want to be a teacher!” “I want to be a doctor who also does rap to keep my parents happy!” “I want to be an architect!” “A rich businessman!” Knowing the sobering fates for unaccompanied Latin American minors, the audience grows visibly uncomfortable. From the back, one boy says: “I want to see my mother in San Antonio.”

Lines like this speak to the greater questions that the play forces the viewer to contemplate: How do children find their parents in America? Is it possible? What happens to those who don’t? This is how the Lab works: they transform data into personal stories that help the audience understand geopolitical struggle in a way that statistics can rarely communicate.

In Joel Hellman’s opening remarks, the Dean of the School of Foreign Service he spoke of the 65 million people who currently face forced migration, and fear of the national dialogue around immigration.

“What’s going to impact that dialogue? It’s narrative. It’s humanizing the story of these 65 million people who are impacted.”

Derek Goldman, an award winning theater veteran and the former US Ambassador to the Netherlands Cynthia Schneider are the co-founders and co-directors of the Lab. “We’re never trying to push a particular perspective,” explains Schneider about the Lab’s productions, which end with a panel discussions, “we’re trying to just get people to think.”

Goldman and Schneider believe the Lab can change policy. No particular performance changes one specific policy, but the students currently participating in the Lab are invested in the intersection of arts, culture and policy and in formulating ideas. They hope to pursue careers in the State Department or US Foreign Service.

Read more about the Lab’s projects and initiatives in the full report at the Cultural Exchange Lab.