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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

SU, Congolese community, Syracuse Stage present new documentary theater piece

"Cry for Peace" part of 2010 Syracuse Symposium

Dec. 2, 2010, by Jaime Winne Alvarez

Syracuse University, in association with the Congolese community of Syracuse, Syracuse Stage and Ping Chong & Company, will present three public workshop performances of “Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo,” a new and riveting piece of documentary theater based on interviews with members of the local Congolese community, on Dec. 9-11. Ping Chong (left), internationally renowned theater artist and director of the 2008 Syracuse Stage production of “Tales from the Salt City,” returns to Syracuse to direct the workshops.

The workshops are part of SU’s 2010 Syracuse Symposium “Conflict: Peace and War,” a semester-long exploration of public humanities through a diverse array of lectures, performances, exhibits, symposia and special events.

Approximately 200 refugees from the Congo genocide reside in Syracuse. Their numbers represent 12 different tribes with a blood-soaked past hanging between them. As victims and victimizers living in close proximity, tensions and mistrust remain.

“Cry for Peace” is also part of “Undesirable Elements,” an ongoing series of community-specific oral history theater works by Ping Chong & Company. Created in 1992, each production is made in a specific community, with local participants testifying to their real lives and experiences. Scripts are based on interviews with participants, who then share their stories in the final production. More than 40 “Undesirable Elements” productions have been made across the United States and abroad; recent productions have explored themes as far ranging as disability, Native American identity, Asian American identity and the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse.

“Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo” workshops will take place on Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m. in the Storch Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama complex, 820 E. Genesee St., Syracuse. The workshops are free; however tickets are required. They may be picked up in-person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office or reserved by calling (315) 443-3275.

A raw piece of documentary theater, which uses real people to tell their own stories from a script based on interviews between playwrights and residents, “Cry for Peace” represents a convergence of dramatic art, education and cultural diplomacy. The project aims to promote healing, unity and reconciliation among local ethnic groups and individuals in the Congolese community, as well as peace in the Congo. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a performance that can one day be presented in the Congo. The workshops will be performed by local residents from the Congolese community.

Script writing, workshop rehearsals and Chong’s on-campus residency are taking place under a partnership between the office of SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, under the guidance of University Performing Arts Presenter Carole Brzozowski, and Syracuse Stage. Chong and local playwright Kyle Bass, dramaturg at Syracuse Stage, were commissioned to write “Cry for Peace” as part of a Chancellor’s Initiative. During the course of the project, Chong has been the Jeanette K. Watson Visiting Collaborator in the Humanities at SU. Each year, the SU Humanities Center Advisory Board appoints scholars, writers or artists to these pre-eminent lectureships.

“‘Cry for Peace’ is one of more than 40 productions in my ‘Undesirable Elements’ series of community-based oral history projects,” says Chong. “Each project is unique and challenging in its own way. I am deeply honored to have been asked to use my artistry to help the Congolese community advance their dreams of reconciliation.”

The basis for the project began in February, when SU alumnus Cyprien Mihigo ’07, a local Congolese community leader, approached Bass about a play he was creating based on interviews he’d conducted with members of the local Congolese community. A first-time playwright and refugee from the genocide, Mihigo spoke passionately about his desire to unite local refugees through a piece of living, breathing theater. In reviewing Mihigo’s materials, Bass recognized an opportunity to once again pair Chong and his company with a seldom heard from but internationally significant segment of the local community.

The search for participants began in August and a pool of approximately 12 candidates was recruited through Mihigo’s outreach. The participants were interviewed multiple times, both in-person and via e-mail, by Bass, Chong and Ping Chong & Company’s associate director Sara Zatz. Translators were present on occasion. During this process, Bass says he was struck by how cooperative the Congolese were, both as a group of selected interviewees and also as a community. “The honesty, bravery and grace each showed while sharing their very difficult stories was inspiring,” says Bass.

“This project has the potential to bring understanding to difficult issues. I am grateful to the Congolese community and the leadership and vision of Cyprien, and to all of the partners in the project, especially Ping and Kyle for their inspirational work in bringing these stories to light,” says Brzozowski. “I look forward to the continued development of ‘Cry for Peace’ and finding venues beyond Syracuse to present the work as a starting point for discussion.”

In addition to directing the workshops, Chong will present a mini-seminar for SU students and faculty on Friday, Dec. 3, at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. in the SU Humanities Seminar Room, Room 304 of the Tolley Humanities Building. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the director as he describes his methodology. Members of the public may attend the seminar and are required to register by contacting Karen Ortega at, or Kathryn Tunkel at in The SU Humanities Center. Space is limited.

Chong is an internationally acclaimed director, playwright, video installation artist and pioneer in the use of media in the theater. His work has been presented at major festivals and theaters, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, La MaMa E.T.C, Spoleto USA Festival, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the New Victory Theater, the Barbican Centre, Vienna Festival and many others. His puppet theater production, “Cathay: Three Tales of China,” created with the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater of Xian, China, was chosen as one of the top 10 productions of the 2005 season by NY Theatre Wire, and recently had its Chinese premiere in Xian. Since 1992, he has created more than 40 works in the “Undesirable Elements” series, including “Tales from the Salt City” at Syracuse Stage in 2008. In 2010, “The Devil You Know” premiered at La MaMa as part of the 2010 Under The Radar Festival, and “Throne of Blood” was presented at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Among his many honors and awards, Chong has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a USA Artist Fellowship, two BESSIE awards and two OBIE awards, including one for sustained achievement in 2000.

Bass (right) is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellow (fiction in 1998, playwriting in 2010) and a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Award. His plays have been produced by The Kitchen Theatre, Appleseed Productions, Armory Square Playhouse and the Syracuse Stage “Backstory!” program. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Bass’ work has appeared in the journals Stone Canoe (for which he serves as drama editor), Folio and Callaloo, among other publications. Bass is on the faculty at Goddard College, where he teaches in the M.F.A. creative writing program, and also teaches playwriting at SU. Bass holds a M.F.A. in creative writing from Goddard College.

Ping Chong & Company was founded in 1975 to create and tour innovative works of theater and art that explore the intersection of race, history, culture and technology in the modern world. The New York–based nonprofit company has produced more than 70 works by Chong and his collaborators, toured widely in the United States and throughout the world, and received numerous honors and awards. Ping Chong & Company is a 501 (c) 3 organization.

Syracuse Stage is Central New York’s premier professional theater. Founded in 1974, Stage has produced more than 230 plays in 37 seasons, including a number of world, American and East Coast premieres. Each season, 90,000 patrons enjoy an adventurous mix of new plays and bold interpretations of classics and musicals featuring the finest theater artists. In addition, Stage maintains a vital educational outreach program that annually serves more than 30,000 students from 24 counties. A solid core of subscribers and supporters helps keep Syracuse Stage a vibrant artistic presence in Central New York. Additional support comes from the government, foundations, corporations and SU. Syracuse Stage is a constituent of the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, and a member of the Arts and Cultural Leadership Alliance (ACLA), the University Hill Corporation and the East Genesee Regent Association. Syracuse Stage is a member of The League of Resident Theatres (LORT), the largest professional theatre association in the country.