The New World Border

International Theater in the Post–9-11 Era

"We invited an equal measure of Jewish and Arab high school students to this 70-minute performance and held a post-performance dialogue to discuss the way opposing communities can come together artistically," Melillo says breathlessly into the phone from his Barcelona hotel room. "Theater may not have the cultural influence of film or TV, but it has the capacity to uniquely embody the potential of individuals to creatively transcend difference."

But theater as peripheral discourse also has the ability, perhaps even responsibility, to communicate points of view that may be unpopular, dissenting, or even downright dangerous. Cynthia Hedstrom, programming director of the ambitious International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, recently found herself in a maelstrom of controversy for presenting Alive From Palestine: Stories Under Occupation, by the Ramallah-based Al-Kasaba Theatre. "At the time of the intifada, the company felt that they needed to make theater that reflected the situation in their country," she explains. "But there was a reaction here among some Jewish groups that there should have been a more balanced viewpoint. This is somewhat problematic for me because art often has a strong perspective, and what we're seeking is diversity and complexity over a broad spectrum of productions and additional programs that can foster communal debate.

"If you don't know the stories of the world, you're handicapped," says Hedstrom. "Confronting these narratives builds better citizenship. This has to be our collective mission."

Iran's Ta'ziyeh: 10 visas denied for its Lincoln Center run
photo: Peter Chelkowski
Iran's Ta'ziyeh: 10 visas denied for its Lincoln Center run

For Lincoln Center's Redden, it comes down to understanding your place in the wider swath of history: "For many, the end of the Cold War signaled America's break from the brutality of the past. But as recent events show, we can neither close ourselves off nor retreat into survivalist mode, raising vegetables in Montana."

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