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On Saturday, April 20, 2013 the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions presented its second annual conference, “Seeds of peace: meditation and the engaged life”. The keynote speaker was Marianne Williamson, a leading spiritual teacher and best-selling New York Times author. In an expanded version of last year's program, people from all walks of life came together to explore the ways to bridge inner and outer peace. The conference was held at All Saints Church in Pasadena, a haven for the peace minded for many years. Our own Debrah van Zyl was one of the organizers of the event.
The Wallenberg Institute presented one of the afternoon workshops that were focused on social activism. “Life Choices through Interactive Drama” is an adaptation of an approach pioneered as “Theater of the oppressed”. In this provocative program our facilitators along with the audience created a story as well as a script that portrayed a real-life conflict situation. Members of the audience then enacted the script.
Dr. Sideroff introduced the audience to the mission of the Wallenberg Institute. He discussed how the Institute attempts to leverage its efforts by developing models for interaction that can then be replicated. In the case of the current “Life Choices” project, the hope is to be able to train high school leaders to continue the process with training and supervision by the Institute.
This was followed by an exposition of the Life Choices program by board member Ron Klemp. Ron has helped pioneer interactive literacy programs in the schools and is the author of “School Dayz” which supplies much of the materials and stories for the program. In the school setting, students create the scripts in an interactive process based on their own experiences. This process, along with acting out of the roles, and tackling difficult conflicts facilitates the sense of empowerment in these students. During the actual performance, the facilitator will interrupt the dialogue to invite members of the audience to either coach the actors, or to come up and take their place and offer very different solutions. Thus the audience become “spect-actors” and participants in the working out of the conflict.
Gamal Palmer another board member, then facilitated the interactive process with the audience. Gamal, has extensive experience with the dramatic approach to conflict resolution and the addressing of social issues. As a Lecturer at Yale University, he co-lead a group of students who took their program to Africa to work with local leaders and children.
Gamal did a great job of getting all the participants involved, with everyone present having a role in the drama. He led attendees in the reading of the script, where they played roles and were asked to get into the characters. It demonstrated how the process works and how it can be so effective in helping teens engage in real life conflicts and ethical dilemmas.
The Institute has been working with a group of student leaders at Fremont High School in the presentation of a Life Choices Program and hope to place the program in other Los Angeles schools over the next year. In addition to Stephen, Ron and Gamal, the event was also attended by Board members Shannon Miller, Freda Sideroff, Lia Mandelbaum, and Debrah van Zyl.