"We've got to make noises in greater amounts.
So open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!"
Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, "YOPP!"
And that Yopp...
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant said, "Do you see what I mean?...
They've proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All."
- Excerpt from Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss
As Dr. Seuss so deftly illustrates, even the smallest voice has the capacity to change our world. Through Civic-Engagement Theatre, Via Arts strives to empower and amplify the voices our community we rarely hear from. The following are three principles we use when creating original work.
Put Aside Your Assumptions
When facilitating any work tolerance is our guide. Not just in accepting others, but in recognizing what assumptions we innately bring to the situation. Now this doesn't have to be malicious. It is possible to form completely positive assumptions.
Your daughter has a large presentation in school. She has been up late almost every night preparing for this presentation. She seems prepared, but definitely nervous. The day of the presentation she puts on a nice outfit, new shoes, hair done, collects her notes and is off to school. When she comes home she is smiling. What's your first thought? The presentation must have gone well right? That's not a negative assumption at all...
When creating a piece we start the dialogue by asking a question. Part of asking a question is recognizing we have a specific answer in mind- and then putting that answer to the side. A true dialogue can't exist if the same person asks and answers the questions.
Listen Don't Tell
Continuing with our example. You decide to ask your daughter how her day was. The conversation might go like this:
You: How was your day?
You: So your presentation went well?
Daughter: We had a sub so we didn't do them today.
You: Oh, what made it a good day?
Daughter: Everyone loved my new shoes!
This is a simple example of something that happens very often. We ask a question, expecting one answer, and are completely caught off guard by another topic. And that is okay! Our work is to empower and amplify the voices of those we work with- not to create words for them.
Validate The Story
If we ask "Why do you think it is important to finish high school?" and the answer is, "Because my parents said so," then that is the answer. We don't then make a piece about that person's dreams of going to college and becoming a vet. We instead delve deeper into the answer. Why are the wishes of your parents important to you? If there any other reason you think school is important? What do you want your next step to be? By allowing the words of our participants to guide and develop our work we do two things: One- create a piece that accurately portrays their opinions, questions, and ideals. Two- By validating them, we encourage them to continue to share their voice.
The Mayor of Whoville doesn't tell young JoJo what to say. He doesn't suggest he sing a song or chant, "We are here!" He just asks that he uses his voice. We believe in listening and validating the words of those we work with, even if their words are an unexpected, YOPP.