In 2006, the Rex Foundation organized and funded a collaboration with three nonprofit organizations that utilize the arts in their work with youth. The project: create an original dramatization to raise awareness and celebrate the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), chartered by the United Nations in 1948. The result was The World As It Could Be – A Declaration of Human Rights, performed on December 7, 2006 at the Presidio in San Francisco for leaders of nonprofit organizations, and again on December 8, 2006 at Balboa High School in San Francisco. The Balboa performance was recorded and made into a DVD for distribution as a teaching tool. The positive impact of this initiative spurred continuing work on what has evolved into The World As It Could Be Human Rights Education Project.
One of the organizations involved in the project since its inception is Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, California, a Rex grantee in 2003 and 2007. A unique organization devoted to using arts education as a path to violence prevention, it has been serving Oakland’s youth for 22 years through after-school, weekend and summer programs in dance, theater, martial arts, conflict resolution, self-defense, and leadership, at its Oakland center and in over 20 area public schools and other community centers.
An integral part of their programs is the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company (DAYPC), with artistic director Sarah Crowell at the helm. The multicultural group of teens collaborates with professional artists to create original performance art pieces, combining hip-hop, modern, and aerial dance, theater, martial arts, song and rap. The productions offer a dynamic, creative forum for young people to express their fears, their hopes and their strategies for confronting challenging personal and social issues. The company has performed locally and nationally since 1993 for over 25,000 audience members.
In 2007, Destiny Arts was involved in the continuing work of the Rex Foundation initiative and helped develop a second original dramatization called The World As It Could Be - Where There’s a Will There’s a Way to explore the “will” needed to realize the words of the UDHR; it, too, was performed at Balboa High School and recorded on video. This collaboration inspired the 2008 programmatic work of DAYPC which led to their original performance called Game Over: Escaping from the Dropout Factory. A theme threaded throughout the 2-hour performance was the importance of knowing about the UDHR as a way to become fully engaged as a vibrant person and “escape” from the “factory” that dulls minds and oppresses creative thinking.
Destiny Arts Center not only helped the Rex Foundation develop a high school curriculum that integrates the arts into the teaching of the UDHR, but also helped its own youth and the Game Over audiences of over 15,000 gain greater appreciation for the UDHR as a frame of reference for positive social change.
During the beginning phase of the UDHR project the directors brought the document into the group of young performers and had them read segments of it together. Dialogue and questions and answers followed in which together we clarified our understanding of the material.
We then gave the group an opportunity to free-write about their impressions of the ideas embodied in the declaration. No rules–they could use poetry, rap, prose, dialogue, etc. After we had gone through a couple of rounds of this, the group brainstormed different scenarios and characters they could create to bring the UDHR to life. During this phase the best of the written materials floated to the top and became monologues and dramatic scenes.
Next the directors and a smaller group of the young performers pored over the best materials to create a script that they brought to the full group for review and feedback. Once the script was drafted, we began the process of setting movement to the words and blocking characters. The directors then set theatrical movements to the script and incorporated dance numbers.
Once we successfully completed this process with “The World As It Could Be” we made an even more extensive effort to create “Game Over,” creating more in-depth characters and new scenes that brought the principles of the UDHR into even better focus by personifying the declaration and letting it interact with different human characters.
At the beginning of these efforts our young people were reticent about digging into the material–the language of the document felt foreign and inaccessible. But once the adults working with them broke down the material and made it pertinent to their own lives, the UDHR came alive for them and they began to respond with incredible passion and enthusiasm. In the interpretation phase of the script development, the group began to really groove on the material and to see how the declaration applied to their everyday lives and those of their loved ones.