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Peace-building through awareness and improvisation

This post was written by Contributing Authors Heather Huggins and Aviva Geismar, collaborating professors at Queensborough Community College. 

peace-building through awareness and improvisation 

Part 1 

Friday, March 12, 2021 at 10:30 am 

Our program was a celebration of a participatory action research methodology known as Social Presencing Theater, a body-based approach for sensing and enacting change. It was also an invitation to engage with QCC’s student and alumni practice group, which began in April 2018.  

Social Presencing Theater (SPT) decolonizes learning by reclaiming the body as an equitable way of knowing and being. SPT centers first-person experience via an improvisational and cyclical process, inviting participants to perceive a larger present. Because SPT is practiced in community, it positions our relational spaces, and the distinct cultures that emerge from them, as worthy of reflection and development. The “theater” in SPT refers to a shared place where something of significance is made visible.

The first virtual event was a webinar, co-presented with QCC’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center. Facilitators guided awareness and listening practices that participants were able to enact in a chair and with limited space if necessary. Attendees learned about a workshop on “empathy to action,” which CUNY students developed in partnership with the KHC last year. Facilitators also shared about their experiences integrating SPT in local and global contexts, reflecting on the potential of SPT to transform intransigent problems. 

Facilitators included members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kreisler and Yineng Ye, Global Citizenship Alliance alumni; Arawana Hayashi, creator of Social Presencing Theater; Uri Noy Meir, an artist-facilitator co-creating social art across borders;  and CUNY Faculty members: Heather Huggins, advanced practitioner of SPT and Assistant Professor of Theatre, and Aviva Geismar, Associate Professor of Dance.  

Here’s a video from a recent event at City University of New York (CUNY) – Queensborough Community College (QCC), peacebuilding through awareness and improvisation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SWX9gmxyN4

The program was facilitated by Arawana Hayashi, Uri Noy Meir, QCC faculty members Heather Huggins and Aviva Geismar, and members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kriesler, Yineng Ye, Joe Distl, Phylisha Louis, Geovanny Guzman, Kristopher Harris, and Justin Allen. The event was co-sponsored by the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center at QCC and Transformative Learning in the Humanities at CUNY. 

Stay tuned for the second event in this mini series,  

peace building through awareness 

 Part 2

Saturday, April 24th 10:30 am – 12 noon.  

The second virtual event invites attendees to immerse in Social Presencing Theater, including group practices and ways to map the complexity of our educational system. Facilitators will share about the potential for body-based knowledge to transform structures, including SPT’s capacity to illuminate patterns from the personal to the systemic. Facilitators will also share how body-based practices offer wisdom for re-generating culture, transforming social dynamics from exclusion to inclusion and from violence to peace. 

Facilitators are members of QCC’s student and alumni practice group, including Jessica Kreisler and Yineng Ye, Global Citizenship Alliance alumni; Arawana Hayashi, creator of Social Presencing Theater; Manish Srivastava, a global facilitator whose projects include partnering with UN agencies and NGO sectors; Uri Noy Meir, an artist-facilitator co-creating social art across borders and CUNY Faculty members: Heather Huggins, advanced practitioner of SPT and Assistant Professor of Theatre, and Aviva Geismar, Associate Professor of Dance.

Heather Huggins is an interdisciplinary artist who aspires to reclaim the wisdom of the body through social practice and research. Her projects explore presence as a path for co-created social change.  Heather is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at CUNY-QCC where she facilitates a practice-based undergraduate research community which has presented in numerous forums for the CUNY community. She initiated a participatory action research (PAR) community at QCC in April 2018 which integrates an innovative social art form known as Social Presencing Theater (SPT); SPT embodies Theory U (Otto Scharmer, MIT) by “joining physical and spatial intelligence with emotional and cognitive intelligence”  (Arawana Hayashi, SPT). In Winter 2020, she traveled with students for a social arts residency in the Yucatán, collaborating with Mayan community members to co-create a performance celebrating the wisdom of youth; the group also presents findings on diversity, equity, and inclusion and co-facilitates workshops. She is a graduate of the Vakhtangov Theatre, an advanced practitioner of Social Presencing Theater at the Presencing Institute, and a social arts facilitator with ImaginAction.

Aviva Geismar is an Associate Professor in the Dance Program at QCC-CUNY. She is also Artistic Director of Drastic Action, a NYC-based contemporary dance company. Her dances have been performed in venues across North America and Germany, including DTW, Danspace Project, the Kennedy Center and Jacob’s Pillow. Many of her works focus on issues of social justice; for example, Dis/Location (Fort Tryon) (2016) explored the immigrant experience in the mostly immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights. From 2006-2010, she led “Dancing to Connect,” a cultural exchange project with Germany, focusing on tolerance within the context and legacy of the Holocaust. She is currently collaborating with Heather Huggins and playwright, Kirk German, on a multi- installment, dance/theater project titled “Dis Place.” The project interrogates our national legacy of cultural and geographic displacement by examining the experiences of individuals impacted by slum clearance/urban renewal in NYC and beyond.  

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