A playwright and actor by trade and peacemaker by choice, Ingrid De Sanctis has seen the arts bring calmness to disputes where traditional diplomacy could not. De Sanctis is an artist in residence at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. She will share her theatrical expertise at the 2009 General Assembly in Indianapolis, where she’ll work with Disciples during the Global Ministries/Disciples Peace Fellowship Pre-event and the learning track titled "Are We ‘Just’ Neighbors?"
From her travels through the war-tattered Balkans with Week of Compassion to engaging inner-city Hispanic and African-American students to performing plays at prisons, De Sanctis sees her theatre arts work as a "holy expression." Her life experiences will fit well with the goals of the Are We "Just" Neighbors? learning track, which will draw church partners from around the globe and help them explore interactions and relationships with one another.
"I believe the arts, in general and theatre specifically, can open people in a mysterious and emotional way that sometimes direct conversation or traditional preaching doesn’t always do," said De Sanctis. "I have a friend who says that theatre can ambush your heart. That may sound violent, but in a beautiful way."
During the first day of the learning track at the Assembly, participants will identify the "wounds" that exist in the global village with the help of international church partners. An attempt will be made to determine some of the root causes and systemic reasons that create the injustices that can be observed in various countries around the world.
As much as the first day of the learning track will be about "wounds," the second day will be devoted to sharing possible paths to "healing" for some of the identified "wounds." There will be an attempt to avoid ‘band-aid’ solutions with an emphasis on what each participant can practically do to promote systemic change on the "wounds" that are discussed over the course of the two days. The goal is for each participant to return home with an action plan.
Theatre arts, says De Sanctis, can be a powerful tool in helping people solve problems. "The arts can be indirect and let us step back and look at a story or an issue with some distance that allows us, the audience, to open more," she said. "At the heart of theatre is storytelling and it tells stories that move us, and possibly inspire us to action."
After receiving a master of fine arts degree in acting from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, De Sanctis worked in theatre at the university level and did community-based theatre and drama in the church. She was associate director of drama at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Ill., where she created, performed and directed. Prior to that, she taught theatre at Clemson University and Eastern Mennonite University.
De Sanctis produced and directed TORBA, a play about a peace worker in the Balkans and the conflict there in the 1990s. "I could write a book," she noted. "Amy Gopp was the peace worker in the Balkans and is an amazing woman. I have found, over and over, that people, ordinary people, can do extraordinary things. Amy is absolutely not your ordinary person, but she was brave and bold and followed God’s call to go to the Balkans. The journey of writing that play and interviewing Amy and others was so powerful. I just didn’t know about that war. And that lack of knowledge leads to doing nothing. We have to know what is going on in our world. Sometimes I can exist in my own bubble with my own concerns and forget about my neighbors, the world around me and forget that maybe, even if it is small, I have something to offer." Gopp is director of Week of Compassion.
De Sanctis also wrote, acted in and directed Whachagonnadu?, a story about the perspectives of Bronx youths in response to the world after the September 11 attacks. She saw the stage production of WhaChaGonnaDu? as an extraordinary piece to work on because of the amazing talent of the teenagers. "Their poetry is sprinkled all over that piece and they had so much to share," recalled De Sanctis. "I felt honored to open up the opportunity to let them get out all that inside. It was incredible."
Among the themes that will be discussed in the Are We "Just" Neighbors? learning track are "Latin America and the Caribbean – discrimination of indigenous peoples"; "East Asia and the Pacific – environment/climate change"; "Africa – socio-economic disparity"; "Middle East and Europe – war/peace"; and "Southern Asia – interfaith conflict/dialogue."
De Sanctis is confident that people from different racial/ethnic backgrounds can go beyond being "just neighbors" who happen to share the same planet? "I can only speak from the work I do, but I have been amazed at how people come together to work on theatre, putting a play together," she said. "I have seen this work as creating a play or a piece of theatre of some sort. We join forces for our greater cause, in this case, a piece of art. When people work together for a common goal, differences become secondary and the goal – whether it be a piece of art, theatre or building a house – the goal becomes primary."
By James Patterson