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Q Tell me what your hopes for this event are, and what is unique about this gathering that will take place in Washington D.C. over the next few days (September 17–19, 2000).
A I think human rights defenders tend to be people who have broken silence. They have spoken out. But generally what happens is that their voice goes out into the world, and then it's swallowed by indifference and by silence again. And what this event allows us to do is to bring these people together to show them both individually and as a collective. And what we're listening to is how they break out of the silence, how they break out of the indifference, and how they can reach the powerful. Because they had by themselves, managed with their courage to defeat death; to defeat fear. Most of them have been imprisoned, ridiculed. Many of them have been tortured, hurt, threatened, exiled, beaten up, and that hasn't stopped them. It's clear that these people are fearless. They will not be stopped by somebody beating them up, or even by somebody killing them. But indifference can stop them. A deaf ear can stop them. A cold heart can stop them. The idea that, " Oh, this is just too complicated"—passivity—can stop them. It's much more difficult to break out of the barrier of indifference than the barrier of physical repression. Because physical repression, you either survive, or you don't. But what do you do when somebody doesn't give a damn? Or when you have millions of children in slavery, and yet people say, "Well you know what, I'd rather buy this at a cheaper price." People don't understand that their feet are being rubbed on a carpet full of the sufferings of millions of small children. But if we can make that into something which is poetic, it gets to them. I think that people have a beautiful heart inside of them, that they have a good part to themselves. Helen Prejean (an American activist against the death penalty) says this, she says we have to be able to get to the better part of people, to the good part inside people. And I'm hoping that these events and the play in particular will allow us to reach into those hearts with these words and move them. You know, people are moved by words. They are moved by beauty. What I wanted to do is a bit strange, which is to take the horror of what happens to human rights victims, the terrible beauty of the courage that it takes to work with that, and join that with the beauty of words, to make it something that moves us, and that makes us feel if we are in fact one humanity.

Q You took the real words the Human Rights Defenders and you put them together. Tell us again what was revealed as you used these words, found the poetry in them and structured them?
A I discovered that all of them had confronted some sort of special moment of truth when they could not keep quiet, when there was such injustice that they had to speak up. Then I discovered that as they spoke out, they were repressed. But the repression was unable to stop them, too. On the contrary, they discovered in themselves the strength to go on. But particularly what they discovered, and what I discovered in them, was that they weren't alone. As they began to speak out, other people spoke out with them. I also discovered a great sense of humor in them, which is wonderful to me. In the play itself, I had to find a moment in which the defenders isolate the one character I invented, who is sort of an evangelist of evil, of multiple evils—the play has to be dramatic in some sense. You can't just have people speaking their lines. That's not enough of a play. So I had to create that character and one of the ways in which they defeat him is through laughter. He's been pulling them upon the stage and naming them. In doing so, he's been controlling them in some sense. But they laugh at him. And at the moment they can laugh at him, the moment at which they become a collective, they defeat him in some sense. He cannot stand laughter. I think evil can't stand laughter. I think we are most human when we laugh, because we connect with one another. You know the saying, if a tree falls by itself in the forest, does anybody hear it? Well I can assure you that you can't tell a joke by yourself. You know, you've got to tell a joke to somebody else. And these people are so full of life and full of this sense of humor, that they find one another. It's this finding of one another, this idea that they are not alone, which is important. Just as they found the voice of the victim, and stood up for that victim, now we find their voice. The idea is that the audience will eventually take those voices and put them into their own heart, and carry those voices with them. So it'll have a multiplying affect. It will be that ripple of hope that Robert Kennedy spoke about.


Interview by OFFLINE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP