Encounters & the MAP Project

Written by Kellen Jackson


The MAP Project, says Artistic Director, Rio Mitchell is all about investigating “identity and interaction”. Through conversationally built staged theatre, participants perform themselves, and perform others. In building and relating these “fractured multi-selves”, performers are challenged to know themselves and actively confront, and empathize with, their Others.

Performer Junior Padingani talks about how he used to be intolerant, and unloving toward LGBT community. After participating in the Encounters Project, he says now he has a lot of love for LGBT people as human beings, and is able to show that to them. Exposure – real encounters with real people – waters the seed of human kindness, understanding, and empathy. It is too easy to dehumanize from afar. Encounters brings diverse people together for face-to-face interaction and intimate artistic collaboration. Creating together in such close proximity, with such intensity, allows us to open our eyes to the essential sameness we all share as beings on this earth.

In performing the self, Rio argues, we have to dig deep to find and begin to understand all of the negativity we’ve internalized. We have to confront the stereotypes we hold close, and the persecutions we hold true. We have to ask ourselves, “Why? Why do I have these beliefs or attitudes that degrade other beings?”. And in asking the question bluntly, we find there is no real justification. When we allow our walls to come down, when we – to use performer Farah Fancy’s word – “expose” ourselves, we enter into real, authentic relationships based on vulnerability, trust, and mutual support. Collaborative theatrical practice, like the MAP Project, facilitates that kind of sloughing of the brick and mortar we sometimes didn’t even know we’d built up. As Rachael Van Fossen, Artistic Director of the Encounters Project says, though we can’t ever completely know another person, it is in the effort to bridge the gap, to see and live empathetically, that we build and maintain community.

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