Since 2005, the International Theatre & Literacy Project (ITLP) has been using theatre as a means of social and economic uplift, giving children and young people a voice and empowering them to be leaders in their communities in developing countries.
ITLP began as a bold experiment.In 2005 Stephen DiMenna a theatre director and Professor of Educational Theatre at New York Univeristy and Marianna Houston, Education Director at The Theatre Development Fund launch a pilot project using new ways of teaching and learning through theatre. They conducted their first week-long project, with 21 students at the Akeri Secondary School in Tengeru Village, Tanzania.
The Tanzanian students wrote and performed an original play in English for their parents and community. The play expressed their challenges, hopes, and dreams, and spoke especially to the changing role of women in modern Tanzanian society. That first project had a profound impact on everyone who participated in the workshop and witnessed the play. For the Akeri School headmistress, it was clear that theatre could serve as a powerful tool to develop literacy and independent thinking, and she asked that Marianna and Stephen return the following summer. With this request, the International Theatre and Literacy Project was born.
Nine years after that first experiment, ITLP's programs have become an annual ritual in Tanzania – at the Akeri school and at ten other secondary schools in the Arusha. Moreover, the generous support of dedicated volunteers and caring donors has enabled ITLP to bring its important work to an increasing number of countries across Africa including Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Ethiopia and India and Asia.
Nine Years and Counting: Charting ITLP's Growth
2005: Stephen DiMenna, theatre director and Professor of Theatre Education at New York University and Marianna Houston, Education Director of the Theatre Development Fund conduct a 5-day theatre workshop for 21 students at the Akeri Secondary School in Tengeru, Tanzania. Students perform their original play at their school, at two other secondary schools and two local teachers colleges.
2006: ITLP triples in size and doubles the length of its workshops. Eight teaching artists conduct two-week theatre workshops in three schools in Tenguru, Tanzania. Sixty students, seven teachers, and three headmasters participate in the program.
2007: Ten teaching artists conduct playwriting workshops for 100 secondary school students in the Arusha region of northern Tanzania. Three secondary schools participate, with five original student plays created and performed at host schools, nearby orphanages and other local secondary schools.
Marianna Houston and Stephen DiMenna meet with the Tanzanian Minister of Education who applauds ITLP's success. ITLP forges a formal collaborative partnership with the Theatre Department at the University of Dar es Salaam to work alongside Tanzanian theatre artists in the ITLP 2008 program.
ITLP arrives in Ethiopia to conduct a workshop in collaboration with The World Wide Orphans Foundation for children living with HIV and AIDS.
2008: ITLP grows its Tanzanianstudent population from 100 to120. To root ITLP in the local context, each workshop is co-facilitated by an American theatre artist and a Tanzanian student majoring in Theatre Arts from the University of Dar es Salaam. Six plays are created by the students. In addition, acclaimed American gospel singer, JD Steele, leads a workshop and directs students in a gospel choir.
ITLP receives a MacArthur Foundation grant in Chicago for $50,000. The grant funds a University of Dar a Salaam theatre arts student from Tanzania joining Urban Gateways in Chicago as a primary theatre teaching artist, and allows an Urban Gateways teaching artist to join ITLP's summer 2009 programs in Arusha, Tanzania.
2009: Four secondary school theatre workshops in Tanzania are conducted by ITLP. A new ITLP project is launched at St. Margaret's School – 30 primary school students rehearse and perform a 40-minute version of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and participate in a film documenting the experience.
ITLP partners with the Teachers College at Columbia University. Two American educators, graduates of Columbia's International Educational Development Program, build a Professional Development Initiativeand collaborate with Tanzanian teachers, to impact pedagogy and practice in the classroom.
2010: In addition to conducting five Tanzanian workshops, ITLP partners with the Bali Children's Project to create a new project using poetry, dance and song with 45 children in the remote village of Ubud.
ITLP starts its collaboration with Camp Treetopsand awards the ITLP Nowicki Scholarship to two Tanzanian ITLP graduates to send them to summer camp.
2011: ITLP embarks on a new partnership in Rwanda, with the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a unique residential community for young people orphaned by the 1994 genocide. Three teaching artists conduct an 11-day theatre workshop for 25 students, aged 16 to 18. The workshop culminates with a performance of an original play at the Centre X Center International Play Festival in Kigali.
Eight teaching artists, alumnae of Wheaton College in Illinois, conduct ITLP's Tanzanian workshops.
The ITLP Nowicki Scholarship enables two Tanzanian students to attend Camp Treetops, NY.
ITLP receives invitations from Bhutan, India and South Africa to create new, one-month partnerships, involving theatre residencies and teacher training in 2012.
2012: ITLP launches a new program in Rwanda with the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village , a residential community for children orphaned by the Rwandan genocide. In South African ITLP begins a multi-year partnership with the Ithemba Labantu Community Center for teen-agers living in Philippi Township outside of Cape Town.
2013: ITLP returns to Rwanda and South Afirca to continue their work with children expanding to include more students and teachers.
2014: ITLP will return again to Rwanda and South Africa.