community theatre internationale
Creating community through performance... across borders local and global

About Us

The Community Theatre Internationale develops multi-media, collaborative productions between community-based ensembles in different parts of the world. Mixing live performance with video and Internet technology, we create “stages” on which ordinary people from around the globe gather to make theatre and art. Boundaries that divide are transformed into opportunities for beauty and surprise. Speaking the language of improvisation, we perform grassroots global conversations—with no opening or closing nights.

Our First Stage

Ten days after September 11, 2001, three friends put up flyers on lampposts and in the windows of check-cashing joints along a Brooklyn street in New York City. Bright yellow leaflets invite residents to “create community through performance.” 40 people—from a rich mix of cultural and racial backgrounds, with stage experience and without—step forward to inaugurate the Community Theatre Internationale. They improvise, play theatre games, share life performances and create an ensemble. What begins as a six-week workshop turns into eight months. Friends and local businesses support the effort with funds and in-kind donations.

In June 2002, they celebrate with A Happening. Over 150 guests join in an evening of theatre, music, dance, visual art and improvisational games—playing together across the lines of social segregation. Serving as a harbinger of things to come, the finale is an intercontinental poetry jam with friends in Africa.

Why Community Theatre? An Un-Manifesto

In cities and towns across the United States, computer programmers, accountants, social workers, mechanics, students and secretaries don’t go home at night. Instead, they meet on stage to put on a show. They make the costumes, build the sets, sell the tickets, learn their lines and emote. Local businesses, patrons, friends and family provide financing and cheer on the players. No paychecks or high-powered careers are on the line here—it is simply the fun of performing together.

In marginalized neighborhoods and villages in Latin America, Africa, Asia, as well as western countries, people gather to collectively improvise scenarios out of the stuff of their lives. Far from amateur productions of Broadway shows, the unsung and unseen are brought into the limelight. Spawned by the liberation movements and radical theatre of the 1960s, community-based theatre often tackles vital social issues stemming from poverty and oppression and promotes the empowerment of the disenfranchised. In the custom of spoken word, no fourth wall separates artists and audience—the line between process and product blurred.

The Community Theatre Internationale takes its cue from the grassroots performatory spirit of both of these community theatre traditions. At the heart of our aesthetic is the power and joy of performing--whatever the content may be. We do neither theatre that upholds the status quo nor theatre that fixes social ills. Theatre-making takes center stage, where people from disparate backgrounds gather and play. Here, ordinary persons can experience each other directly--unmediated by the assumptions of conventional wisdom and mass media.

One of the amazing things that happens when different kinds of people perform together is the creation of new community--invented and inclusive. Community that performs itself into existence, onstage and off, presents new possibilities for change--a Zeitgeist of transformation.

In community theatre, we access a wide-ranging mix of life experiences, talents and skills through a fusion of amateur and professional performers. The voices of those typically kept off the platform of social discourse are incorporated into a more communal conversation. Everyone (including our "audiences") contributes whatever they can to the creation of something none of us has ever done or seen before.

Kate Gardner - Biography

Kate Gardner creates interactive programs that promote social development and cultural transformation through the innovative use of art, entertainment and communication technology—such as theatre, spoken word, soap opera, film, the web, television and cell phones. She develops projects and trainings for organizations based on her unique performatory approach that empowers participants to build new kinships and discover fresh possibilities. She has led workshops in various venues, including Erasmus Hall High School and the Brooklyn Public Library, New York City, USA; First Latin American Conference on Education-Entertainment for Social Change, Morelia, Mexico; and International Community Theatre Festival, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Ten days after September 11, 2001, Ms. Gardner founded the Community Theatre Internationale to create community through performance across borders local and global. She started A Happening (2001-2002) by bringing together people in her neighborhood to play across the lines of racial, social and economic segregation. The eight-month project culminated in a poetry jam on the Internet between a multi-cultural cross-section of 150 Americans and poets in Africa. In partnership with Kenyan health educators and a community theatre in a Peruvian shantytown, she conceived, produced and directed BrooKenya! (2003-2005), an intercontinental grassroots soap opera created with residents in Brooklyn, USA; Kisumu, Kenya; and Lima, Peru. The project was shared with an international audience of thousands at participatory events and screenings and on the Internet and television.

Ms. Gardner is engaged in a life-long exploration of performing and social change. Growing up in the Harrisburg Community Theater in Pennsylvania, she experienced early on the power of communal art-making to bring diverse peoples together. She helped launch pioneering cultural projects in New York City, including an inner-city youth talent show program and a series of jazz cruises. As a community organizer and activist, she worked on issues of democracy and human rights in the United States and internationally.

Ms. Gardner is a former partner of Tillett Lighting Design, Inc. and senior associate of an international corporate investigative firm. She studied with Richard Pinter of the Neighborhood Playhouse and Jasper Deeter of the Hedgerow Theater. She resides in New York City.