Activity: Structure and Needs

Bibliodrama seeks anyone interested in holy texts. It brings together people from different faiths and invites them to study an extract of a holy text, and then to enact it with someone else or by themselves. To carry out a Bibliodrama workshop, a moderator is needed who knows the text well and is capable of rectifying any errors in the interpretation of the texts without diminishing the creativity of the exercise. 

In order to conduct an interfaith play, an organization or an individual from outside of the communities in question should organize a play between the different faiths that are in conflict. The number of actors from each community has to be balanced. The group rehearses together during the year before presenting the play to the public. The play’s premise is neutral regarding the history of the religious communities in question. Thus, it creates bonds between the actors, and consequently extracts them from their differences and pushes them to organize themselves around a common goal.

“The Hindu and the Cowboy” is part of the Mosaic Life Stories Project, initiated at Kansas City’s 2001 Gifts of Pluralism Conference. Under the guidance of project designer and playwright Donna W. Ziegenhorn, the Mosaic project encourages people to come forward and tell the stories they have lived and that have affected them in a visceral way. Through personal recording sessions and storytelling circles, seven volunteers collect and transcribe more than 80 interviews that fill three two-inch binders. Individuals of many faith traditions were interviewed, and eight different traditions are featured in the play. The play premiered in 2004 at the Kansas City Harmony Luncheon. Since then, it has been staged over 25 times to a variety of audiences including colleges, churches, conferences, seminaries, high schools, and corporate diversity trainings. The Kansas City’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre produces the play.

The Theatre of People is organized by Janakaraliya in Sri Lanka. It requires a mobile theatre, and the troupe has to be diverse in order to reflect society in all its plurality. This is a major criterion for the casting. The play should include the different languages spoken by the actors. During the tours, and before or after performances, members of the troupe should tour nearby villages to meet locals, and conduct theatre arts workshops for adults and entertainment programs for children.


Objectives: Impact and Focus

Interfaith theatre aims at deconstructing prejudices about other religions' texts by teaching their content in a creative way, and by asking individuals to collaborate regardless of their differences. In Bibliodrama, actors co-create an interpretation of an unknown text and acquaint themselves with others’ modes of thinking. It is conducted on a weekly basis with people from all religious backgrounds, prepared in advance by the moderator and voluntarily embraced by the participants. It can be part of a broader one-year program to explore a wide range of texts, but participants can also come freely to isolated workshops. Bibliodrama aims to increase the understanding of texts by enacting them, therefore reducing the distance between the actors and the holy text of other faiths. Furthermore, it initiates a discussion between actors and the audience about various interpretations.

The interfaith theatre play requires a stage, a few actors and a stage director. It takes place in a zone of conflict where dialogue between the parties in opposition is rare, thus necessary. The play offers the opportunity for the youth to meet outside of the realms of the conflict, and work together towards a common goal. In acting together, they also get to express feelings, frustrations and emotions that may be socially reprehensible in the context at hand. By coming together for the play, individuals receive training on working together as a group, and on peace-building, empowerment or conflict resolution. They also have the opportunity to build friendships and to further collaborate on other projects, such as the opening of a cultural cafe. It also offers them a chance to earn money by collecting donations during the plays, which assists them in confronting economic difficulties found within conflict zones.

“The Hindu and the Cowboy” uses theatre and storytelling to reach a wide audience and invite them to reflect not only on the play but also on questions of identity and values that impact their own lives. Surveys collected after the performance found that 41 percent of the audience indicated this was their “first interfaith event” and 60 percent of those rated the play “extremely valuable.” Collaborating with Kansas City organizations like the Kansas City Public Library allows the play to reach beyond those already active in interfaith work. Although rooted in Kansas City, the stories of “The Hindu and the Cowboy” transcend regional boundaries and strike chords of common human emotion and experience.

During the tours, the mobile theatre gathers more than 500 people at each representation. The troupe moves around the country in order to address issues of ethnic differences, and promote collaboration and working together in harmony. The project focuses also on rural areas who are often left behind in the cooperation process in contrast to cities and urban processes.


Field Data: Examples and Sources (Activity – Organisation – Location)

1.) Bibliodrama – The Rumi Foundation – Poland

The Rumi foundation of Poland offers teaching and practices of the Tariqa Nakshbandiyya Mujadiddiyya, Poland’s first Islamic Sufi community. It aims at transmitting knowledge about Sufism and Islam while promoting the peaceful message of Islam. Its activities are divided into three categories: spirituality of Islam (lectures, conferences, translating), culture as an idea of the universal language (promoting arts, Sufi Festival of Poland, trips and arts exhibitions) and interfaith dialogue (coordinating the World Interfaith Harmony Week and organizing interfaith activities). As part of the third category, the Rumi foundation organizes regular bibliodrama sessions that are open to anyone.

2.) Interfaith Enactment of Classics – March Lebanon – Lebanon

The March Lebanon organization seeks to raise awareness about and defend the right to freedom of expression as a means to foster diversity, equality and reach a genuine reconciliation among various communities. In March 2015, it recruited 16 young people from the ages of 16 to 29 years old from Tripoli, Lebanon to play a revised version of Romeo and Juliette in front of audiences in Tripoli and Beirut. People attending the show were from different political and religious backgrounds. They collected donations that amounted to about $8,500, that were given back to the young people who had worked hard on the play. The actors also met important artists and had additional workshops on conflict resolution and communication skills. March Lebanon now wants to open a cultural cafe led by those young adults in order to help them earn an income, remain ambassadors of peace and art, and use culture as tools for communication and reconciliation.

3.) Greater Kansas City Festival of Faiths – Prairie Village, Kansas, USA

“The Hindu and the Cowboy” features stories drawn from Kansas City residents. In the post-World War II era, The Kansas City metropolitan area (which straddles two states, Missouri and Kansas) saw new communities arrive looking for their own “land of opportunity.” At the same time, the city's new religious diversity also brought to the fore tensions over both immigration and interfaith efforts, which take the form of campus organizations, chaplaincy initiatives, a metro interfaith council, and several social service programs. Today, “The Hindu and the Cowboy” reaches audiences through its partnership with the Greater Kansas City Festival of Faiths.


4.) Theatre of the People – Jankaraliya Cultural Foundation – Colombo, Sri Lanka

Janakaraliya raises awareness of harmony and peace in all areas of Sri Lanka, mainly in the countryside where there is a lack of opportunities and initiatives for people to meet. This theatre troupe therefore advocates for peace while also promoting arts and drama by travelling around the country.