Recently, we invited Faculty member and One World Music Director Paul Faber to share his thoughts with us on the annual One World Performances coming up March 20 and 21 — tickets at www.rmts.bc.ca. Please note this has been edited and presented in a Q&A format for clarity.
Q: One World has been an annual “rite of spring” in Victoria for decades. What’s different about the performance that keeps audiences coming back?
We offer the wonder, passion, and dignity of home: the places, however dark or light, where our souls will always be, forever. We endeavour to give away this essence of personhood, and, with great hope and humility, we endeavour to take it too – into our hands, limbs, lungs and breath. Not just with our minds, but with our very bodies, we embrace the expression of the “Other.” We ask, “what is it like to be you, and what could we be together.” We do this because we want to understand people more deeply and to inspire those manacled by fear and suspicion to do likewise: to truly reach out, in courage, for peace.
Q: How so?
One World offers a powerful narrative with regard to the Canadian perception of other cultures. This narrative goes against much of the negativity so prominent in our current popular discourse.
Q: What do you mean?
Take refugees from war and oppression, for example. It seems like all we see presented in the media are masses of starving people in need of food, shelter, and a life without fear and persecution; people whose presence creates an enormous financial strain on their host countries. It is naive to think that many Canadians do not thank heaven that we are physically separated from these desperate people by millions of square miles of ocean and land. The media plays on this perception every week, sometimes every night. The media also loves to discuss what is sometimes called “camouflaged extremism.” In other words, “anti-Canadian values” which will manifest in our culture either insidiously through a kind of slow social creep or potentially lethally through acts of terror if we allow “those people” to live here with us.
Q: How does One World help counter that type of thinking?
One World, in its own small way, counters this kind of viewer-seducing, click-bating xenophobia. It does this by presenting non-Canadian cultures as beautiful, glorious, sensuous, provocative societies empowered by real people with not only beautiful faces, but beautiful minds and beautiful hearts.
This does not mean that One World offers a false, sugary narrative. Like the media, One World engages the world’s problems, but it also, and crucially, offers hope by communicating a clear, practical, proven solution: understanding. When we get to know people who are seen as different, and get to know them deeply, only then can we be inspired to make peace.
Q: Couldn’t we be doing something more impactful than simply playing to our Host Family Volunteers and a bunch of “rich” people?
The audience of One World is not “rich,” it’s decidedly mixed, mostly “middle-class and represents a powerful cross-section of the community.” People from across the Island and even from the Lower Mainland who help make all three shows close to sellouts, range from elementary school students to seniors and everyone in between. We are so grateful that many of them are people who already know Pearson and give a great deal of time and energy to the College and our students. But many others are whole families, business owners, local business and political leaders – people who may not know about Pearson but who are genuinely surprised and delighted to learn more about this unique school from what they see on stage and the people they meet in the lobby Expo. Many of these people are like my mom, who’s not rich, supports two Syrian families through her church group. This year she bought tickets to One World for them too.
Q: But, singing a bunch of songs, dancing a bunch of dances while people are starving and dying? Is this some kind of “solution”?
My answer is a resounding YES! Because, to borrow someone else’s words, the only way we can inspire people to help each other is to inspire people to know each other. Helping a son, a daughter, a mom, or a dad, or someone entirely alone, can be so much more than putting soup in a bowl or giving away our old clothing. The most powerful change happens when we embrace the spirit of the “other,” when we try to bring it as close to our own as we can. I submit that we can begin to do this through embracing art, the expression of spirit. But I do not mean simply listening to songs, hearing their stories, watching dances; I mean engaging with real people, and with their help, bringing their songs, their stories, their dances into our mouths, limbs, and lungs, letting their hopes, their dreams, their passions, their wonders, and their fears dwell in our very bodies, the space literally inside of us. That is the kind of act that can foster a truly lasting change, a change of heart.
Q: But how is that generated at One World?
The inspirational power of One World can’t be denied. During the performance, in the lobby during intermission, they will see and experience the world’s young people working together to change the common narrative and to foster hope. Many in the audience will watch and internalize this spectacle of hope and say to themselves: “This is why I do this,” “This is why I keep hosting students in my home,” “This is why I support my refugee family,” “This is why I donate my books, my piano, my time to those in need.” “This is why I write letters to my member of parliament.” Hope. Hope that, this world can be different, that this world can make peace and that this world can come to a mutual understanding. I know this because I see it right here before my very eyes. Our audience sees hope in our students.
Q: So, how would you sum that up?
One world provides a much-needed counter argument to the too-pervasive Western cultural discourse that is informed by ignorance, fear, and cynicism about the “other” by showing the richness, beauty and humanity of every person no matter where they hail from.
Thank you, Paul, for providing this deeper level of understanding of why we do One World. Time and again.