WSI’s applied theatre-making process provides a space for exploration, interaction and collaboration with participants from vastly different cultures and backgrounds. We bring people together to question assumptions, engage in problem-solving dialogue, experiment with biases, improvise collective ideas and, most importantly, create fabulous theatre.
Our goal is not only to share what we’ve learned and created, but to offer ways for others to devise aesthetically provocative, socially challenging theatre anywhere with anyone in almost any situation.
We’ve been making theatre that makes a difference since 2006, when The Winter/Summer Institute was launched by eight colleagues from three different continents. Our collaborative work began in Lesotho, southern Africa in mid-July: winter in Lesotho and South Africa, summer in New York and the U.K. — a hemispheric divide that gave rise to our name. WSI’s first international residency was a response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, an experiment in theatre-making across cultures, languages, influences, ages and aesthetics. An experiment that included participants from the four originating countries as well as rural villagers from the mountains of Lesotho. We came together to find out if we could create performance that was high caliber, entertaining, provocative, funny and relevant.
In 2008, we explored the effects of stigma and denial in regard to getting tested for HIV, along with the potentially dynamic role played by “concurrency” — networks of simultaneous, ongoing, committed sexual relationships with a small number of people. Our 2008 performance, It’s Just You and Me ... and My Wife and Your Boyfriend (Ke ‘Na Le Uena Le Mosali oa Ka Le Mohlankana oa Hau Feela), also played the National University, the capital, and the Malealea Valley. In Malealea we collaborated once again with local villagers and performed in the Malealea Festival for an even larger crowd.
We spent our 2011 in Lesotho’s Malealea Valley working more extensively with the rural drama group Khalemelang Bohlasoa. Together we created Would You Still Love Me if You Knew? (Ha U N’u Tseba, Na U N’u Tla ‘N’u Nthate?). The 2011 show looked at the way “tradition” and “modernity” clash around questions of religion and medicine, and presented a performance frame for issues of homosexuality, sex trafficking and the growing divide between rural and urban — all guided by a rambunctious, irreverent pair of bilingual Tricksters.
Subsequent residencies (between 2012–2018) were held in Lesotho, New York, and Johannesburg. When it’s possible to travel and meet in person once again – we plan to convene a residency in Lesotho with as many former participants as possible.
To date, WSI has included students and faculty from: the National University of Lesotho; the State University of New York, Empire State College, New York City (US); the University of Sunderland (UK); and the University of the Witwatersrand (RSA).