The Lab Integrates with SFS

The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics — a theater performance group that seeks to humanize global politics using the performing arts — is integrating with the School of Foreign Service, four years after its foundation as an independent lab in 2012.

In its four years on campus, the Lab has sought to bring unheard voices to light in order to bridge the gap between foreign policy and global performance. The Lab is moving to the SFS in an effort to fulfill its interdisciplinary approach, while also presenting a new, unique perspective on foreign affairs to the members of the school.

Managing Director for the Lab Jojo Ruf said the Lab hopes to bring attention to complex issues and encourage dialogue through performance.

“It’s the idea of shining a light on stories and people and narratives that are rarely seen or that aren’t as front and center and providing opportunities for people to emphasize or to relate or see a new perspective on something,” Ruf said.

Co-director for the Lab Cynthia Schneider, a professor of diplomacy and culture in the SFS and the former U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, said the move to the SFS is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Lab thus far.

“The stamp of approval and validation as well as the understanding of what we are trying to do that comes with the invitation to be part of the School of Foreign Service, that’s a great leap forward for us,” Schneider said.

Ruf said she expects the Lab’s new home will help it better achieve its mission, while enabling it to adapt its goals.

“I feel like the Lab’s mission is being refracted in a slightly different way, which feels really exciting to me,” Ruf said.

Schneider said the Lab hopes to disrupt the typical academic-based approach to foreign affairs and cultivate new ideas regarding foreign policy.

“We are really trying to transform these two fields — to disrupt them and transform them,” Schneider said. “Bringing those real voices here to Georgetown where there are so many brilliant minds grappling with the policy perspective — we think that combination can help produce a really extraordinary human-centered approach to foreign policy.”

Currently, The Lab is working on a play titled “The 272,” which focuses on the 272 slaves sold by the Maryland Jesuits to a Louisiana plantation in 1838. The Lab is collaborating with Richard Cellini, creator of the Georgetown Memory Project, which works to commemorate the sold slaves and their descendants.

Schneider hopes “The 272” can incite further dialogue concerning this painful part of Georgetown’s history, which has become the subject of national attention.

“We hope that ‘The 272’ can become a conversation piece, can become something that people attend and then are able after seeing it to open up and think with fresh eyes and ears about this very painful history, not just of Georgetown, but of our whole country,” Schneider said.

Ruf sees the message and mission of the Lab as increasingly crucial in the current political climate, both in the United States and internationally.

“Any time our program, intentionally or unintentionally, is reflecting back [on] what’s happening in the world,” Ruf said. “The political climate is becoming more and more polarized, and it’s becoming more and more evident that we need a space where we can show stories on stage and help humanize what’s happening worldwide.”

In addition to making an impact on audience members, the Lab also aims to encourage the artists involved in the performances, according to Schneider.

“We want to empower the artists with the tools to study, learn about and understand these global challenges and have them feel that they’re able to bring their artistry in understanding them and presenting them to people,” Schneider said.

To celebrate the move, the Lab hosted a conversation with Bassem Youseff, an Egyptian comedian. Youseff used satire to fight political injustice and evoke social change in Egypt, beginning during the Arab Spring movement.

Schneider said the dialogue with Youseff was the perfect way to celebrate the Lab’s integration within the SFS.

“To have him here and displaying his extraordinary wit and the razor-sharp satire that he’s used to undermine the authority, which is such a given in the Arab world, that reflects a lot of what we are trying to do,” Schneider said.

Devika Ranjan (SFS ’17) became involved with the Lab in her sophomore year at Georgetown. Ranjan coordinated dancers and choreographed for Ajoka Theatre’s “Amrika Chalo” from Pakistan, part of the Lab’s Myriad Voices: A Cross Cultural Performance Festival, and was on the devising team of Generation (Wh)Y, which celebrated the voices of Muslim youth from around the world.

Ranjan said the Lab’s new role in the SFS will fit perfectly with its academic perspective.

“I could not be more thrilled that the Lab will be housed in the SFS,” Ranjan said. “It’s such a natural fit; the school prepares us for a future of foreign service, and an essential part of that is performance, diplomacy and cultural understanding.”

Ranjan echoed Ruf’s comment on how projects such as the Lab hold more importance than ever due to today’s political and social climate.

“Performance is an entertaining, organic, grassroots way of teaching us about the world around us,” Ranjan said. “In a time in which xenophobia and racism run rampant, the intersection of theatre and politics has a greater responsibility than ever to showcase the importance of diversity, cross-cultural understanding and pluralism.”

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