The words of the refugee peoples of Darfur and of those working to provide relief to the affected millions in Sudan come to life on Jan. 25 on the stage of the newly renovated Roosevelt High School Theater. In a dramatic production, Darfur Stories, a quartet of actors will portray journalists covering both the genocide and the relief effort.
The idea for the production was conceived by Dr. Barbara Mackoff after her daughter, Hannah Miller, returned from summer camp at Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif. two summers ago, and heard about the ongoing battle between the Arab janjaweed militia and the African tribal population of western Sudan.
For Mackoff, it was the first time that the conflict appeared on her radar. It would be the start of a learning process that would culminate in Darfur Stories.
In the intervening time, Mackoff would attend a demonstration addressing Darfur with Hannah in Washington, D.C., and back in Seattle would become active with the SaveDarfurWashingtonState organization. As her awareness increased, so did her desire to do something.
As Mackoff researched the issues surrounding Darfur, she continually ran into first-person accounts of not only the atrocities that were occurring, but of the experiences and observations of those who were working at ground level in refugee camps and those reaching out to the rest of the world for help.
“I could see that there was a broader story to be told then just the overwhelming stories of suffering,” she said. “I could see that there were stories of hope as well.”
As a consulting psychologist with an expertise in the psychology of effective leadership, Mackoff had often interviewed business leaders and profiled their life stories and leadership techniques to demonstrate the power of change to others. Taking the accounts of those involved with Darfur and crafting them into an educational tool was a natural for her.
Beginning in September of 2006, she began a mad dash to put together a program that would bring the message to the community.
She set out gathering written and oral accounts from aid workers, natives of Darfur, and high profile leaders associated with the various agencies attempting to provide relief efforts.
“I talked to people like [actor] Mia Farrow,” Mackoff said. Farrow is a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF who has made numerous visits to the region. She also talked to Nick Clooney, the Cincinnati journalist, who visited Darfur with his famous actor offspring, George Clooney.
When Mackoff had gathered all of her information, she turned it over to Book-It Repertory Theatre. Book-It then put together the complete production, including having Seattle playwright Reginald Andre Jackson adapt it for the stage, as well as auditioning and rehearsing actors.
In addition to Nick Clooney describing his father-son sojourn, the production is filled with accounts from Oxfam’s Alun McDonald, offering a birds-eye view of humanitarian aid in Sudan. Mark Hanis, founder of the Genocide Intervention Network, details how a group of students at Swarthmore College helped to fund the African Union peacekeeping troops by raising a quarter of a million dollars in 100 days. Farrow reports on her trip to refugee camps in Chad in November 2006.
Getting the play written and into a production mode was only one piece of the mosaic. Mackoff approached the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs for a grant to help with production costs.
The final piece came together when her sister, Cora, a Language Arts teacher at Roosevelt High School, was able to secure the use of the school theater for the production at no cost. The play will be part of a week-long program of Dafur awareness planned at the school.
“This will be the first non-school event held in the facility since its renovation,” said Mackoff. “The efforts of Cora and the librarian at Roosevelt, Pat Pawelak-Kort, to save us the cost of the theater actually will allow us to have the play performed at two other Seattle high schools.”
Additional productions by other groups are planned including one at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
Mackoff wants the word to be spread far and wide using Darfur Stories. The play will have a Web site, www.darfurstories.org, which will offer DVDs of the 45-minute performance for sale as well as access to the script, which she hopes that other organizations will use to let the world about the evil — and the good — occurring in a far off and obscure part of the world.
“There is an overwhelming dark side to what is happening in Darfur,” she said. “But there is hope as well, and people need to know that. There is a way to make a difference and not let yet another genocide occur.”