Harlemite, actress and community supporter Jill Marie Lawrence went on a trip to Tanzania, Africa last year to work on the arts non-profit International Theatre Literacy Project (ITLP) for children. This is part two of Ms. Lawrences incredible story (read part one).
When Marianna and Stephen returned back to the U.S., they shared their thoughts and experiences with colleagues and friends who were absolutely “wowed” by the idea and concept of having ITLP continue. Many opportunities and relationships have developed from ITLP since its infancy. In other words Marianna likes to call it “spawning.” The word began to spread in Tengeru and then before she knew it, the request was out – a teacher’s college along with two more secondary schools had put their bid in to participate for the following season. Partnerships with the University of DarSelam in Tanzania and their theatre artists wanted to join in on all of the excitement. Also, in the United States a new partnership with an organization called Teachers in Action which does secondary school teacher training are now also working with ITLP. Marianna mentioned the excitement is due to the growing interest on both ends of the spectrum in Africa and the United States which only seem logical to form a non-profit organization and institutionalize this wonderful exchange that started happening.
The logistics of the program goes as follows: the secondary schools make their space available which are normally closed that time of year for their summer break and allow us as the teaching artists to conduct the workshops. A number of exercises, writing activities and scene assignments are conducted and in two and a half weeks, a fifteen minute play is then created. Every student has a role to play in all of the productions, both on and off stage. As a teaching artist myself, I really began to see the growth and leadership skills develop with the students each day and how eager they were to take on more responsibilities with their artistic vision and duties. Today, ITLP alum come back every year and are always delighted to help with the students in their play developments.
At the end of every ITLP experience all the students, their parents, teachers, friends and relatives from the community come together and have what we call a “Student Play Festival”. This is where the magic happens and even bigger dreams manifest on that special day. As a teacher, I would see my students transform into possible future leaders, teachers and performers come into full bloom.
The ITLP mission is not to make our students necessarily actors, but rather to let them know that they have a voice and can make a contribution to humanity. Marianna who we affectionately call “Mama Marianna” often says about ITLP, “this is using English and having fun, that is the operative word here”. The students have fun and have a true sense of feeling empowered to tell their stories.
ITLP has also engaged the attention and respect of the Tanzanian Ambassador to the United Nations, Augustine Mahiga and has a long standing relationship with ITLP almost since the beginning and also sits on the board. Mr. Mahiga says that, “ITLP can truly revolutionize Tanzanian education” with its rich experiences both for the students and teaching artists with its cross cultural exchanges.
On behalf of my teaching colleagues and myself , I thank Marianna for the opportunity, she’s bold, she’s generous, she’s a visionary, she’s beautiful and welcomed by the Tanzanians and the children that love her.
ITLP understands that the children in developing countries, have very little, and are often too poor to even have electricity in their homes or to pay for their tuition. Marianna as well as the ITLP family love and support have been perennial and graciously accept donations and contributions through out the year for the students in their need for uniforms and tuition assistance. To get involved go to www.itlp.org .
The author Jill Marie Lawrence has been featured in several of the nation’s most critically-acclaimed television series including HBO’s The Soprano’s as “Detective Piersol”, “NBC’s Law&Order as “Evelyn,” and a recurring role on NBC’s Law&Order SVU as “Attorney Conrad.” Her stage repertoire includes Off-B’way appearances in “The Best & Final Offer”, at the American Place Theatre (now the Roundabout Theatre), “A Wrinkle In Time” @ The Lincoln Center Lab and “Coat Rack” at Playwrights Horizon. Some of her favorite classics have been, “Casio” & “Emilia” in Othello, Helena in A Midsummer’s night Dream and “Rose in Fences. Currently she can be seen on the silver screen in a new feature with Sarah Michelle Gellar entitled “Veronika Decides To Die”, last year she appeared with John Ligazamo in “Where God Left His Shoe’s” which r’cvd numerous awards at various film festivals, one being the Sundance in Utah. Ms. Lawrence has also appeared with Robert DeNiro and Frances McDormand in “City By The Sea.” She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama.