RFK Center - Defending Human Rights In This World
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Voices From Beyond the Dark

Renowned playwright Ariel Dorfman was inspired to write a theatrical presentation based on Kerry Kennedy’s interviews with over fifty human rights activists from around the world. The resulting play, Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark, was presented at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. in September 2000, and broadcast as part of PBS's The Kennedy Center Presents.

The play has been performed at theaters across America and around the world, including Geneva, London , Helsinki , Athens, Madrid, Rome, Barcelona, Milan, Florence, Sidney.

“It has not been easy for these voices to reach us. First, they had to overcome fear. There is always fear at the beginning of every voyage, fear and its malignant twin, violence, at the beginning of every voyage into courage.

The bodies that housed these voices either suffered that violence personally or they witnessed that violence being visited upon another human being, a group, a nation. Some saw a father or a son or a wife abducted in the night and taken away. Others saw children made into warriors and forced to kill at an early age. Still others saw students being beaten, a woman being mutilated, communities silenced and massacred, workers being shot because they demanded a decent wage. Each one of them saw something intolerable: a man killed because of the color of his skin or the color of his opinions, people taken into airless chambers and executed in cold blood, soldiers turn their guns against the people, women hated because of their sexual choices. They saw ancestral lands being stolen from their owners, forests devastated, languages forbidden. They saw books censored, friends subjected to torture, youngsters made into slaves. They saw lawyers jailed and exiled because they defended the victims.

And then something happened. Something extraordinary and almost miraculous. They found a way of speaking out, the men and women whose voices have now reached us decided that they could not live with themselves if they did nothing, they could not stain their lives by remaining silent. They understood that if they witnessed this suffering inflicted on themselves or on others, and did nothing, they were, in some twisted way, being turned into accomplices.
And as they spoke out, they discovered that the fear slowly disappeared. Not the violence. The violence increased when they spoke out and they often suffered in their own bodies, for the first time or again, what had already been perpetrated on others. But when they spoke out and found others on the road with them, other voices, from near and far, they began to find ways of controlling that fear instead of letting the fear control them.

And then came difficulties that were even harder to face. Not the boot of the soldier and the lies of the governments, but the fog of indifference. They had to face the long nights when it seemed nobody cared, when the darkness of apathy seemed to surround them, when their voices did not seem to receive the echo and answer that they needed. They had to face a demon from inside their minds and a demon that blared also from the outside world, both demons in unison repeating the same message: that it was useless, that they should shut their eyes and close their ears and make believe these crimes against humanity and against freedom were not happening.
But they persisted - again, the mystery of how they did it, how they found the strength and the humor and the stubbornness to continue,they persisted because if they had lapsed back into stillness it would have been as if they had died, it would have been better for them not to have been born.

And at times they were successful, those voices, and at other times they failed, but they always knew that the biggest victory was their mere existence, the fact that they had not been silent, that people around them and in other lands could not say they did not know what was happening. That in times when human beings were doing the most terrible things to one another, others proclaimed, one by one by one, that our species was something else, should be something else, could be something else.

Knowing this, knowing this: that the world could be changed, that the world did not have to be the way it is.

And their voices endured and reached out and one of the persons who listened, who came to listen and record and remember, was Kerry Kennedy-Cuomo. So that those voices would go farther than their lands and their communities, so those voices could inspire others even more, so those voices could persevere one next to the other in a book and in other forms and beyond.

And then Kerry sent those words she had gathered to me.

It was not easy for those voices to reach me.

I had been preparing all my life for the chance to become a bridge for them. Ever since I was a child and was moved, early on, by the injustices I saw around me and then as an adolescent as I realized that those outrages existed in far more grievous forms beyond my immediate horizon and then as a young man when it was my turn to see a dictatorship take over my country, Chile, and watch my friends persecuted and murdered while I was spared, when it became my turn to go into exile and wander the globe and everywhere remark the same inequities mirrored in land after land, when it became my turn to try and figure out how I could write stories and find the words that explored the vast heart of human suffering and the vaster complexity and enigmas of evil, ever since then I had been waiting for the occasion to put my art yet one more time at the service of those who had kept me warm in the midst of my own struggles.

And I have been fortunate enough to have received those voices like you receive a blessing in the dark and to have given them a dramatic form, the search for a space from which those voices may speak yet again, over and over again, as long as there are people, old and young, teachers and students, audiences and actors, who are willing to hearken and understand and keep them company. It was a chance to be the fleeting collaborator of their often fleeting and always splendid lives, a chance to help them live on. It took me my whole life to find a voice of my own to accompany these voices.

So you see: it has not been easy for these voices to reach you.

And yet, now they are yours.

Nurse them, knowing how far they have traveled, what they have been through in order to come this far. Stage them, discuss them, study their issues and implications, find out why they rebelled, what still remains to be done.

Ariel Dorfman


The play has been performed in Italy since 2004, as readings, directed by Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla. Famous Italian and International actors, singers and journalists have participated in the project throughout the Country.

Piera Degli  Esposti e Ornella Vanoni

Piera Degli Esposti e Ornella Vanoni

A new performance, directed by talented young Columbian Juan Diego Puerta Lopez, with the title “Il Sapore della Cenere” (“The Taste of Ashes”) premiered at the Center for Contemporary Art Luigi Pecci in Prato, and was staged in May 2009 at Teatro Eliseo in Rome.

"Il Sapore della Cenere"

"Il Sapore della Cenere"

The play was performed in Romania in April 2009, at the Cotroceni Theatre.

A unique performance was organized by the Romanian National Penitentiaries Administration in partnership with the UN Information Centre for Romania: inmates from Ploiesti and Targsor penitentiaries premiered on December 10, 2009 at the Metropolis theatre, directed by Anca Maria Colteanu, in a touching version of the Voices From Beyond the Dark, to celebrate Human Rights Day.

Ariel Dorfman

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