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Westchester Educator Helps Afghani Refugees Find A Voice Through Theater

Bronxville High School teacher Victor Maxwell recently assisted a group of Afghan refugees with their play in Malaysia to help give them a voice.
Bronxville High School teacher Victor Maxwell recently assisted a group of Afghan refugees with their play in Malaysia to help give them a voice. Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. - A Bronxville educator helped a group of Afghani refugees find their voice through the art of acting and stage performance.

While traveling through Indonesia over the summer, Bronxville High School English teacher Victor Maxwell - who is also a professionally trained actor and playwright - was tasked with assisting an inexperienced group of refugees with a play in Malaysia to “help give them a voice.”

Maxwell was asked to help Saleh Sepas, a theater director and playwright who found himself as a refugee in Malaysia, with his play “The Bitter Taste of History,” which is performed by refugees in the Parastoo Theatre Group, depicting the daily lives of individuals in war-torn Afghanistan.

Maxwell said that he “worked with the children and adults on being emotionally truthful when portraying their characters to help them transform into actors.” He also offered an assist to the director, helping to sharpen the play’s script, as well as throwing a helping hand with the costumes, special effects, sound and lighting.

“Only one of the cast members had any acting experience or training,” he said. “We worked intensively, using some of the rehearsal and ensemble-building techniques drawn from the Theater of the Oppressed, other physical theater techniques, and classical acting training to allow the actors to do justice to the play.”

Maxwell came to the theater group in Kuala Lumpur just two weeks before the play was scheduled to open.

“There was a lot of pressure of time, and almost everything I said as a teacher had to be translated, so it was complicated, but really amazingly rewarding to witness these refugees find the strength in their voice and bodies to really represent their former lives,” he said. “Students often surprise themselves with how quickly they learn to work collaboratively and think theatrically.”

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