Just before I left China, I began to explore what it was I wanted to do to develop the work I had started with Hua Dan. I brainstormed with my team what it was that made Hua Dan so special, and worked with my mentor to dissect the key elements of my model. We identified six core pillars of the work we have done so far, and you can read more about that here.
Central to my vision was that it was the women themselves who would identify the needs most pressing in their communities. I never believed it was right for me to decide for them and maintain to this day that true leadership is a servant leadership model that empowers others to take control of their own lives. In China, that has manifested itself as Hua Dan, an organization that works with the migrant and rural populations in creative education projects and migrant worker training, and is now poised to expand it’s model into training others to scale it’s work.
Around this time I was considering leaving China, I became interested in the story of Scheherazade. The Scheherazade story is a ‘frametale’ for the One Thousand and One Nights. The story goes that an ancient king in Persia travelled to another land on business, returning home to find that his wife had cheated on him. Hurt and enraged, he ordered her execution and vowed that, each night, he would marry a virgin and, after the wedding night, would have her killed. He went through all the women in the kingdom until, one day, the daughter of the vizier to the king, Scheherazade, asked her father if she might marry the king. Her father was afraid and begged his daughter not to do such a thing. Yet, she persisted. Scheherazade was very beautiful, intelligent, cultured and an excellent storyteller. After her marriage to the king, that very night, she began to tell the king a story. Such was her charm, beauty, intelligence and love, the king was drawn into the story and encouraged Scheherazade to continue….but Scheherazade, clever woman that she was, told the king that she would have to finish her story the following evening…..the king granted her a stay of execution, and the story continued….night, after night, after night….until the king fell in love with her and rebuilt his trust in women…..
I love the story. Not only because Scheherazade was an accomplished, cultured and creative woman and used her gifts to bring healing but because she recognized that love had a stronger power than fear. She demonstrated exemplary leadership by going into the very thing that could have meant her death, and triumphed through her grace.
Scheherazade famously told stories about the characters and adventures along the Silk Route, weaving in the different cultures one would encounter whilst travelling along this famous trading route. She was, and still is, a symbol of global culture and her stories contain all the wealth, wisdom, trials and triumphs of the human spirit, no matter which country or culture one is from. I thought she was a fabulous inspiration for the next step on my journey.
Today, Scheherazade is taking shape as I embark on a vision of seeding the model I built with Hua Dan, of training underprivileged women to be theatre practitioners in their community, finding the Scheherazade’s in each community I work with. My passionate belief that the arts generally, and theatre in particular, can be a force for change in our world, is underscored by a working model that trains and equips women to be leaders in their communities, spreading the impact of our work and empowering them with social and economic mobility. And, along the way, telling their stories so that we might listen to what they have to say about creating a better world.
I invite you to take a look at Scheherazade’s new site and to share your ideas about where and how the Scheherazade/Hua Dan model can best bring about change.
Let the revolution begin!
I am a trained actress and founder and director of Hua Dan, one of China’s first and leading social enterprises. Hua Dan uses the power of participation in drama-based workshops to reveal and develop individual and community potential. Hua Dan has a particular focus on working with China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers, particularly women, who work in the manufacturing and service industries, at the heart of China’s economic boom.