Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

By Triangle Lab Artist-Investigator in Residence Arielle Julia Brown

The Love Balm Project is a theater of testimony workshop series and performance based on the testimonies of mothers who have lost children to violence. The Love Balm Project currently collaborates with six mothers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Last summer, with support from the Triangle Lab, we hosted site specific performances in the spaces where the young men—sons of the mothers—had been murdered. These performances took place on street corners, in front of homes, at a BART station, in front of a church, on the porch of a mothers’ home and on a MUNI train platform. These performances met the communities in the spaces that haunt them and the spaces we learn to forget. Naturally, it was in these spaces that more mothers and community members began to inquire about getting involved in this work. Mothers approached me after performances, family members took my contact information to give to other mothers they knew.

This leads me to the beginning of my current investigation with The Triangle Lab. How is it that a grassroots arts collective recreates itself? How do we move in full awareness of our limited capacity as facilitators and yet be open and permeable for new knowledges, new community members, new stakeholders? What does it look like structurally to have an open space for all mothers to find and make space in their neighborhoods to tell and witness their stories? I am in deep search of what these answers could look like for the Love Balm Project. The only place I knew to begin is with the Love Balm workshop series. The workshop series features 4 workshops for mothers and community artists to gather together and perform, witness and creatively write their testimony. So I began to imagine in the middle of last year’s site specific investigation, what would it look like to have an institute to train other artists, mothers and cultural workers in how to facilitate a Love Balm Workshop series or group. In the Love Balm Institute we collectively questioned this work, reviewed and adapted the curriculum, witnessed mothers’ testimonies, explored applied theatre methods including original games, playback theatre, drama therapy and theatre of the oppressed and finally strategized about workshopn structures and funding models. The Love Balm Institute was supported by The Triangle Lab, Eastside Arts Alliance and The Akonadi Foundation. The institute took place from May 23rd–25th in Oakland.

Several amazing cultural workers attended the institute. The cultural workers live and work with communities throughout the state of California. Please see their bios below to see what kind of work they are doing in communities already. Each of them have studied and taken their training from the institute to start planning love balm workshops and community circles for the communities they work and live in. The cultural workers will facilitate the Love Balm workshop series with mothers, LGBTQ youth, young men and women of color who have both perpetrated and survived acts of violence. Check out their projects below alongside their bios. I will continue to post updates as their projects progress.


Natalie Sanchez Valle is a recent Berkeley graduate, passionate about theater and performance as a tool for creating consciousness and community. Having grown up with a migrant family in Orange County, CA. she has seen first hand, how structural racism and violence affects communities. Her work in her major of Sociology focused on conflict and violence in communities of color where she did research around what it means to come from a “peaceful” vs “violent” community. She is currently working as a teaching artist assistant at Berkeley Playhouse Theater and is the program coordinator for the Performance Colectiva at CAL. She is very grateful and excited to collaborate with the Love Balm Project and grow as a facilitator and as a theater and performance maker. As a Love Balm Facilitator, Natalie is interested in facilitating testimony workshops for students of color at UC Berkeley.


Last seen sporting many hats, Lakhiyia Hicks is a Liberation Arts Activist. Depending on the moment, this can mean masquerading as a spoken word poet, actress, event planner, playwright, director, program coordinator, singer, dancer, joker and you name it! Thanks to her BS in Communications (Theatre) from Northwestern University and MA in Applied Theatre Arts from USC, her ethics remain consistent (or at least try to, however.) With critically conscious art-making as means for community-building and co-creation of rehearsal spaces for real life revolutions from passivity to self-empowered subjectivity in the face of injustices, Lakhiyia exists/persists/thrives for self- and community-liberation sake. Some—namely bell hooks—may even call that LOVE… As a Love Balm Facilitator, Lakhiyia is interested in facilitating testimony workshops for women survivors of sexual violence in Los Angeles. 


Shruti Bala Purkayastha is a teaching artist, specifically engaged in the methodologies of Theatre of the Oppressed and other Liberation Arts forms. She graduated with a M.A. degree in Applied Theatre Arts from University of Southern California’s School of Theatre.  There, she worked to develop a sustainable Theatre of the Oppressed program with Gender Justice LA, a grassroots organization to build the rights of the Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming community in Los Angeles.  She continues to work with Gender Justice LA to develop this important and innovative program. Prior to this, Shruti developed several theatre for liberation projects in the Bay Area, including co-direction of Janaki: Daughter of the Dirt ( the most ongoing being Love Balm for My Spirit Child.  Shruti supported Arielle Brown with the initial groundwork for the production of this project through fundraising and production.  While in the Bay Area, Shruti was also an Artistic Apprentice at Brava Theatre in the San Francisco Mission District, most focused on developing educational programming, administrative support, community outreach, and artistic development. Currently, Shruti is part of a multi-media arts collective called “Freedom Harvest: Rise of the Dandelions” which supports the community organizing of the Coalition Against Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails. Our current project, #riseofthedandelions, is an installation arts piece with spoken word, theatre, and music performances working to build the resilience of communities effected by the prison system through reclaiming history, art and music. Freedom Harvest is also the first West Coast art project to be featured in prominent east coast blog, Art in Odd Places. Her hope with the Love Balm Project and all Liberation Arts work is to create more arts platforms that facilitate peoples’ search for liberation, healing and imagining a new world. As a Love Balm collaborator and  facilitator, Shruti is interested in supporting the infrastructures and workshops of other LA based Love Balm facilitators.


Tatiana Chaterji works at the intersection of popular education, creative expression, and healing. Trained in various modalities of applied theatre, she believes in the liberatory potential of the dramatic form to address violence and collective trauma. She cross-trains in the domains of music, capoeira, and improvisational theatre, with Kolkata, West Bengal, India, her creative home. She performs in South Asia with physical/abstract forms, inspired by drama therapy and self-revelatory theatre. As a martial artist, she leads cross-cultural athletic training for stage combat and fight choreography with youth. As a public survivor of violence, she is involved in processes of Restorative Justice that include Victim-Offender Dialogues and Victim-Offender Education Groups with incarcerated populations, and Circles of Support and Accountability on the re-entry side. She also actively organizes crime victims of color in shifting criminal justice policy toward services, intervention, and community-based solutions. From the personal to the socio-historical, Tatiana seeks systems of accountability that move beyond prisons, policing, and punitive discipline. Her background in the immigrant rights movement includes sustained presence in Boston’s Haitian community. Her undergraduate thesis in Government and Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality (Harvard, 2008) incorporated Participatory Action Research in considering citizenship, borders, cultural belonging, political action, and transnational solidarity in the Haitian diasporic context. She currently works on-site at several high schools in the Oakland Unified School District leading classes in arts-based resistance and Theater of the Oppressed, offering counter-military recruitment resources and counter-militarism curriculum, and bridging RJ circle practice with dramatic arts. As a Love Balm Facilitator, Tatiana is interested in hosting love balm workshops for mothers and youth who are survivors and perpetrators of violence in the Bay Area.


Ayodele Nzinga is a multi-talented West Coast based art visionary, who in the tradition of the Black Arts Continuum uses performance as a method of inter-intra group communication. In 2000, Nzinga became the writer in residence and the resident dramaturge at The Prescott Joseph Center For Community Enhancement. This has resulted in over a decade of theater seasons, a troupe in residence, and a summer theater camp for youth. The troupe, The Lower Bottom Playaz, founded by Nzinga in 1999, is enjoying growing acclaim, while mounting, and traveling two-three productions per season. A bright and consistent energy on the cutting edge of the East Bay performance scene, Nzinga aka The WordSlanger, is a tour-de-force Spoken Word artist. Her latest published work appears in Black Magnolias and The Pan African Journal of Poetry. As a collaborator and Love Balm facilitator, Ayodele is interested in facilitating a cross generational Love Balm workshop series for Black men. Ayodele is also a writer and actor in Love Balm For My SpiritChild.


Anna Maria Luera has spent the last 20 years as a youth worker and theatre artist. Before coming to Oakland Kids First, she worked at Streetside Stories in San Francisco as a program director and facilitated youth workshops in writing and telling autobiographical stories. Anna has facilitated arts education workshops and worked with youth at all over the Bay Area with San Jose Repertory’s Red Ladder Program, Each One Reach One and Word for Word. Anna is also a professional actress who has acted in many commercials and theatres, including Intersection for the Arts’ award winning theatre company Campo Santo. As a collaborator and facilitator, Anna helped with curriculum development for The Love Balm Institute. Anna is also an actor in Love Balm For My SpiritChild. In the image above she (on the right) is photographed with Love Balm collaborator and mother Yasmin Flores (Left).


MorganJade Booker is an innovative artist who believes in bringing true experience into the theatre realm. She has self directed a Journal Life Project in the past, using only young women and their life experiences reading fun and occasionally dark journal entries in slumber party like form in front of small audiences in a trailer. She hopes to bring light to Love Balm close to where she currently resides in Southern California, and also to continue her work with girls and young women who don’t want to be quiet. (ever.) MorganJade Booker is currently in her final year at California Institute of the Arts. She will receive her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Acting in 2015. As a Love Balm Facilitator, Morgan is interested hosting Love Balm workshops for young women of color in Los Angeles.


Anita Wills is an Activist, Writer, Speaker, and Author of 4 books, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color (Volumes 1 & 2), Pieces of the Quilt The Mosaic of An African American Family, and Black Minqua The Life and Times of Henry Green. She is a Community Activist and Organizer, on behalf of Mothers of Murdered Children, Prisoners’ Rights, Police and State Oppression, and the Wrongfully Convicted. She is a Certified Pre School Teacher and previously worked for Head Start and the City of Oakland. As a collaborator and Love Balm facilitator, Anita is interested facilitating Love Balm workshops and circles for mothers in the Bay Area and nationally. Anita Wills’ testimony as the grandmother of Kerry Baxter Jr is also featured in Love Balm For My SpiritChild.


Arielle Julia Brown (Project Director/Founder) is a playwright, arts administrator and facilitator currently based in the SF Bay Area.  As a facilitator, Arielle has taught and directed performance workshops for adults and youth of all ages throughout the Bay Area with such organizations as, Intersection for the Arts, Destiny Arts Center, Streetside Stories, Guerilla Performance Group at Eastside Arts Alliance and the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center.    Arielle is the Artistic Director of The Love Balm Project, a Bay Area theatre workshop series and performance that explores the testimonies of local mothers who have lost children to systemic violence. Workshop and performance iterations of The Love Balm Project have been presented at or in partnership with 7Stages Theatre, Theatre of Yugen, The MilkBar, Eastside Arts Alliance, La Peña Cultural Center, San Francisco Playhouse The Triangle Lab (A joint program of Intersection for the Arts and Cal Shakes) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Arielle is a 2013-2014 SF Playground company playwright.  She is a 2014 Artist Investigator in residence at The Triangle Lab.  Arielle is a 2013-2014 SF Emerging Arts Professionals Programming Chair. Arielle’s work has been supported by Theatre Bay Area, The Triangle Lab ( supported in part by The James Irvine Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and MetLife Foundation and Theatre Communications Group) and CalHumanities. Arielle’s theatre work is rooted in peacemaking on both local and international levels. Arielle began doing international theatre work at 7Stages theatre in Atlanta, Ga. Arielle is a core member of Theatre Without Borders.  Her  international theatre experience includes work in Senegal and East Africa. Arielle received her B.A. from Pomona College where she studied Theatre and Africana Studies. Arielle developed the Love Balm Institute and workshop series. She is interested in how Love Balm can become a witnessing methodology that is horizontally held across communities.


3 thoughts on “Beginning Again: The Love Balm Institute

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