When discussing the current state of affairs of our planet and the challenges we face as individuals, a community and a country, I would wager that rarely, if ever, has one of the many solutions being proposed to address what’s in our faces been an international children’s theater. This solution may seem far-fetched, even preposterous, however, I am here to offer up a solid defense for the notion that bringing young people from points abroad to sing, dance, and perform together can be a recipe for social change and understanding. For sure, it’s a start.

How do you even begin to explore the possibility of something so good? It’s as simple as filling out a form to register for the Telluride Academy’s annual Mudd Butt International (MBI) Theater program. What’s a Mudd Butt?

Well, over 25 years ago the Telluride Academy founded a drama camp charged with creating unique and whimsical theatrical pieces to perform for friends and family at the end of about a month. During one of the first days of the new endeavor, aspiring young thespians took a short hike up to the the top of local Cornet Falls. On the way down, they found that the path of least resistance (and injury) was a slide down on their backsides. The red rock infused soil of Cornet Creek left its mark. When asked by hiking tourists the name of the group, everyone screamed “We’re the Mudd Butts!” And the name (along with the raw material) stuck.

With the success of the new Mudd Butt program, Academy founder Wendy Brooks decided it was time to share the magic of theater with communities across the globe. She believed that bringing together American youth with youth from abroad could brought create a magical interaction that would overcame language and other barriers and could affect a broader understanding and appreciation for one another’s cultures. The idea took flight. Now each year, through Mudd Butts International, the Academy visits a local community abroad, bringing along over a dozen American students to serve as ambassadors both for their generation and for their nation as a whole.

Over the past five years, Mutt Butts International visited Chile, Vietnam, Ethiopia, India, and Nicaragua, where American students were hosted by local families for a unique “home stay” experience. Living together as a family provided participants with an engaging and interactive cultural opportunity that allowed them to experience a new culture first hand.

Here’s how it goes down. Working with a local school or NGO, Academy specialists welcome a large group of local students to mix it up with the Americans, and so all the young would-be performers get involved and work hard to create a cohesive group. This international theater troupe spends hours each day creating a piece of theatre from a local legend, myth, or tale that has been transposed and translated so that it can be performed both in English and the local language in parallel performances. Local musicians are brought into the fold and a kaleidoscope of incredible props and masks are provided by the Mudd Butts very own traveling papier mache master, Mike Stasiuk. All of this work and energy culminates in vibrant performances for the local and surrounding communities.

The Mudd Butts International experience is about much more than just the performance however, It is about young people getting way beyond any pre-conceived notions of foreign people and places. MBI is about tolerance and the openness to understand that which is different is to be embraced, not feared. The “company” becomes a microcosm of human interaction that, given a chance, can manifest beautiful and healthy relationships that require little in the form of common language and culture, relying instead on the simple adage that “We are one.”

On stage or off, alone or in groups, perhaps all that we need is to sing and to dance, both simple arts that from firsthand experience, we at the Academy know can go a long way towards solving many of the problems we face as global neighbors.

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