projects header

Strengthening Youth Leadership

Transforms Communities

Are you the first in your family to: Grow up in this country? Graduate high school? Go to college?
Speak English? Be an activist? Be openly LGBTQ+? Be incarcerated? Be drug free?
Break a silence? Be a feminist? Be an artist?  Are you First Generation?

First Generation brings together young adults ages 15-22 who self-identify as "first generation,” for artistic training, leadership development, and inter-generational mentoring. Forming an artistic ensemble, members create original multi-lingual physical theater performances based on their life experiences, conversations and discoveries with a focus on social justice.

First Generation members may be the first in their family to grow up in the United States, the first to speak English, to graduate high school, go to college, to be openly LGBT+, be an activist, a feminist,  or many other firsts. Participants include youth recently arrived in this country and youth who are court-involved. First Generation youth train with professional artists and are mentored by college students, graduate students and community elders. We support each other, build on our strengths, cultivate ambition, and become leaders who build enduring, intercultural networks.

In First Generation, we talk about the complexity of embracing individuality while honoring one’s family and community cultures. The Ensemble creates powerful, high-quality performances that engage the public in dialog about social, cultural, and generational issues. Our performances also invite audiences to celebrate our humanity and our connection through the arts.

Family and Community Celebrations 
Several times a year First Gen hosts Family and Community Celebrations. They are wonderful Saturday afternoons of live music, dance, spoken word, poetry, theater and food. Family and Community Celebrations include performances by First Generation and Ubuntu Arts Community youth and family members, professional artists, and community members.

First Gen members attend theater and dance performances, cultural events and festivals in the Pioneer Valley, Vermont, Boston, New Haven and New York. We also climb mountains, pick apples, and participate in leadership trainings!



 1F7A8910Mother Tongue  FIRST GENERATION ENSEMBLE (2022-2023)

Mother Tongue is inspired by the experiences of First Generation ensemble members, their families and communities who are from Congo/Tanzania, Bhutan/Nepal, South Sudan/Darfur, Holyoke, and Springfield, Massachusetts. The 90 minute performance weaves together movement, music, dance, and stories in Arabic, Swahili, Nepali, and English. The piece incorporates themes of language, culture, identity, diaspora, hypermasculinity, xenophobia, transphobia, racism, the school to prison pipeline and revolution.

Mother Tongue authors and ensemble members: Entsar "Star” Abdelrahman, Montaser Yagoub Abdelrahman, Charlétte Magdalena Marrero, Monisha Gurung, Hatangerwa “Julita" Hasani, Moise Jackobo, Lali (Iliana) Quiles-Torres. Co-directed by Iyawna Burnett, Julie Lichtenberg, Lesley Farlow. Brenda Cortina, lighting design, sound design by Tony Silva, and original music by I-SHEA Shaikly, composer. Ensemble support, James Arana.


 Stand Tall Mi GenteStand Tall Mi Gente! / My People! FIRST GENERATION ENSEMBLE (2019-2020)

What does “cultural activism” really look like?

First Generation takes on the intersections between the personal and the political. This unique intergenerational youth ensemble, ages 14 to 30, launches compelling stories onto the stage, intimate but universal. The high-energy, multidisciplinary theater piece tackles vital social-justice issues through the performers’ own life experiences. 

Stand Tall, Mi Gente! My People! incorporates monologues and story-sharing with movement, dance and poetry. The one-hour performance highlights issues of identity, family, masculinity, homophobia (& food!) – and most importantly, believing in your own voice and the power of speaking out.

"The performance by these young artist/activists is brimming with energy and imagination, a dance of memory and hope performed with honesty, humor and fluid artistry." —Chris Rohmann, Stagestruck, Valley Advocate, February 10, 2020


 tendernesst e n d e r n e s s    FIRST GENERATION ENSEMBLE (2016-2018)

t e n d e r n e s s  is a multi-lingual, physical theater piece that contrasts the dehumanization at the core of violence with the eternal power of human tenderness and connection. Inspired by events in Guinea, West Africa, Darfur, and the US, tenderness incorporates ensemble members’ experiences with violence, including war, street violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, mass incarceration and human connection.

Tenderness incorporates movement, music and text in eight languages: Arabic, Mandingo, Kirundi, Haitian Creole, French, Spanish and English.

The authors and cast members originate from Haiti, Burundi/Rwanda, Guinea, South Sudan, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Tenderness is directed by Julie Lichtenberg with choreography support by Lesley Farlow. Iyawna Burnett, Sabrina Hamilton and Elsa Menendez consulted on the script. Sound design by Tony Silva and original music by Charles Neville.


 we must goFo n' ale (we must go) FIRST GENERATION ENSEMBLE (2013-2014)

fo n' ale (we must go),  is a visual poem that embodies the melancholy of leaving. The piece incorporates dance, music, poetry, and seven languages: Kirundi, Nepali, Haitian Creole, Amharic, French, Spanish, and English.  Eight travelers originating from around the world have left their homelands for different reasons and find themselves traveling the same path. A waking dreamscape in which past, present, and future are interchangeable. Memories infuse their dreams, and time obscures the shape of memories.

fo n' ale  suggests how there are moments in our lives when the impact of experience is crystalized, and carried forward in time with such vividness that the past becomes present, and continues to live within us.  These moments sustain as fiercely guarded memories, sources of power, as they shape and nourish identity, infusing all that we carry with us into the future.

The eight ensemble members, who currently live in Springfield, Massachusetts, originate from Nepal, Haiti, Burundi/Tanzania, Puerto Rico, Ethiopia and the United States.  Uwizeyimana Angelique, Iyawna Burnett, Benjamin “Bush” Christopher, Sosina Erkailo, Laeticia Israël Veronica Israël, Gita Koirala, Chiino Rios. fo n’ ale is directed by Julie Lichtenberg and Lesley Farlow.


 ripple effectRipple Effect FIRST GENERATION ENSEMBLE (2010-2011)

Ripple Effect is based in the personal narratives of the First Generation Ensemble, a group of young adults living in Springfield, MA.

Ripple Effect transforms the stage into a meeting point for their diverse lives that span four languages, Kirundi, Nepali, English, and Spanish, and three continents. Through poetry, movement, monologue and storytelling, the audience is transported from Springfield, MA to a U.S. army base, through a refugee camp in Tanzania, to witness a Nepali family’s struggle for recognition. Ripple Effect is a powerfully-crafted means of sharing the strengths and struggles of the ensemble members’ journeys, families, communities, fantasy worlds, and dreams for the future.  

Over the one and a half hours, the Ripple Effect connects the lives of Springfield youth to global events, such as the genocide and child soldiers of Rwanda/Burundi, and ethnic cleansing in Bhutan. Ripple Effect also addresses local and international issues, such as, addiction, HIV, foster care, and homophobia. Ripple Effect was directed by Julie Lichtenberg, Lesley Farlow, Elsa Menendez and Julissa Rodriguez. 


Selected Performances 2000-2023

First Generation and Performance Project Ensembles  

Bunker Hill Community College, Boston
Augusta Savage Gallery - New Africa House, UMASS
American International College
Hampshire College – 2015 Social Justice Institute, Fo n’ ale 2013, Ripple Effect 2011
Springfield College, 2013 (Cultural Connections) 2013 (fo n’ale), 2011 (Ripple Effect), 2006 (Walk With Me),
Holyoke Community College 
Amherst College - Ko Festival of Performance 2010, 2014 
Springfield Technical Community College 
Bowker Auditorium UMASS
Westfield University 
Mount Holyoke College 
The Elms
Holyoke Community College
Trinity College, Hartford, CT


Holyoke High School
Commerce, Central, and Renaissance High Schools, Springfield 
Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School, Holyoke 
Turners Falls High School 
Northampton High School
Westfield Youth Service Center 
Chestnut Academy 
Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School
Peck Middle School
Upward Bound 
Rebecca M Johnson School 
Brattleboro High School, Brattleboro, VT


Ashtar International Youth Theater Festival 2021, Palestine (virtual) 
Revolutions International Theater Festival, Albuquerque, NM  - 2005, 2014, 2017
Ko Festival of Performance, Amherst, MA - 2011, 2012, 2016


School of Contemporary Dance and Thought
Northampton Center for the Arts 
Shea Theater, Greenfield, MA 
City Stage,  Springfield, MA
Academy of Music, Northampton, MA 
Northampton Center For the Arts
Thornes APE 3rd Floor Performance Space, Northampton, MA 


Regional Employment Board, Springfield, MA 
Peace Corps Gathering in private home, Springfield, MA


2021 Online Great Labor Arts Exchange (Virtual) 
NAMEN (North American Men Engage) Conference- “Intersectionality And Decolonization” 
Evolve Without Borders: An Intergenerational Gathering of Global Theater Artists
6th International Digital Storytelling Conference, UMASS 
Annual Healthy Men And Boys Summit, Holyoke Community College
Youth Leadership Forum “Healthy Men And Boys” Treehouse Community 
Pa’Lante! A panel Presentation Celebrating Local Latina/o Activism- Amherst College 
YES! Youth Conference, Basketball Hall of Fame
Mass Cultural Council Event, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke 


Springfield Citywide Virtual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration
Communities That Care Presentation, Performance Selections and First Generation Panel, Greenfield Cable TV
Department of Youth Services Annual Showcase, Boston
The Care Center, Holyoke, MA
Chicopee TV Studio
New England Public Radio Springfield Grand Opening 
Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival 2014, 2016 
Flash Mob, Downtown Springfield 2014
Campaign Nonviolence 2014 - September 21st Street Performance, Springfield
Paul Robeson Social Justice Conference, Boston
Edwards Church Northampton
Unitarian Society, Amherst 
Hampshire Jail and House Of Corrections 
South Congregational Church 


Amplify Youth Voices! An International Livestream Workshop, North America MenEngage (NAMEN)
2021 virtual NAMEN Round Table for International audience
Springfield College Dance Department
The Care Center, Holyoke, MA
Upward Bound, Northfield Mount Hermon (2x)
Youth Action Coalition, Amherst
Springfield Public Library
Our Place' Holyoke Shelter 
Smith College
Hampshire College
University of New Mexico Theater Department
High Meadows Youth Facility, CT
Student Bridges of UMASS
Woolman Hill Quaker Center
Hope and Inspiration Performing Arts Festival, Roxbury Community College, Boston 
WW Johnson Life Center Youth Program
Springfield Substance Abuse Forum
DYS Westfield Youth Detention Center
Gateway Regional Middle school
Franklin County Youth Action Corps
River Valley Academy, Holyoke, MA
Marlboro College (video, lecture, discussion)
University of Massachusetts, Amherst 
California College of Arts & Crafts
Hampshire Jail and House Of Corrections 


Nepali/Bhutanese Cultural Festivals #1 and #2