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Crossroads:
in the arts

From the Stage to the Courtroom: How One Grad is Changing Her Corner of the World

Kara HartzlerFor Kara Hartzler (C 94), change is nothing new. She has spent the last ten years dealing with and facilitating change in her own life and in the lives of others. Change has provided Hartzler with a mechanism for balancing two competing interests: the desire to create social justice, and her need to live and work as a creative being.

Hartzler has been torn between these interests for years. In the summer 2001 edition of DreamSeeker Magazine, she wrote, “I’ve spent most of my adult life juggling a love for theater with a commitment to social justice, yet I’ve never found a way to combine the two that didn’t make one of them feel watered down.” Her resume reflects this juggling. After graduating from EMU with a degree in English and minors in political science, theater, and peace and justice, Hartzler spent the summer in an acting group at The People’s Place, a Mennonite-Amish museum (now closed) in Lancaster County. There, she met fellow alum Kim Stauffer (see article on opposite page). Hartzler entered Mennonite Voluntary Service (VS) in August 1994, and began working with refugees on the Texas-Mexico border. This thrust her into the world of law—drawing up legal forms, attending political asylum hearings and preparing court documents.

After her year in Texas, Hartzler returned to theater, spending several years taking classes, acting and teaching. Now an accomplished playwright whose works have been performed across the country, Hartzler, like many writers, draws from her own experiences. In fact, her first play came out of her VS work. “The experience was so intense that I came out of it feeling the need to process it in some way, and theater was what I knew, so I just wrote a play,” Hartzler stated. Her upbringing also influences her work. “Most of the ideas for my plays seem to come either from my work in social justice or my rural Mennonite background.” One of her plays showcases five Amish women who, as she puts it, “run their community through the back channels of their quilting circle.”

“I would like to see myself stumbling through life, always making mistakes and perhaps occasionally looking a little silly, but never afraid to take a leap that could promote what I believe to be truth and justice.”

Despite Hartzler’s success in the theater world, more traditional forms of social justice continued to beckon. Immediately after completing a master of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa in 2001, she changed direction and entered the university’s law school, graduating in May 2004. From August 2004–February 2005, Hartzler volunteered with La Red de Defensores Comunitarios por los Derechos Humanos (the Network of Community Defenders of Human Rights) in Chiapas, Mexico. One of Hartzler’s motivations for volunteering was “to remind myself how the majority of the world lives before I learned how to become too comfortable on a lawyer’s salary.”

The network, founded in 1998 by Miguel Angel de los Santos, seeks to provide a decentralized framework for protecting human rights. Prior to that, people wanting to make a human rights complaint had to travel long distances to reach the Mexico City Amnesty International office. Now, network-trained local advocates defend human rights in their own towns and communities. Hartzler’s role at the network was, among other things, to give workshops on human rights.

Not surprisingly, she incorporated theater and storytelling into that work. She used Chiapan folktales to teach human rights and now is developing a puppet piece on some of those folktales. Having completed her work in Chiapas, Hartzler recently relocated to Arizona to work at the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project.

Crossroads Table of Contents

After much exploration, Hartzler has found ways to balance her two interests. She recognizes the increased effectiveness that comes from combining the creative with the analytical. And by understanding that, she has learned to use her skills and talents for both personal fulfillment and social justice.

Hartzler forges ahead when others might be frozen by fear. As she explains it, “I would like to see myself stumbling through life, always making mistakes and perhaps occasionally looking a little silly, but never afraid to take a leap that could promote what I believe to be truth and justice.”

—Karen Longacher (C 93) Minatelli is a bilingual attorney in Washington, D.C., who daydreams about turning her avocation for the arts into a vocation.