Archive for September, 2009

My last trip to Bangladesh was earlier this year. Below is my report that describes this trip to give you a sense of what I do.


Brief Report- BTTI

Fluid Sculpture

Time always amazes me. I get on a plane, in the middle of winter, in my little town in the Northeast of the United States.  Then 2 days later get off and am in a completely different time, place, season and culture. I think about this on most of my trips to Bangladesh, and this time was no different.

But in some ways this trip was different. I was not going to an unknown place. In fact, most everything and everyone I was coming to see I knew. The sense of familiarity and connection made this trip much different. In the past, I felt our work was still mainly introductory.  This trip was different as the intention was for engaging in this process more deeply and building on the work that has happened in Bangladesh since my last trip.

I’m happy to report that in fact this did happen, and on many levels.

The cultural, physical and emotional mix in which the context of our work in Bangladesh in many ways is the same: high poverty, high levels of disability, poor sanitation, congested traffic, pollution… beautiful fields and scenery, wonderful food, and absolutely wonderful and committed people.

This time, there seemed to be a different note for people in general. As I arrived on the day of elections, (a potentially violent period of time), there was concern from my family for my safety. However, the elections this time were peaceful.  More people than ever voted and they voted into office a progressive party. The air was filled with hope and desire for change. The similarities I saw between Bangladesh and the US were tremendous.  We too had just had a historic election and our country as well desires a deep change with hope for the future. I wondered if there had ever before been a time in which our two countries had been so similar.

This was the place in which we started. Not only were we beginning at the start of the New Year (which alone can be wonderful for basing a theme of a workshop) but at the beginning of this New Year our two countries were striving toward deepening political change. It was exciting to say the least.

Singing on the Bay of Bengal, New Years Eve

Over all, the trainings in Bangladesh went very well. The coordination and development of the workshops were smooth and I was always helped to be made comfortable.  I spent a magical few hours with people on the beach on New Year’s Eve, and listened as they sang songs and ballads. It was a wonderful way to welcome the New Year.

During my brief two week stay I led three formal trainings in Playback Theatre, including an advanced training and two introductory trainings. The introductory trainings were held in clinical psychology programs at two different universities (Chittagong and then Dhaka).  There was also a trainee meeting for those who had trained with me and with Herb Propper previously, as well as a 2 and ½ hour meeting at the Chittagong Art College in which I talked about, and then led, an experientially based lecture/demonstration using art in therapy. This event was attended by 62 people (both students and faculty).

Language interpretation was necessary at all the trainings, and people who spoke better English supported the interpreters (Reza Aziz and Munna Islam) when there was confusion.

Fluid Sculpture

The advance group was the smallest, being attended by 15 people. The largest was at Chittagong University in which there were 30 people including 2 people from the British Council. One of these was a young British man and the other was a Bangladeshi volunteer. The Dhaka University workshop had 26 people. Both the Chairman of the department and a professor within the department joined in for the entire workshop. It was fun and refreshing for the students to be with their teachers and elders in this new way. Although I have taught at the clinical Psychology program before, there was clearly a need to review and relearn. Exactly half the group had not experienced Playback, and the rest needed a refresher.

From the beginning there were deep stories. The Bangladeshis are very in touch with their feelings, and they tell deeply moving stories. This necessitates a strong container to hold the feelings in order for people to feel safe. We created the needed containment through sociometry exercises, theatre games, singing, children’s games (which everyone really loved), small group sharing, storytelling circles and of course, Playback Theatre.

Playback Theatre, Advance training

In the advance group we formed richer relationships to Playback Theatre process and ritual, and in the process formed deeper connections to each other. We looked at Playback theatre from a deep place asking questions such as:

“How can I use Playback to deepen myself”

“How can Playback be used in my family?

How can I use Playback to support someone in crisis?

How can I use Playback to help with conflict resolution?

How do I increase my skills in conducting, acting and using music?

How do we go more deeply into Playback, including learning new forms?

How can we develop and a team?

How do we keep Playback alive here after Jen leaves?

We explored these themes in both small and large groups, using various action methods including clay, freeze frames, activating scenes and stories. We explored in depth the role of the conductor, doing exercises to explore and enhance this role. We also did a variety of acting exercises to help build the sense of company, spontaneity, creativity and access to metaphorical work. Examples of this were “Image Alive” from Hope Is Vital, and “The Picture Game”, an improvisational exercise.

Clay sculpting

Twice we extended the day into the evening.  In those sessions we practiced Playback and continued learning new forms. The evening sessions were voluntary, and so a few people (2-3) were not able to come. It was great to be able to extend our time together and for students to continue practicing different roles.

By the end of the Advance training, all participants had had a chance to tell a story, conduct, and act and play music.  We discussed the need for continued practice to enhance the skills and camaraderie that were gained in this training.   We looked at the differences in company life that might exist between companies in the States and those in Bangladesh. I stressed that unless there was some regularity of practice the level of commitment to Playback could drop off, resulting in a decline in both artistic expression and interpersonal connection. I discussed this further in my supervision meetings with Reza, Munna and Saju who are taking more leadership in BTTI, as well in creating practice sessions.

I am aware that Bangladeshi companies will likely look different from companies in other countries.  That is true for companies throughout the world. Each has to work within their cultural norms. What is important is to set up some system in which people are connecting. Coming to a workshop once a year, and then going out to work in the field, is not enough nor is it wise. The BTTI can be very useful in setting up workshops, and practice sessions.

We looked at the 3 circles of Playback (Social Interaction, Artistry and Ritual,) and explored how they might apply to working with different populations.

Saju Conducting, U. Of Chittagong

Over the course of the trainings it became clear to me that Saju, a young woman who has been to all my trainings since 2003, was ready to take on the role of conductor in a more public way. She conducted the performance that was given at the closing ceremony. It was an important step, not only for her, but for Bangladesh Playback, to balance roles from a gender perspective.

View from outside Training room/U of Chittagong

University of Chittagong

I then moved to the University of Chittagong, where I was welcomed in their newly developed clinical psychology program. The program is so new that the building is still being constructed around them. There are 60 students in the program, and 28 participated in my training, an “ Introduction to Playback Theatre”.  The participants were open to the process.  We connected through a variety of Sociometric exercises, games and partner exercises in which we worked on listening for the story.  Many stories were told through Fluids, three-part story, pairs, and tableaus.

Many stories (such as of missing an important relative’s death) passed around and through the circle, sparking other participants to share similar moments from their own lives. Love stories, and stories of coming into one’s own at university were also a part of the training. One of the first stories, a story that allowed for the tenor of the training to go to a different emotional level, was from a young man who described the experience of watching two children being beaten by adults in front of him, as a group of onlookers did nothing but watch. This story was played back as a fluid. The young man’s experience of sharing the story with the group, then seeing it played back, was quite powerful for him, as well as others in the group.

Role Play Exercise: University of Chittagong

The students were very excited. The women, who at the beginning were reticent to act or participate, did so more fully by the second day.  It was exciting to see people who at the beginning were hesitant to share and engage, come alive, as the stories incited memories and the desire within the women to tell their own stories. The students excitement and growing engagement yielded many questions about when to use Playback and where. I used this opportunity to provide a short history of Playback, and I describe the wide range of ways that Playback may be used.

Participants at University of Chittagong

Art College of Chittagong Art Students Drawing

I met with a group of 62 art students and faculty, before leaving for Dhaka. In this small amount of time I shared a brief (very brief!) history of art therapy and the basic concept for using art as therapy. We then did some experientials, A Scribble drawing, and then a Mandala to finish. In between students shared with each other about the meaning of the drawings. There was not much physical room in the class as students were in rows of 4 at small tables, which limited us in the way people connected as well as having the room to draw. It was a small opening to the potential of art therapy, and I do hope to be able to come back and work with the college further in this way.

University of Dhaka

I have taught at the University of Dhaka before and knew about half of the class. The emphasis of this training was not only learning Playback Theatre, but using therapeutic theatre with people with Disabilities.

Playing a tag game, Dhaka University

There were 26 people students in the class. Through sociometric exercises we discovered that half the class was completely new to Playback, and the rest needed to be refreshed. Regardless, people were willing to share stories and engage in the process at a deep level.

Students engaged intensely and told deep stories. Unfortunately, the group lacked adequate emotional preparation and artistic skill to manage these deep stories, aome of which contained very graphic images. I felt it was important to create an emotional container, especially on the first day. I focused on teaching some very basic Playback exercises in order to ready the actors to more effectively and artistically receive the deeper stories. This helped, and the the rest of that day and the next the energetic and artistic choices were both at a higher level and matched to the stories. For the most part we did short forms to maintain this sense of container.

We explored stories through fluids, pairs and freeze frames. We also utilized three-part story.  We also did role playing exercises in which people were asked to role play someone with a disability. We explored different types of disability through role play and theatre activation scenes. There was much discussion about using Playback with people who are disabled, including those who face social disability. This led to a sociometric process of understanding disability and our personal relationship to it. The group decided that most of those in the room had personally experienced disability on some level. We realized the Bangladeshi definition of disability is much broader than that used in the States, so we did some work to define the term. As a result we decided to look at disability as representing four broad categories:

Social and economic Disability

Developmental Disability (the same as intellectual Disability)

Mental Disability

Physical Disability

This discussion yielded a cogitative frame for our discussions and explorations of the use of playback with persons who are disabled. When we subsequently discussed the use of Playback for people experiencing trauma, we found a powerful means of thinking about and utilizing many Playback forms.

Finding the core of the scene. Dhaka University

Slides of work I have done using Playback with people with Physical and Developmental Disability were shown.  There was much conversation about using Playback with different populations and we explored this through partner exercises and short forms.

.Professor Rhaman sings as participants create a moving sculpture

Two days is not very long, and we could easily have spent many more days working with this topic.  It was however, a very solid beginning that was helped by a very energetic and responsive group. Forms that were demonstrated during the two days were fluids, pairs, transformations, freeze frames, three-part story, and tableau. I also demonstrated soundscapes, although we didn’t have time to practice these. All of this, when coupled with the theatre activities, sociometric exercises and warm ups, created a very, very full couple of days.

Closing Ceremony, Dhaka University

As always, I feel quite aware of the importance of this work. The power of this work extends through Playback and Sociometry to the art of learning to hear, see and be with people who are non-verbal and reliant on intuitiveness and tele.

During these trainings profound questions were raised and reflected on.  There was much deep sharing as well and healing, as people became aware of the importance of the community around them. Participants in all of the trainings, noted at one point or another, that they felt like they were deepening relationships with their colleagues in ways they did not expect, and felt that it would help them in their work. Playback relies on rich connections between actors that pave the way for stories to touch the audience. To be able to playback a story in a way that is artistically and metaphorically enhancing, especially those stories that are raw and deeply emotional, requires immense sensitivity on the part of the conductor and actors.

I believe the trainings went well. The BTTI is still growing and needs to be more present, even when I and my colleague, Herb, are not. I think there was a greater and deeper awareness of this need for continued practice among the participants. This was discussed at length in the advance workshops.

I thank Mostafa Kamal Jatra for once again, being the Master of Coordination; and Reza, Saju, and Munna for being not only my interpreters, but guardian angels! Every day I was picked up and dropped off at different locations, and always well fed. I know they took time from families, and work, to support the BTTI trainings.  Indeed, without you and the many others (including Kamal, Habiba, Mohammed, Afzal, and Sajjad) at the University of Chittagong and Dhaka University, it would not have been so smooth. Thank you all so much.

Here are some more pictures of the trip

.Closing ceremony, advance workshop

Setting up, University of Chittagong Michael, Piers, Saju and Reza

Chittagong streets

Street scene, Dhaka

New Year’s Eve, Bay of Bengal


Music is a strong component of Bangladeshi Life(and Playback!)

Sunset, Bay of Bangal

Street Scene/Chittagong

A Shop in Chittagong


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Singing in the New Year in Bangladesh

Singing in the New Year in Bangladesh

We began our last trainings in Chittagong on New Years Eve. After our session, we went by rickshaw to the Chittagong public beach. Our group was made up of storytellers, musicians and theatre activists. As the sun went down we sang in the New Year.

We sang to the setting sun.

We sang to the setting sun.

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