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Archive for the ‘Playback Theatre’ Category

I arrived back from another fruitful collaboration in India at the beginning of February.  I  focused the work and time with two Playback Theatre troupes in Bangalore (the Actors Collective and Yours Truly theatre companies),  attend and support the Indian Art Therapy Association Symposium on Using Art Therapy with Children and as well offer an introductory training of Expressive Arts Therapy to Master level clinical psychology students at Christ University. It was a full 3 weeks for sure.  Each time I go to India, I learn something new both about myself and about the work, and of course about India. One of the things that I learned about myself was actually that I know what I’m doing and I was able to structure the trainings from that place rather than ” What do I do? How do I do it? Do I really know how?”The  trainings felt different and energetically flowed in an organic way.

Since being home, I have thrown myself back into work, and local,  community politics.Admittedly, I find that I do not have the energy or bandwidth that I once had, and so am being far more judicious about what I actively work on, and spending more time at home,with family and in the studio. I do what I can with the energy I have. I show up where I can and now try to not make decisions to others that I cannot keep.

I now am getting good at making phone calls to my representatives in Washington. I sign a lot of petitions. I raise a ruckus on social media. I try to attend things in person, and find that my in person protest /social action work needs to be balanced with my in person work as a therapist. There is so much to be done and so very much needed.

This morning, as I voted for change  and watched in dismay at the national news of how everything I hold dear is getting gutted, I had a vivid memory come to me from grade school. School was always a deep challenge for me. Thanks to the Special Education Bill S91(that my mother was on the team to develop), I was able to mainstream at the local school. However, I stuttered, I lisped, I walked funny, and I couldn’t write very well. I left class each day to be in the “special needs ” class which clearly earmarked me, often in not a friendly way.  I was not considered the brightest bulb, and  I remember how incredibly painful it was to simply show up.

Anyway,   In 4rth grade during gym class one day, we were running laps and getting timed. These were probably 1/4-1/2 mile lengths.  The teacher divided us up in pairs. I was paired last with a young woman, named Susan who struggled with her weight. Clearly we were paired for a reason, and I’m sure that we were thought to be the slowest of everyone. I’m not sure that the teacher thought either of us would be able to finish.

One thing I could do, and do well was run. And that day, I ran as hard and fast as I could even though I knew it meant leaving Susan way behind. I felt bad about that in a way as I didn’t want to show off. But I needed to show up. I had finished those three laps by the time Susan was beginning her second.

I remember people teasing us as we began. I remember people cheering as I, then she finished. I went up to Susan after and slapped hands. I wanted her to know I saw her. That she had finished even though it had been hard. That she showed up. We didn’t talk.

I’m not sure much really changed after that day.I still got bullied, and in fact left that school the next year. But I think for me, it was an important day in which we showed people, to question assumptions. That regardless of appearance or intellect, we had skills that were there waiting to be seen. We showed up.

 

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This week we went to see Cirque Zuma Zuma – an amazing African circus troupe representing many countries in Africa – perform at our local theatre.  Michael and I had to sit a row apart. I was sitting next to a cluster of UVM students who were out for the evening – one young man wearing a tie and four women all dressed for an evening out. (The show was co-sponsored by the UVM Diversity committee) All of the students were on their cell phones, texting. They were occasionally talking. Clearly they were engaged both with each other and their cell phones. It was impressive.

The last few weeks have been very intense on many levels. Soon after journeying home from Hong Kong  and India (you can read a lot about our trip on Michael’s blog Dreaming the World) and finishing our jet lag, things began rocking literally in Boston. As I am from Boston ( my grandparents lived 2 blocks away from  the area where the explosions hit at the finish line of the marathon- my father and stepmother, 3 blocks away) this really did hit home for me. This area was my stomping ground. The Boston Public Library, just across the street, was my library of choice- The BPL was right across from the explosions. As well, one of my sons is an art student at college in Boston. (more…)

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Coming back from a 6 week trip is a lot to unpack from, emotionally and physically. Today as I sit at my desk back at home, watching the snow fly outside my office window, I am thinking a lot about all the connections, places, people and events of all kinds that have happened in the last month and a half. I am aware that in being back in quiet Vermont, I miss the rich social connections that exist in Asia.

There have been many threads of conversations on this trip that have entered and been woven through most if not all the trainings.  I think the largest conversation was about gender issues, sparked  in part by the killing of a 23 year old physiology student in Delhi last November. What it did do was provide the  overdue and much needed catalyst for a world wide protest(one billion rising was born in the midst of the initial protests) and demonstration for Women’s rights and for holding all accountable for the ways in which women are not equal -in pay, work and social stature and safe from constant harassment and violence-domestic and otherwise. This theme was a constant- In all the trainings in both countries. In the process of teaching technique and form, we told stories, created art that looked at and witnessed the deep needs of both men and women, and allowed women the much needed space to state what it is that they need from their relationships, and their lives. What was palpable and important for me was the fact that while I was visiting another culture, there were so many similarities for us. The trainings were made richer by this as well as understanding the differences within our countries. In one session,  during the Introduction to Art Therapy training through the  East/West Center for Counselling, the women in my group, after  seeing an intense documentary of women’s rights (or the lack of them) in India,  pounded, cajoled and nurtured the clay as a group creating stunning art and talking about what their needs were, what they wanted for their lives, and in what ways they could go after their dreams.

Other discussions were just as important. Climate change is on the list of high concern. Water shortages are everywhere. People are terrified by the prospects, and trying to make sense of it in real terms.   Having enough water and being able to survive climate change is on the high priority list no matter which gender you are. Clinicians are aware of  all of this.  Right now clinicians, teachers, artists and others are all trying to find the right kind of tools to support people, to support themselves and to find a better way to approach being in our bitter and often challenging world. The tools themselves can be challenging to understand  for cultural or other reasons. Helping people become grounded is the key in my work- To understand how to help others, one has to help themselves first. Diving down and deep, while at the same time creating an important toolkit to take to others supports this process. Teaching in an experiential  way that makes sense, and makes the most impact is the basis of my style.

In Hong Kong, through the Arts for the Disabled Association, the focus of the workshop centered around providing expressive arts to those with disabilities.  My first question to those who participated was:  How does one define disability? What does this really mean? How are we impacted or not by disability in our lives? Our culture?  Climate change, gender disparity all entered the conversations. Cultural issues around caring for aging parents was also part of the deeper conversations.Before we could go further and talk about ways to approach working with those with disabilities, we had to break down the commonly held constructs of how we think about disability to begin with. For many this was a eye opening experience. Grounding the conversation with role plays, Playback Theatre, Art s based therapeutic techniques, students chewed on this over the week. They also experienced understanding stepping into the shoes of one with “disability”, painting with blindfolds, creating adapting tools to work with, exploring using these tools first for themselves and then to be able to translate it for using in their work.

There is a lot to work through.  In the end, I hope that somehow, people feel empowered in India and Hong Kong with enough tools to keep going.

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Since I last wrote, we have been traveling and working in chennai, India and Hong Kong. I taught 4 workshops or trainings in India, while Michael taught 2 and presented two other shorter presentations at the Aparreo Galleries in Chennai. Its been amazing, often intense, complex and very often very rewarding. Michael has been great about writing regularly- I not so much, as at the end of the day, I am tired enough that my brain can not organize thoughts to write. To see Michael’s blogs go to Dreaming the world  to see about our trip from his perspective.

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We are taking a much needed few days off to rest up for our long trip and intense time change back home. While we are doing that, we are processing all from the trainings ( 2 3 half day trainings with college students at Ethiraj College and Madras School of Social Work) a 5 day core training in Playback Theatre and a 5 day Introduction to Art therapy as part of the Expressive therapies certificate program – a collaboration between the East West Center for Counseling and Women’s Christian College. Then in Hong Kong, a 5 day workshop on using the Expressive arts with people with Disabilities.DSCF4856

 

 

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DSCF4273Last weekend we spent in Bangalore working with the Yours Truly theatre company. We also had the pleasure of meeting with Fausto And Elena, Playbackers from Italy. The weekend  was one of connection between people from 3 continents, exploring themes that connect us all: culture, faith, and Playback . Our differing backgrounds created a rich experience.

On Sunday, Michael and I led the troupe in looking at the issues facing them around gender. Many deep feelings arose as the group ask itself questions about their identity as men and women- looking for a way to be authentic, and for their voices to be heard. In the afternoon, we split up into two groups, men and women. In the women’s circle we share what it was like to desire our voices be heard, for us to be taken seriously, and for us to be able to have our needs met in this process. In coming back together, the men on one side and the women on the other shared their feelings and experiences. The men playing back for the women, and the women playing back for the men. In the end, the stories went very deep as group worked to truly hear each other through the veil of cultural and societal expectations and norms. This is a group prepared to lead the way to having their voices be heard. In the end,  the women and men of realized their wants, hopes and needs were very much aligned.

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Well, once again, there has been a long time between blogs. Daily life, work, family and projects take up the psychic space that I need to think about writing a blog. Some of what I have been doing, I have done with my partner in life and career Michael Watson, who has been writing voraciously and beautifully. To read about his work I invite you to go to his blog here.

P1030643It is cold here. It is supposed to be about 5 degrees tonight. Fahrenheit.   I wrap myself in my Indian scarves and shawls to remind myself of the warmth of South Asia.

I keep myself busy! Besides my clinical work,  and my work  with the Centre for Playback Theatre (which has been ubber busy this past fall!!! We are gearing up for our winter session trainings- check them out at: http://www.playbackcentre.org/training-program), I have been teaching.  This past semester I taught various classes on Transpersonal Psychology and  expressive therapies. We dove in deep, and as is the case for many of my courses, bridged between the personal worlds that we exist in and the academics of understanding the theories behind why we would use the arts as a tool for healing. And as always, I experienced the deep richness and satisfaction of a co-creative and collaborative process – I as teacher being student at times, and my students teaching me so much that often isn’t written in textbooks. (more…)

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My recent trip to Bangladesh was very full and complex  as are often in the nature of these trips.  This trip however, had a little more complexity to it, than in my previous visits, in that it included a trip to the small village of Mirsarai to do  anti bullying work using art,  and Playback and not only did that but also continued grief and trauma work with a community that had experienced a horrendous disaster of losing 45 boys after a futball game last year. Working with my Bangladeshi colleagues (Reza Aziz and Nila Farzana) we created a team of 15 wonderful and multi skilled people. It truly was an eye opening and heart opening experience I think for all of us. And many of you supported me in this endeavor for which I am very grateful. With your financial support, I was able to  defray my trip costs.  THANK YOU! These trips are not inexpensive, as I am sure you are all aware!

But my trip started in Dhaka at the University of Dhaka clinical psychology program where I taught a very quick 2 day workshop on “Using the Expressive Therapies for Stress Reduction”

Considering that at that exact time, there were rallies around a meeting that the Opposition to the Government were having in Dhaka, this workshop was well timed and well used!! (For the first day, there was no public transportation allowed except for bicycle rickshaws) – There were very real concerns over potential violence in the city- particularly near us, as the DU students were also protesting the government. We discussed this at length in our workshop. The benefits of course was that  the commuting time for all was cut in half or even more. Many stores closed and no one was going to work!

Some photos from DU…Using music to understand our emotions

Musical instruments were hard to come by for this workshop. So participants improvised in very creative ways. Key sets, water glasses water bottles and sticks made for very interesting sounds to complement the tambourine and drums.

Writing in journals is very important in this process.

Using music in our work

                                                                                               Creating journals

Journal writing is an important aspect of Expressive therapies. Here participants create their own journals for the workshop using collage material. Once the process began, there was no stopping. Participants felt very at home cutting, pasting, gluing and drawing!

Drama allowed us to take on roles of the other. To experience ourselves from the perspective of someone else. Dancing allows us to free up our emotions and to experience our self through our bodies. In both ways we explored our internal worlds during these 2 days. This might also have been a responsive way

to experience art that was created.

Dancing to our personal story

We also did some work on grounding ourselves when integrating challenging, stressful material. In this picture,  two participants are using the “Heart sandwich” as a way to help a person access emotions and to feel supported and grounded. Other techniques included breathing , meditation and visualizations.

Over all, the experience was truly one of stress reduction! Including for me as I was 2 hours late for the second day,  due to a meeting to help find support for the Bangladesh Therapeutic Theatre Institute which organized this trip. It was important for both Reza and I (who was with me) to breathe and create art in order to be able to integrate back into the class!!

Painting our emotions

Then, onto Chittagong, a port city on the Bay of Bengal.

Thus began 3 days of team building and training of the 15 people who would then go to Mirsarai.

First though was the Unite Theatre for Social Action 15th year celebration. I received an appreciation for my work with them in the last 10 years.

Jahid, Hannan, Myself, Reza and Nila at the 15th celebration for UTSA

We began with an ambitious 3 day training called “Developing Empathy using Playback Theatre” This actually also included understanding trauma work, and outlining the ways in which we were to use Playback Theatre to understand and work with the issue of bullying. We knew that in the 8 months since the accident (July 27, 2011) in which an open back truck carrying 45 students coming from a futball tournament swerved into a ditch, there was an increase in bullying behavior in both the primary and high schools. We know that there was tremendous community wide  grief. On a previous trip in October, Mark Wentworth and Dynamic Theatre worked with this community, and I expected that there would still be a fair amount of grief work still needing to be done. In  2 assessment generating trips that Reza and a small team made before March, it wasdecided that the over all focus would be on offering support to families that lost children on an individual level, and to do an anti bullying campaign in the schools.

Therefore the team needed to be able to cope with and handle very sensitive material, and be able to support people who (most likely) still be in deep grief. This was also a time for me to assess the groups knowledge and abilities around using Playback Theatre and other drama  based skills that we would use in Mirsarai. There was a lot to hold.  The training included 3 clinical psychologists (2 of whom would go to Mirsarai) UTSA staff that work using theatre in the slums of Chittagong, People who have trained with me in Playback and/or Psychodrama. It was multi generational (including the 18 month old daughter of 2 of our members!) and multi faceted.

Sculpting needs

Included in the training was a day of personal work, team building and self care techniques to support each other and to use with community members in Mirsarai.  This was vital, as many had not seen me in 3 years,  since I was last here and yet I was supervising them- So team building and bringing me into the fold and to help each other connect with each other in a way that would bring support when the time really demanded it was crucial.

Playback Theatre at Chittagong Training

At one point, I offered a short presentation on Art Therapy to the community. I met people from the disability community and the founder of the Autism Foundation of Chittagong. I ended up offering a presentation to the Autism Foundation another day after the training  day ended.

Here they are working on a drawing together ‘having a conversation on paper’.

Using theatre to work on the issue of bullying

After 3 days we all traveled to the remote village of Mirsarai.

Our first stop was to the site of the accident. An open truck, going to fast, swerved and went into a watery ditch. 45 students in the back were killed or drowned. It was a powerful memorial of remembrance. We all stood for a moment in silence, reflecting on the enormity of this experience as children and parents ourselves.

Mirsarai is a little  town that is made up of two distinct subsections. Socioeconomically mixed,  the community  was both Muslim and Hindu.  We worked with people of all levels of economics and religion.There was a lot of cultural openings for me on this trip. Cultural norms in general, were more conservative than  in Chittagong.

We worked  in one area- Which poised a bit of an issue for those in the other township until they realized that we really had our hands full doing what we could in one town! Mostafa Kamal Jatra, the director of UTSA was instrumental in networking and speaking with different community leaders and helping to organize how everything would be run.

Villagers bathing at the pond outside our house.

One thing that I was very pleased about is that we convinced the journalists to stay away while we worked. This was vital for the integrity of our work and to create the confidential  safety needed for any of the participants to share what they wanted. Given how fragile people were and how much trauma care was necessary , we were relieved .

Munna and his daughter Obani- Our youngest team member.

We stayed together in one house- This was wonderful as it allowed us easy access to each other. We had team meetings twice daily in my room to allow for daily debriefing and exploring ways to do things differently if need be and to be able to support each other. It was tremendously important and grounding.

We ate at a small “hotel” another name for cafeteria.  I have to be honest- I did not watch very carefully about how the food was made :~  Simply put-the “kitchen” is very different from what I am used to! The food though was very good. They were amazed  that a “foreigner” would eat there (I really stood out every where I went- I was the only white person in the whole town! On the first day I  had people just walking to my bedroom to  look at me- So I had to lock my door when I was alone- It seemed to calm down after I started meeting people…) I also noticed that we were the only group there with women. Women do not go out to these hotels- its a male dominated space, but in our case they allowed it as they were feeding us 3 times a day.

Tslima and Rupa relaxing at the hotel

Stories were told in a variety of ways. Through Playback, through art and by listening and sharing in circles.  From Day one we connected at the heart level and supported men and women to reconnect not only with their family and friends but themselves on a deep emotional level. Not always easy- One thing that is prevalent in Bangladeshi culture is about how important boys are. The 45 students were all boys. Boys in this culture are the ones that often go to college, earn a living and care for their parents. Girls unfortunately do not carry as much clout. So one thing that was happening is that many of the girl siblings were left emotionally to mourn on their own and in some cases ignored. A goodly part of our work, was to support parents to open up more to their girl children to reconnect. We were heartened by seeing some of this occur.

One of our main missions was to offer an anti bullying program to the schools. We worked in the 4rth standard and third standard classrooms. Each class had about 80 students!!!! We split the team up in half to do this. On day one , and introduced the issue of bullying. Through game playing exercises, and theatre games we did community  and  team building work with the children.

We did  role plays  and other theatre methods including sociodrama and Playback and Forum theatre based work in which  the kids told us what  and how they wanted to see a bullying scene end differently that would support the victim. We created art and and we did some Playback to support all the feelings. Amidst moderate chaos, the children learned different ways to listen to each other and respect each other. By the third day when they had created posters for the school, all the children knew at least 3 ways to prevent bullying and to stop it when they see it happening and had a way to process the feelings around the issue.

Our last major event was to offer a community Playback Theatre performance. Many of the families we visited over the 3 days came as well as many community leaders. It was poignant and touching to see how people had made significant shifts in some cases from not wanting to engage to engaging and participating.  It was deeply moving and very powerful.

One story told by a father that had lost both his children, talked about how he felt differently than he had before we came. That he was able to process things in a different way now about his children’s’ deaths and his own life.

Watching the ending performance. This woman we worked with- could not stay seated.  She was pulled by the trance of personal stories being made into beautiful art.

That was the end of our work in Mirsarai, but not the end for our group- The next day, we spent the day debriefing the experience- through Playback, art and movement, as well as sharing- What worked, what was challenging, and what could have been different. Like any project, there are bugs to be worked out. One huge hurdle for future work is having people train more in counseling skills- to continue working on their Playback skills,  to be able to embrace the challenging stories, and to keep working as a team to keep developing them selves as a group- Challenging due to  their living in   different geographic locations.

Over all, I feel that the experience was positive and that we made a deep and lasting impression. Leaders in the community have invited the team to come back. Of course the next big hurdle for the village is July 27th. Anniversaries can be so hard….

Our team picture. 2012.

Picture of our team after coming back from Mirsarai

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