Wednesday, 12 April 2017

#12 Working with the world stage

I conducted a workshop at the last European Federation of Dramatherapy Annual Conference in Ghent on the 8th April entitled 'Between the stage and the world stage: being a dramatherapist in times of darkness'.

The aim of the workshop was to explore the way in which the unsettling events on the world stage affect us as dramatherapists in Europe, and the kind of response we have the responsibility to offer either through our practice, our theoretical paradigms, or collective action as a profession.

The following video was created from the workshop participants' reflections and thoughts as we explored together the significance of the world events on our lives as practitioners and citizens of the world.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

#11 Recycling hatred

One of my current projects consists of creating aphorisms out of cuttings from the Daily Mail, and intentionally recycling its prejudiced and bigoted content.

The first four collages in the series (March 2017):

No.1 03.03.17 'The madness of a hug may wobble terror'

No.2 12.03.17 'Mummy dismounted the bed of a nagging foreign revolution'

No.3 20.03.17 'We look for love like deported flowers'

No.4 24.03.17 'The heroic seeds of youth ain't ready for war'

Thursday, 23 March 2017

#10 Public creative space

Generally speaking, there seems to be a general lack of opportunities for meaningful social interactions between members of a same or diverse community. It is in this context that the idea of the public creative space was born. A public creative space is a social encounter of individuals coming together to discuss, explore and reflect on issues affecting their social lives. It facilitates the expression, exchange and confrontation of personal and social experiences in the context of a group. Most importantly, it is an attempt to creatively develop social and cultural dialogue between individuals within and across communities through artistic expression. It is a praxis that reconnects personal experience to collective experience, a relational space that ‘contains the tension between the needs of self and other’ (Froggett, 2008). It is also a praxis where the therapist reclaims his/her social role and makes use of his/her skills and knowledge to facilitate a process of personal and social transformation.

The Public Creative Space is structured around the notions and the use of story, body and space.


Stories are the backbone of our existence. Our personal stories make us who we are. No one will ever share a story similar to our own. Stories are fundamentally different from each other. Telling our stories is therefore a process of affirmation and validation of who we are, giving form to our world. ‘The very act of speaking one’s story publicly is a move toward subjecthood, towards agency, with political implications’, writes Cohen-Cruz (2006). But storytelling is also a communicative process, a process of exchange with other stories, where for it to work there must exist a mutual acceptance that any stories are as valid as our own. In addition, the process of sharing stories will create possibilities for relatedness and bring about a sense of community, not a restricted consensual community, but a community able to embrace its own complexity and to recreate itself. Stories are therefore not only the backbone of our individual existence, but also of our collective existence.  


Human experience is primarily an embodied experience and our body remains our first mode of relatedness to the world and others. The world opened itself through our senses, and through our senses it continues to be a subject of wonder. A child starts exploring the outside world through his body. His body teaches him pain, pleasure, yearning, tiredness, sadness and many other feelings. Our bodies have been storing memories, information and relational experiences of others well before we were capable of articulating these into any sort of language, and our bodies continue to do so throughout life. ‘The body remembers’ writes Babette Rothschild (2003). In a very similar way, Jacques Lecoq writes that ‘the body knows things that the head doesn’t know yet’ (my translation from Lecoq, 1997, 22). In the Poor Theatre of Grotowski (1991), the artistic effort is to attend to the body and to ‘let it speak’, having eradicated it from unnecessary ‘blocks’. The body is also a source of knowledge. The ‘political body’ translates the ways in which our body has absorbed the cultural, social and political context in which we live. Boal also sees the body as ‘the primary locus of the ideological inscriptions and oppressions’ (Auslander, 1994, 124). Attending to the body means engaging with a wider experience that has been gained throughout our live. It also means creating physical possibilities where our relationships with others can become different and where our understanding of others can reach new meanings.


If story and body are essential parts of our social and cultural experience, so is the space in which we live and that we share with others (or dispute with others). Space is not an infinite, unlimited and indefinable entity. Space is socially defined like any other areas of human experience. Urban spaces, for instance, are social spaces organised around some very specific values and reflecting specific views on social relations. The way we organise the space will determine the way we interact with one another and who we will be interacting with. This is true for any sort of space, from public space to office space. Spaces are political stakes with important effects on social and human relations. Reclaiming space, occupying space, invading space are serious political statements. Like Popen writes, ‘space shapes sociality in powerful and substantive ways’ (Popen, 2006). Cultural spaces have also different connotations, from segregation and division to dialogue and tolerance.

At the intersection between story, body and space (each capturing and expressing fundamental aspects of our relational experience), lies a space of possibility. This is where I locate the public creative space as a space of dialogue and interaction potentially leading to a greater awareness of ourselves in our relationships with others and of our ability to live with one another. This is fundamentally an in-between space. A space where different (sometimes oppositional) worldviews meet and are put in relation to each other. And it is from that relation only that something new could emerge. The concept of in-betweeness is familiar in theatre and ritual studies. In rituals, in-betweeness is a liminal space (Turner, 1969) or transitional space where new states of consciousness emerge without having reached any new fixed form yet. In-betweeness in theatre has been described by Boal as ‘metaxis’, or a ‘space for interplay’ (Linds, 2006, 114) between real and imaginative material. It is a space where the ambivalence between what is and what is not (or not yet) can live. Fischer-Lichte (2009) argues that in-betweeness in performance is particularly useful to examine processes of cultural exchange. She writes that in performance, new forms of social co-existence are tried and tested. In-between spaces, argues Homi Bhabha (1994), are cultural ‘interstices’ where identities, definitions and certainties can be (re)negotiated. Bhabha describes moments of in-betweeness as ‘moments of aesthetic distance’, possibilities of dynamic mutual engagement between ‘me’ and ‘not me’.


Auslander P. (1994), Boal, Blau, Brecht: The Body. In: M. Schutzman & J. Cohen-Cruz (eds.), Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy and Activism. London: Routledge, 124-133

Bhabha H. (1994), The Location of Culture. London: Routledge

Cohen-Cruz J. (2006), Redefining the Private: From Personal Storytelling to Political Act. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 103-113

Fischer-Lichte E. (2009), Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between. New Theatre Quarterly, 25 (4), 391-401

Froggett L. (2008), Artistic Output as Intersubjective Third. In: S. Clarke, H. Hahn, P. Hoggett (eds.), Objects Relations and Social Relations. London: Karnac, 87-111

Grotowski J. (1991), Towards a Poor Theatre. London: Methuen

Lecoq J. (1997), Le Corps Po├ętique. Arles: Actes Sud

Linds W. (2006), Metaxis: Dancing (in) the In-Between. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 114-124

Popen S. (2006), Aesthetic Spaces / Imaginative Geographies. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 125-132

Rothschild B. (2003), The Body Remembers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

Turner V. (1969), The Ritual Process. Chicago: Aldine

Saturday, 4 March 2017

#9 New chapter

I have contributed a chapter entitled 'A Relational Approach to Trauma, Memory, Mourning and Recognition through "Death and the Maiden" by Ariel Dorfman' in the newly published book 'Shared Trauma, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning'. This volume is the result of a 'Psychoanalysis and Politics' conference that was held in Stockholm in 2012.

My chapter is based on a play by the Argentinian-born playwright Ariel Dorfman. The play, “Death and The Maiden”, gave me an opportunity to explore shared trauma and silent loss in the context of the devastating effects of political violence and terror in Chile, following the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Allende government in 1973. As I write in the introduction of the chapter, “Death and the Maiden depicts characters torn by internal conflicts and dilemmas in a way that reflects the shattered certainties of the society they lived in”. The play raises essential questions about the complexities of surviving a traumatic past, of mourning and of restoring trust in the future.

I have always felt a profound connection with Ariel Dorfman for reasons that I cannot totally explain. After all I am from a different continent, I carry a different cultural heritage, I have a different social history, I am of a different generation and I speak a different language. What Dorfman makes me feel maybe simply illustrates one of the most valuable qualities of the arts to connect us beyond all the differences that might separate us. I find Dorfman’s writing extremely powerful and authentic, but also delicate and fragile despite the relentless realities on which it is based. I believe this fragility and vulnerability may be a reflection of the trajectory of his life that he described himself as, “one of exiles” (interview in The Progressive 30 October 1998).

Exile is certainly a theme that defines Dorfman and that runs through all of his work. He worked as a cultural and press adviser for the Allende’s administration, and was forced to flee Chile in 1973. As he writes in his autobiography, exile left him “dangling”, as if he had been pushed off a cliff and narrowly managed to save himself from the inevitability of the fall. Like many of his comrades, he was expelled from a place that was no longer habitable, and forced, as he writes, into “the hidden trauma of separation”. Dorfman describes how exile translates a permanent state of temporariness deserted by all sense of temporality. Being an exiled means being displaced and dislocated like the members of a body that have become disconnected because of a broken joint or bond. It might not be a coincidence that the act of re-membering also expresses an attempt to reintegrate dissociated parts within a physiological structure. For Dorfman, writing was not solely a way of bearing witness to what happened or trying to make sense of the past, but also an important step into recreating a sense of belonging to oneself, others and humanity.    

Dorfman describes himself as an “insurgent nomad of the earth”. He was not just left dangling but also wandering the world in search of a home that remained a distant memory and a distant dream. This melancholic search translated a desperate attempt to deny the irremediableness of the endured loss.

Nowadays, millions of displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and other war torn countries are facing the trauma of a similar loss. Them also are left dangling in front of our own eyes as we watch daily news reports that remind us of the desperate situation that our world has created for so many. If exile has become the fate of millions, many of us are indignant by the response of our governments failing the needs of those seeking sanctuary. Beside, a rhetoric of hatred and ostracism has convinced many that confusing the victims for the perpetrators, and singling out or vilifying an other-than-self, would provide an expedient solution to complex problems.

I am thinking here of the words of the American writer Kurt Vonnegut who described himself as “a man without a country” in response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Vonnegut, like so many others, felt abandoned as he could no longer recognise himself in a country whose politics, as he described it, was dehumanizing. Vonnegut reminds us of the dual signified of exile. Exile does not only refer to a lack of recognition by one’s own country, but also a lack of recognition in one’s own country. How many of us, today, are feeling a similar sense of internal estrangement and alienation following the inadequacy of political leaders and reactionary ideologies? This profound lack of recognition (as recognising and being recognised) is, I believe, what describes exile. This makes it essential to create private and public spaces where we can share and reflect on our silent traumas, mourn our silent losses, but also, as Dorfman would say, keep “feeding on dreams”.

The book is published by Karnac.

Friday, 20 January 2017

#8 One or two things to learn from improvisation

A recent conversation I had about improvisation made me think about what can be learnt from the practice of that art form, and its relevance to social life in general. Nothing too ambitious!

I came to the conclusion that two important things can be learnt from it (amongst many other things that I haven't been able to figure out yet).

First learning -

Improvisation teaches how to be with others and how to make interactions with others work. What does it mean to "make it work"? It means that the players of an improvisation (whether two or more) first have to recognise one another as essential to the improvisation and to its development. It also means that each player accepts other players, and responds openly and willingly to their invitations. There can't be any hierarchy in improvisation. Each player is as good as any other player, they are fundamentally equals. Each player brings something unique that will reveal its beauty as they mutually accept one another and play with one another. Improvisation teaches us to be with others, not despite others. Any pre-determined choices, personal wishes, desires or ideas have to be relinquished and overtaken by a playful commitment to others. It is a process of surrendering oneself based on the secrete knowledge that this will engender pleasure and joy. Improvisation teaches us that love is not just about giving, it's also about surrendering.

Second learning -

Improvisation helps us to understand power relations. Surrendering does not mean to give up on one self, to place oneself in a subjugated position, or to let others overpowering us. Surrendering means to understand our own power and place within power structures. There is no escape from power. All human relations are based on a balance of power. Power structures constitute the fabric of social life. They penetrate deep int our psyche which has its own internal power structures. Improvisation helps to recognise, exaggerate and sometimes subvert power relations. It also helps to become aware of power structures, to navigate more freely amongst them, and to gain a sense of mastery over one's own destiny. Within limits....

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

#7 A play about the community by the community

'Anna' was performed on the 27th July 2016. It was the latest production of Kempston Community Theatre, the community theatre company I have been facilitating and directing for the last three years. It was quite a different project from previous performances in the sense that it originated in an exploration of community issues that the members of the group felt a resonance with.

The play was created from an initial feeling and image about a specific issue affecting the local community. It was subsequently developed into a narrative and aesthetically refined for a stage performance. The play remained largely unscripted to retain an element of spontaneity. The actors improvised within a pre-defined structure

The play was devised by the group through discussions and experiential theatre work. The group identified strongly with the issue and some of the members made links with their own personal experience. The play was not devised as a faithful rendering of a lived experience but rather offered a platform for reflection and action on issues affecting the community.

'Anna' is about the impact of austerity measures on the lives of the most vulnerable people and the increased sense of precarity and insecurity in our society.

'Anna' tells the story of an ordinary woman whose emotional health deteriorates following the breakdown of a relationship and who finds herself at risk of loosing financial support resulting from government policies to cut welfare benefits. The play exposes her own sense of vulnerability and offers a reflection on the way we live with one another as a society.

The play was an invitation for the audience to reflect on a situation that affects thousands of people in the local community and in Britain. The play exploited what seems the vocation of community theatre. To be by the community, about the community and for the community.

Monday, 4 July 2016

#6 The public square

I am currently devising a public intervention performance whose aim is to be a platform for spontaneous and non-rehearsed dialogue between members of the community.

I am looking at ways in which the performance space can act as a public space which holds possibilities for embodied encounters with others and potentialities for transformative individual and collective direct experiences.

I have named this The Public Square. It is a non-scripted intervention whose shape and content will be defined by what the public will bring into it and what will emerge in the moment out of random conversations between strangers. It is a non-theatre event in the sense that it doesn't adhere to traditional theatre conventions but rather views performance as a unique space of encounter and dialogue.

At a historic time where relations with others are impregnated with suspicion, fear and hostility, and where digital media have drastically altered the way we communicate with one another, this intervention aims at restoring a cultural and social space of sharing at the heart of our communities. It offers an artistic response to the increasing atomisation of social life that has resulted in a sense of loss of our ability to recognise and engage with others.