International Gathering Of Theatres in Transformation

Salamanca 4, 5 and 6 July 2014
Organized by: USAL ‐ University of Salamanca and AEP, the Spanish Association of Psychodrama

It is becoming increasingly evident that the range and diversity of professionals interested in theatre and theatrical tech- niques beyond artistic purposes is growing. Theatre for transformation has entered into our imaginations and in the latest gathering in Salamanca there were strong indications that this enchantment with theatre processes for transformation will continue to grow. Playback theatre was initially included in our first gathering on Theatre and Society back in 2010 in Grana- da in a very small way, yet interest in Playback Theatre has grown significantly as with much higher visibility in the recent gathering on theatres of transformation. Such persistent interest suggests the need to explore other theatrical references, to seek different methodologies, to develop theoretical understandings and technical skills, and ensuring there are diverse scenarios for staging. As well as developing the way the public views this work.

Driving the growth in theatre applications are contemporary objectives such as our search for personal meaning and group function (on many levels – physical, cognitive, emotional, and other aspects of participants’ inner worlds), our need to reflect, to bring to awareness latent or “hidden” aspects of personal development (so that we might engage in a process of “realizing” these so that we might change or transform), transforming creativity so that there might be liberation from oppres- sion (multiple contexts), bring empowerment, and preserve the dignity and value of the human being (balancing healthy ego levels), and a general humanistic approach that ensures that each viewer is co-producer of the show.

The term applied theatre, is increasingly used to describe this work which points explicitly to the central importance of con- text and / or lens within the work. Emerging contexts include community and social context (such as women’s associations, cultural immigrant, patients and their caregivers/family, prisons, NGO, self development, Social Service Institutions, Health Services, citizen participation, intercultural organizations or educational activities etc …) educational contexts (in schools, working with adolescents, prevention activities in schools, and University applications), for pedagogic purposes (defined as those areas in which learning or revision of a role is required, outside of the school context, yet with a comprehensive edu- cational psycho-social component, such as volunteer training, professional development), in clinical settings (in psychother- apeutic work trying to appeal to different types of patients), and in organisational and business contexts (for deepening or improving the relational processes between people, for conflict resolution, and coaching).

The 2014 international gathering in Salamanca was a space to meet, experience and reflect together on the different types of participation in theatre, improvisation and transformation which are being developed in Spain and several coun- tries (Germany, Portugal, Brazil, England , Argentina, etc). It was also a time to get to know about how the different com- panies work, and to meet and theatre companies coordinators.
Although it was only an “appetizer” beginning …. a group of about 40 people, with such enthusiasm and energy that it seemed like many more, lived-in for the intensive long weekend of rich theatrical play, which left us deeply connected. A key outcome was the birth of a new project – the start of a new playback company, and the commitment to the next inter- national encounter in Spain. As well as plans for a book on this subject.
The bringing together of Latin America and European colleagues in and international forum was significant for all con- cerned. There were diverse conversations about theatre: we witnessed a discussion between collaborators Angelo Medeiros and Moysés Aguiar from Brazil; social theater demonstrations by Fernando Crespo and collaborators, from Bilbao; Spanish Theatre of Spontaneity practitioners Andrea Montuori and Cristina Domínguez Vázquez (Spain), and J. Antonio Garcia Casal (Uruguay), Forum Theatre, listening and popular education with Emma and colleagues from 3So- cial, Madrid; Sociodrama with Esperanza Fernández Carballada of Madrid; explored the effects of music applied to spon- taneous theater and playback with Ana Fernandez and Pablo Vicente (Salamanca); and improvisation as a theatrical resource with Pablo Málaga (Salamanca); Integrated dramatherapy by Lucilia Gabriela Valente Cruz (Portugal); and playback theatre featuring José Marques and Antonio Vicente of Portugal), Jutta Heppekausen of Germany, and Brian Tasker of England.

A round table was conducted on the final day in which speakers shared personal stories; their personal and theatrical journeys, including very interesting features, such as differences or similarities between spontaneous theater and playback were discussed. This extended into a discussion about whether or not playback is therapeutic (concluding that while the goal of playback theatre is not therapeutic, that is, not part of the initial therapeutic contract, it has therapeutic effects, such as how personal worlds can become externalised through storytelling; and in this can then promote connections within the group. The point was also made that Playback Theatre has an implicit ethical dimension to it); there was dis- cussion also about the listener and the particular role of the playback conductor, who is present as co-creator of the story that will be represented. There is a sense of family in playback companies due to the demand to be authentic and the challenge to ego which means that groups who practice intensely are tuned in on a very human level; resulting in a pas- sionate melody that is close to a spiritual and / or “transpersonal” experience. Personally, I was impressed by the mission of one speaker, a Playback Master, who shared her vision to expand playback theatre around the world. The depth of her commitment was inspirational and touched me profoundly.

We also shared performances. The first evening culminated in a presentation of Theatre of Spontaneity led by led Jesús Antonio García Casal in the Patio Chico, at the back of the Salamanca Cathedral. While, at the end of the second day we experienced a Forum Theatre performance in the cloisters of the Archbishop Fonseca College. This work, on the social roles of women today, was led by company 3Social’s Emma Lucia Luque Perez. Amidst of the rich program we also found a little free time to celebrate the birthday of our new friend Brian Tasker, and share with him the music of skilled improvised guitarist Dario Gomez and Cajon flamenco expert Pablo Vicente. Our final performance, to close our gather- ing, was Playback Theatre with Entrespejos Salamanca (which much appreciate for your participation). This performance revealed the themes, “debates” and narrative of our group over the three days.

There was acknowledgement of the tribal aspect of group life and the need for key roles (support func- tions, collaboration, containment and mutual aid). The need for continual apology among participants also featured (the need to repair the group or to appease a situation that caused pain or discomfort). The enjoy- ment of sharing of knowledge and personal wisdom through relationships with others, and enjoyment of being aware of it (without reducing the experience to a narcissism); the joy of learning with others through spontaneous play, mixed with the experience of work- ing under time pressure, leaving us with an ambiva- lent flavour at times, with various shades to our expe- rience. Themes also included: feeling at home, wit- nessing transmission of skills and experiencing the learning that emerges from a fertile encounter, the commitment to continue creating and co-creating to- gether, to live intensity and transformation through theater, to dream together, etc.

A big thank you to all: directors, collaborators, organi- sational helpers, performers, and all the participants for being here—you have all made this dream a reality!

Ana María Fernández-Espinosa