‘I too, remember dust’: Peace-building, Politics & the Arts’ Conference, Winchester University 7th September 2015 – 8th September 2015

‘I too, remember dust’: Peace-building, Politics & the Arts’ Conference, Winchester University 7th September 2015 – 8th September 2015

The title of the conference, “I too, remember dust” is inspired by a poem from the acclaimed Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan, a survivor of Auschwitz, a title which invokes a haunting image of any conflict and suffering from around the world. The conference will explore the themes of peace-building, politics and the arts in the former Yugoslavia and other national and international contexts and, as such, has welcomed proposals for papers, discussion panels and creative practice across the performing arts, fine arts, film, literature, politics and the social sciences in general. While the title and primary theme of the conference has a focus on the former Yugoslavia, contributions and interest have also been welcomed from those wishing to explore a range of issues and aspects, as well as experiences beyond this region and in other international conflicts. The programme created is enriched with some distinguished guests from around the world, working admirably towards peace and reconciliation across faiths, cultures and communities in our troubled world.

On the 9th of September, Rebecca & I delivered an interactive theatre workshop as part of the ‘I too remember the Dust’ Conference on Peace-building, Politics and the Arts at Winchester University.  I had applied for and been selected to deliver the workshop in May 2015.

The key principle of the methodology behind this workshop that we investigated was the sense of balance because we are dealing with conflict resolution.  We stressed from the beginning that, unlike in Forum Theatre facilitation style, where the Joker tells the participants that the goal of the intervention is for the protagonist to ‘win’ over the antagonist, we were much more interested in balance due to the fact that in peace-building, a mutually beneficial way forward is the only option. One side upending the other only continues the conflict.

With the participants from this academic conference, both Rebecca & I were concerned about the participatory nature of the event.  And it didn’t help that we were undermined from the beginning of the second day by the conference leader by making our workshop optional [there were no other papers or performances that were said could be optional].   But, because we only had the participants who actively chose to be a part of the workshop, their participation was exceptional and above my expectations.  There were 12 in total – most of them from Europe or beyond.  We had given them homework the day before explaining that the learning outcome for workshop is to examine our own behaviour when it comes to interpersonal communication and, through the training, look to improve it.  They needed to come prepared to share a recent story where communication broke down in their lives and they wish it would have gone better.  We only had 60 minutes and we wanted to spend the majority of the time Touch Tagging.  So we pushed through not being able to spend time discussing the whys as much as we would have liked [the participants were ‘warned’ from the beginning that this is a whistle-stop taster session which would strip away much of  foundational elements of the training].  We had a quick warmup of ‘Wake & Shake’ which generated much laughter.  They then shared their stories with the partner and, in turn created sculptures.  The sculptures that were created were dynamic and easily transferable to performance.  They ‘came alive’ with relish and we chose one to flesh out into a short scene.  These experiential activities enabled each a highly participatory experience in which to examine their own behaviour and how they might more positively change it in order to have a more successful outcome.

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