Thursday, 20 March 2014

The world's a stage: Drama and Trauma at Maidan

Hello you lovely people!

Yes I know, after a strong start I've been a bit quiet in March I have been busy; watching Emil and the Detectives at the NT, crying on the tube whilst reading The Book Thief, travelling halfway up the country for a charity auction at which I won all the preserves, watching Miranda at the O2, becoming a godparent and watching this fascinating documentary about life on death row. So, apologies for the delay in talking to you, but hopefully you'll have got the gist that I haven't been laurel-resting.

One of the interesting things I did recently was go to hear Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichorn talk about using forum theatre to engage people in crisis or war situations. He is a seasoned professional, using Theatre of the Oppressed in Afghanistan and other war-torn areas to help people face their traumas head on. Hjalmar has been working in the Ukraine since Autumn 2013; using similar forum theatre skills to engage the protestors of Maidan in dialogue.

Dispelling myths

The first thing Hjalmar asked of us was to play word association with the word 'Ukraine' it was interesting what came up 'blood', 'tractors', 'war', 'a battle of young vs. old'. Whilst Hjalmar was primarily there to teach us about using forum theatre we also learned lots of other things about the progress of the revolution through his eyes. I was surprised by how different the narrative was to that told to us by the BBC. The perception of young vs. old was one such supposition blown out of the water. As has since become more apparent, this is a battle of ethnicity and power, not of old vs new.

Gendered space

Hjalmar had taken lots of photos, of fire, meals, and burning tyres, of confrontation and commemoration. One of the interesting facts that came out of the discussion is there is a clear absence of women from the 'front line' images. Women here play ancillary roles, they feed the men at the front, they roll tyres, they are the mourners. This all felt surprisingly Shakespearean. I immediately thought of Enobarbus' words in Anthony and Cleopatra about 'serving with horse and mare together'. It also seemed strangely reminiscent of the war a whole century in our past where women rose to new roles back at home but did not see direct action. I was really quite surprised that all the Women's Lib and Feminist movement still lead to modern, gendered conflict.


Ever since the MA I do a lot of thinking about ethnicity, and creating places to remember. It was interesting that so soon after the deaths at Maidan memorials cropped up. They had all the features you might expect, images of the dead, candles, flags. Interestingly the three first killed came from a variety of different places and politics. Since February the role of memorials has gained prominence with the statues of Stalin in the Crimea. It amazes me how much interest is now paid to an area which until 3 months ago was solely referenced in the minds of many as 'the place Florence Nightingale went that time'.

Roles to play

To briefly consider the role of forum theatre. One audience member asked the very relevant question, 'why would someone want to role play when there is a war going on?'. I think we were all thinking this. It was interesting to hear Hjalmar's demographic breakdown. Most of the participants were Ukrainian who perhaps hadn't quite found their place yet, who didn't have a role. Didn't feel comfortable perpetrating violence, but still wanting to vocalise what they were feeling. The theatre-dialogue model has actually been taken on by the future government as a way of creating democratic legislation - by trying out ideas with teams of locals. Here drama is not only relieving trauma but creating a space to legislate which is exciting.

Finally, I'm aware I might have lit a touch-paper here. I'm really sorry if I have said anything offensive. It certainly wasn't intentional. See you guys again soon!