Internship October 2013. Tania Canas.

The following are summary reflections upon the conclusion of the October internship 2013. We worked in two operational prisons, as well as with youth and LGBT community groups in the border town of Strabane.

The experience over the last three weeks was not a series of static lessons to be taught but rather a series of discoveries to be made. It is the model of pedagogy that saw us learn not only from the facilitator, but from each other as a group of international interns as well as from the community groups we worked with. Therefore, I cannot offer you a statistical graph, a pie-chart or excel table to prove notions of what constitutes ‘success’. Nor will I offer a descriptive list of theatrical games per session. I cannot/will not speak for the communities we worked with, you’ll have to go ask them. I can tell you however, how I was affected, how I was transformed. I will briefly share with you some of the things that happened to me, whilst acknowledging that most of the discoveries will manifest as a process over a longer period of time. The truth however is that I’ve already began to share with you one of my discoveries. The very fact of writing this piece as the first person, without the use of the Harvard or Chicago referencing system – is one example of the characteristics of the impact of the internship. I began to re- invite myself into analysis, not just to make an analysis of other’s analysis.

It is easier to project upon others, when we rationalise for others. A tendency that can lead our practice into the trap of ‘helping’ or ‘well-meaning person’ syndrome which exercises our own insecurities, confusion and arrogant assumption on various communities in which we find ourselves in. Instead the experience invited to ask ‘how did it impact you?’ This was asked in a manner that kept in mind that the self is a reflection of what is happening in the external environment- and conversely- the external environment as a reflection of what is happening internally. Through theatre in community and the various group processing sessions, I began to shift my thinking from theorising about the impact of ‘other’ to critically reflecting on my own self-awareness, action and practice.  I went from otherising statements such as ‘they didn’t get up during the warm up activity’ to ‘I was feeling anxious because I may have jumped into the game too quickly’. Such discoveries however are impossible to make one self, as it is a relational discovery regarding the role of self-located within the social. This internship provided me an opportunity tap into this dialectical relationship.

For example, let me share with  you my sentiments of going to prison for the first time: I felt my body tense, questions such as ‘was I ready?’, ‘what did you get yourself into?’ began to emerge. I felt ill prepared as we went through the huge prison gates with twirled wire at the very top, as we walked through metal detectors and were patted down. I was unsure about the resonance I had, or would find. I kept trying to remember Hectors words, ‘you have everything you need’- the problem was that I didn’t think I knew what I had.

I entered the space with the team and found myself connecting with people as an Australian, as a former refugee, as a fellow youth, as a human. Our differences were a point of resonance. I was left with the overwhelming impression that if you enter a space honestly, there will always be resonance- no matter who you work with. Theatre is humanising, even in dehumanising places.

This work is about connecting, in whatever way that means. For some its drums, for others its place, for some its history, for others it’s the contemporary. The opportunity for connection is infinite. You don’t have to know all of these ways, you don’t even have to know half of them; you just have to be honest with your means of connection. In the end it didn’t necessarily matter what we did but rather how we did it, how we used our shared time in the space. It wasn’t about reading the room; it was about listening to the room. There were some session in which we sat with a drum and did storytelling, other times we played theatre games, with some groups we jumped into scenes and with others still, we played soccer.

I discovered the lesson I knew theoretically but not practically, the discovery of listening to the room and the presence. It allowed me to question my idea of participation, for as Hector said ‘who is there, is who needs to be there.’ Allow me to give you an example: in a particular group we played the ‘wave’ theatre warm-up game. Some of the groups body still seemed constrained, their arms didn’t extend, sometimes remaining with their arms crossed. I was anxious with the idea that they were not participating, but as Hector said ‘they are participating in their own way’. This was a new discovery for me, as I realised I harboured preconceived notions of participation and what I thought it was supposed to look like. Why couldn’t arms crossed yet standing, sitting on a chair yet listening still be considered participation? They were in the space were they not? I realised it was presumptuous of me to think that this was not participation in its own right. After all, we are asking a lot from the groups we work with.

Finally, I would like to quote some words that the prisoners used when sharing what they took from the work we had collectively been doing over the weeks. These words were: intelligence, story, connection, respect, fun, learning and happiness. The beautiful thing is that these words were just as applicable to me as it was to them. That is the nature of this work.

 Thus I would like to leave you with this concluding thought:  The humble truth is that I won’t remember everyone’s name that we worked with; instead I take with me the irreplaceable gift of shared moments. Each group, each person, each interaction has taught me lessons that I will indirectly offer others, through their influence on my being and becoming.