Through the EEA funded project MoreLight! a Latvian museum is reinventing its major directions of work by putting the theme of mental health at the forefront of its new initiatives. New permanent exhibitions and educational programs will be created as well as artist residences for Latvian and Norwegian artists.
My collaboration with the More Light! Project started in 2021 as I was approached by the project manager Inga Surgunte. My experience from process orientated drama work could be of interest to the project they were planning. Using drama games and exercises I have held workshops with youth groups, teachers, and professionals.
Process orientated drama work can bring new perspectives and unleash creative resources that we ignore in everyday life. As I am always looking for new opportunities to develop my approach, this proposal was of great interest to me. As the project was approved for funding, we could proceed with the activities in 2022.
|Cēsis district municipality, Latvia||Implementation phase||2023|
The historic town of Cesis is situated in the Northeast of Latvia about two hours’ drive from Riga. Here you find the remains of a grand medieval castle with many towers complete. The town is also in the vicinity of the Gauja river that connected the inhabitants to vital trading routes during the Hanseatic era. Modern Cesis boasts a vibrant artistic community as well as a concert hall where you can experience world class performers such as the native Gidon Kremer.
Eduards Veidenbaums is recognized as the first Latvian modernist poet. His short life was turbulent and hampered by anxiety and depression. But through his writings he managed to express solidarity with the sufferings of people and celebrate the joy and beauty of life. His home is now the Kalāči Museum located in the countryside, a 19th century farm where the family Veidenbaums lived. The architectural ensemble of the farm is of a high authenticity and is included in the list of cultural monuments of Latvia.
I have conducted workshops with the museum staff as well as educational professionals. To reach new audiences, new approaches to communication is needed as the institution will now focus on reaching out to young adults. Artistic practices, such as poetry reading and drama exercises can be very beneficial when addressing our own mental health issues.
As in all therapeutic work, the development of language and expression of inner cognitive processes is fundamental to personal growth.
Art is a language of codes and practices that can be adapted to any public, any theme. Drama games and exercises provide a platform for addressing vital themes such as self and identity through an inclusive and emphatic environment. As drama is now part of the national curriculum for middle schools in Latvia the workshop was more relevant than I had imagined before traveling over.
When I do a workshop in drama for new audiences I usually start with a talk about the history and epistemological approach of process drama. In this talk I trace the role of drama from antique Greece and all the way up to modern times. Many people such as Berthold Brecht and Jacob Levi Moreno have influenced the ideas of how theatre can be instrumental to personal and societal change. Augusto Boal’s approach focused on the power of the collective acknowledgement of oppression and drama as a vehicle to “rehearse” a better reality. His theatre of the oppressed facilitated a series of exercises that could enable anybody to attain empowerment through collective drama work. His influence in the field of applied drama processes has spawned many new iterations that now dominate the field of process drama. As an example of this I highlight the work of psychotherapist, drama therapist and theatre director Armand Volkas. Through his program Healing the Wounds of History, Volkas has helped participants work through the burden of shared historical legacies by transforming their pain into constructive action. Armand Volkas’s work has received international recognition for bringing groups in conflict together as well as cultures who carry collective trauma. The Healing the Wounds of History approach has evolved from the use of drama therapy in intercultural conflict transformation.
Through a three-day workshop with teachers and museum staff we explored how to engage people in drama work. From basic exercises such as focus games to developing own expressions in image theatre. The workshop covered these themes:
- The history and epistemological approach of process drama
- Introduction to basic principles of drama work
- Introduction to Image Theatre approach in group processes
- Practical facilitation and implementation of drama processes
After concluding the workshop, I spent two days at the Veidenbaums Museum where I learned about the institution and its new exhibitions. Modern technologies have been applied to immerse the visitors in the life of Veidenbaums and his family who live one the farm. The experience manages to convey rural life in the 1800s as well as the plight of the young poet. Meeting a group of local youths, I had the opportunity to engage them in some games adapted to the themes of the museum. I will continue my dialogue with the staff of the Kalāči Museum and support the efforts to develop new conceptions towards audience engagement. In 2023 I will be supporting the efforts to secure residencies of two Norwegian artists who will stay in Cesis as part of the project. The Norwegian artists will collaborate with local artists in creating works to be displayed at the museum.
I want to thank Project Manager Inga Surgunte for giving me this great opportunity to meet all the individuals who attended the workshop. I also want to mention Museum Educator Baiba Roze who was very helpful to me during my stay in Latvia. The aim of EEA funded projects is to develop cultural understanding among European citizens. As such I feel that our collaboration has meet this criterium.