The "Program of Theatrical Field" at Agios Stefanos Detention Facility, held within the Grundtvig program’s framework began on
November 6, 2012 and ended on January 29, 2013. Overall the program was completed in twelve
three-hour sessions in the course of these months, reaching its goals both in
terms of time and quality.
The program aimed for the participants to liberate themselves and express feelings and thoughts, an opportunity not given by their environment. Coming daily in touch with the theatrical praxis, we sought to make them reflect and express their personal opinions on the issues raised.
Through the components that make up the theatrical field, through theory and practice, the aim was to create a safe room for expression, a first touch with the issues that are plague individuals and the opening of a window to a clearer view on things.
This aim was reached through a series of exercises and conversations that resulted in the creation of a theatrical show from the participants themselves.
In detail, the program begun with a conversation on what was about to take place in these meetings. I considered it was very important for them to know the process in which they were about to take part in, but also to familiarize with the pillars around which we intended to move, so that they would prepare themselves for what was to come next. After I explained to them in brief what we were going to do during the program, we then discussed about what theater is, what experiences they have in relation to it, and mainly how important was the cohesion of the group we were about to form, so that it could perform at the maximum of its potential.
In our first meeting I did not want to lift them off their seats, because from my past experience I know that movement in space could frustrate a group of grownup men.
So, I focused on hearing their views and on discussing issues of concern to them, issues that could then be used within the framework of the program. Everyone was called to pick a word that describes them best.
Erion: Uncertainty, Kiamil: Dream, Blendi: Insecurity, Kiriakos: Family, Demir: Freedom, Hasan: Waiting, Reza: Family, Michalis (sr): Sorrow, Dimitris: Free – Besieged, Nikos: Freedom to go wherever I want to, Michalis (jr): Optimism, Marian: Freedom, Mahmut: Dreams, Daniel: Ready, Paul: Family, Imer: Injustice, Beqir: Society, Heinter: Freedom, Mussa: Good Luck, Kais: Anguish for myself, Petros: Correction – contrition. This was followed by a discussion on these words, their meanings and what they meant to each one individually.
From the next meeting onwards, we started exercises, without of course seizing to talk about meanings and issues arising during these exercises.
The exercises used in the beginning were trust exercises, in which each individual was moving into the room alone. I mention this because one of the hardest things to achieve was physical contact. A sufficient amount of time passed until they felt comfortable touching each other, spontaneously and honestly.
A very important exercise, the results of which the participants were able to notice themselves as time went by, was an exercise of silent communication. They were walking through the room without talking, and they had to look each other without laughing, making faces or withdraw their look. They had to establish contact only through eye contact. This simple exercise was tremendously difficult for them. Some laughed, some were looking back, others turn their face away, other were looking suspiciously, but no one could let go. At this point I want to bring up that the same exercise was used before the end of our meetings, and there really was a huge difference than the first few times. Not only had they made it to become a solid and functional team, but they did not even need my instruction on how to move. Almost automatically, they got up, stared each other and moved on. This time, their gazes had a lot to say. They were not afraid to look each other in the eye and mostly were not afraid to express their feelings through their eyes.
Quite a few from the kinetic exercises I used were following this pattern and were used precisely for creating a team. Yet another interesting exercise was when I handed them some everyday items and asked them to use these items as a start to tell a story.
Hasan (paintbrush): This paintbrush has a lot to tsay. “I once was a tree and people cut me off so that they make this paintbrush. Now they are using the same paintbrush to paint trees and forests they can admir. They cut the real tree and with it, they made a phony one.”
Demir (cassette): Since the old days I wanted to become a singer and after a lot of effort I managed to release my own record. So, this cassette includes all my songs from my first album.
Kiamil (lamp) : I always wanted to become a writer but never could write because we had no light and because the light of the candles was putting a lot of fatigue on my eyes. But when electricity was discovered, I took this lamp and wrote with it my first book, becoming a famous writer.
Blendi (postage stamp): For a lot of years I was apart from my family and my friends and had lost contact with all of them. Until one day a letter came from my mother and this is how we started to write to each other again. This stamp comes from the first letter I had gotten.
Kiriakos (feather): I was gone for hunting once. While hunting I saw a huge bird in the air, I shot it and it fell down. As soon as I looked at it saw it was an eagle. Back then, I was very upset for shooting down this big and powerful bird, and I never went hunting again. This feather was from this big and strong bird and went never hunting again. This feather is from the eagle to remind me I killed him.
Erion (playing card): This card reminds me of when I begun to play cards and then started to smoke. I lost all my money to cards and the only thing I kept was this card to remind me of all this.
Imer (key): This key reminds me of when I was little and I always forgot the keys of my house and we had broken all the locks so we could get inside our home.
Nikos (lighter): It reminds me of a girl I had and she had given it to me as a gift. With it I have smoked a lot of packs of cigarettes.
Michalis (book): I was a very successful lawyer, winning a very important trial. I wrote a book that was a massive best seller and now my second book is being released.
Dimitris (almond): This almond reminds me of the old house we used to stay in when I was little. On the outside, there was an almond tree. I used to hide there when I was being naughty and my mom used to search for me. I would climb up the tree so that she wouldn’t find me. Years have passed by and the house was to be demolished, so that a block of apartments could take its place. Before we left I took an almond from the almond tree to remind me of my childhood, which was beautiful, with the old houses, neighborhoods, trees, all these things that have been replaced by apartment blocks, cement and concrete.
Marian (cotton): Back in
1785 in the war, I wanted to help those people that
were being hospitalized. For that reason, I made cotton. I was the first to
process it and this piece of cotton was from that first production.
Mahmut (Scotch tape): he worked on it with a chain and he turned it into a diamond. “For years I’ve been meaning to bring a diamond as a gift to dad. After a long search, I found this diamond and gave it to him.”
Reza (flashlight): I was in
on 2010. Then, they had
killed a kid and there was a mess on the streets. As I was walking, I found a flashlight. I took it with me. Then the police arrested me
and took the flashlight. When they released me, they didn’t give me my
flashlight back. This flashlight reminds me of the one that has been taken from
Bekiri (battery): This battery reminds me of when I was a young boy and we had a radio that was working only on batteries. Therefore, we could not leave it open for hours, and listened to it only a few times in a day, because the batteries would die soon. Today, radios are on all day long. Back then it was for a little while and meant a lot.
Daniel (string): It reminds me of my parents. My mother was a seamstress and had a lot of these threads and strings.
Paul (scrap paper with a number on it): he didn’t use the number. “It reminds me of my childhood where we used to make kites in school using scrap paper like this one.”
Petros (beaded bracelet): it reminds me of all the jobs I did in the past. I helped a lot of people and was highly regarded. Every one of the people I had helped gave me one of these stones. This is how I made this bracelet, to remember well what I’ve done and how many people I have helped.
Kais (shell): I found this shell a day I was walking on the beach. I thought that a person used to live in there, shut off, communicating with no one. This individual reminds me of myself, shut off to myself and all. At some point, this individual got out of the shell and was free again, leaving the shell empty. This was I could open up and leave my shell and communicate with others. I hold this always with me to remind me of how I used to be.
I am documenting these stories because, with one or two exceptions, they were very representative of persons. Working with these people for all this time, I came to realize that every story, simple, common or imaginary, represented accurately the person narrating it. This struck me as particularly interesting because this exercise took place during the first meetings, when they still kept to themselves and did not express their feelings openly.
In the course of our meetings, through conversations, dramatizations, exercises of theatrical play they begun to express themselves much more freely and honestly. They begun to get activated both physically and emotionally.
This emotional liberation was concluded mainly when we started to get into the process of performing the play. The play was created through all the discussions with the participants and dealt with things that were of concern to them. At the same time, through improvisations and their own suggestions, we managed to complete the play in terms of kinesiology, which gave them the freedom to express through their body language, without articulating words.
As meetings were processing, an atmosphere of familiarity and intimacy was created amongst us. Everyone was comfortable, everyone was having fun and everyone let themselves play with no self-censorship, supporting each other.
During the rehearsals but also of the final show, they were absolutely consistent, cooperative, eager and creative. They exceeded all expectations, both mine and theirs through their work ethic and their hard effort and came to a proficient – in terms of team cohesion – result.
The sectors on which we worked in detail are the following:
1. Creation of a team in which each and every member has a powerful and important position. In the context of this team, all members were equal, had specific responsibilities and were important. I highlight this because we worked very hard to make it understandable, that the absence of one member cannot be replaced by another. Each one had a role and contributed something with his/her presence and work.
2. Free expression. Here we worked on two levels: first on teaching them to express their thoughts freely without self-censorship and without being suspicious and second, on learning how to express their feelings in body language, that is to detach them from the strict way they moved in space.
3. Creativity. A specific competence was assigned to every individual, a competence he should fulfill using his skills and abilities, whether be it some role or solving some technical problem. At the same time all members were encouraged to express thoughts, ideas and propositions during the process of creating the theatrical play.
4. Getting them to know the Greek language. Because of the composition of the team, an important part was to teach them to express themselves through a language that was foreign to them. Eighty percent of participants were not Greeks, a fact that created a problem in expression but also in memorization of their part. Reading repeatedly the theatrical text, explaining meanings in it word for word, enabled them to understand, memorize and interpret the texts given to them.
The results of our work on these sectors were as follows:
In the beginning, because of a very functional team, its members managed to communicate with individuals with whom they would not previously have interacted. Initially formed subgroups due to prior knowledge and liking, begun to vanish. Everyone had a say and from a point on, they were not encouraged to express themselves, but rather they would pursue expression on their own. All shame or contractions were in the beginning were gradually vanishing and they were able to communicate directly and honestly. This came to reality, because inside this team they felt security and acceptance.
At the same time, precisely because of reaching the first goal, they begun to have an inclination for creation and teamwork towards a common goal (play). What was extremely successful was that, when at given points there was disruption in the group for whatever reason, they were trying by themselves to bring it back to its former functionality without needing my advice.
All this led them to have faith both in their personal potential, as well as in the potential of their team and to make them give their best self to bring to reality the common goal: the play.
From conversations that took place after the end of our meetings, I realized how liberating it was for the participants to do what they did. In particular, they said they felt a family environment inside the team and that during our meetings they didn’t feel like they were in jail.
Finally, I must report that the presence of delegates sent from other countries participating in the program in the day of the play (open rehearsal) had a very positive effect on the participants. First because they managed to overcome their fear of exposure in front of a – relatively, taking into account the environment of the prison – big audience. Second, because the presence of people from other countries, some of which were their compatriots, not only made them feel as protagonists of the day, but it also made them feel acceptance, that they have things to give and opportunities for expressing their better self.
Finally, I must report that people from the Prison social services, and other correction workers, that knew the participants before the program took place, they observed a grave positive transformation on the stance of these people in their behavior in prison.
To conclude, the goal of the program was reached. Participants were liberated, expressed, they reflected and managed to see a very positive side of things and a very positive side of their self.