Kristina Werner (Germany) and Nazha Harb (Lebanon) will be facilitating this year’s training at BATS. They both have a Masters degree from the Applied Theatre Programme in Goldsmiths University in London and have had many years of experience in theatre and community arts work. Kristina, co-founder of BATS, has been facilitating community projects with different groups in Germany, Lithuania and UK for more than 10 years. She has also directed several documentary theatre productions and coached teams in cultural organisations. Nazha has been working with inmates in prison and in rehab centres in Lebanon using applied theatre tools and drama therapy techniques in addition to teaching at university and acting in theatre productions.
Kristina Werner, together with Artscape, you founded the Baltic Applied Theatre School last year. How did you come up with the idea of BATS?
When I came to Lithuania seven years ago, and told people about applied theatre, many were surprised that such a field existed although many people already did community arts projects or documentary theatre productions. I felt there was a stigma of applied theatre, being something like second class art and people did not take it seriously. At the same time I was asked to create spaces for community projects and theatre productions that are appreciative, fun where people can open up and be genuinely themselves.
So, with the school, I wanted to bring two things together: the perceptive quality of the facilitator to understand what is happening in the room, being more aware of the group dynamics, energy of the people, of the context and at the same time having the tools as a group leader and creative director, practical methodological structures that can help you to create any product you want to create with a group. This skill of creating a space full of collective creativity through communication, games and workshops is what I would like to share in full depth at the school.
Nazha Harb, how did you find your way into applied theatre?
Theatre was always a healing and transformative art medium in my life. Before I found out about Applied Theatre I was a software developer but also acted in theatre performances. The personal growth and liberation theatre gave me was immense and I wanted to share the power of theatre with my community and the society I lived in. I started training in Drama Therapy but then learned about Applied Theatre and decided to study it because it was a broader field and it gave me the professional knowledge and techniques needed to be a responsible and ethical facilitator.
Nazha, can you please tell us more about your work in this field
My main focus has been working with inmates in prison and people struggling with addiction in rehabilitation centres. I facilitate group sessions and use drama therapy techniques with the objective of visualising and fragmenting their problems and obstacles so that they can have more control over them. Also group sessions are very helpful because participants get to see and hear others passing through similar experiences and find solutions together.
I have been working in theatre pedagogy for 12 years. I started in a German-Czech theatre network where we did theatre projects with young people from the Czech Republic and Germany. After studying in London I worked there in care homes and with young people with learning and physical disabilities, then moved to Lithuania and worked in various communities creating theatre productions (like Green Meadow, which talked about the closure of the nuclear plant in Visaginas). Since then I have been training and teaching educators, artists and also cultural organisations on how to use Applied Theatre tools in their working environments.
You have a specific topic for the training this year. Can you please tell us about it?
During the pandemic, all the news was about loss (loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, loss of aspirations, and loss of normalcy). Everyone was struggling to adapt to the new way of living and many didn’t have the chance to grieve their losses. We believe that acknowledging and grieving our losses will help us transition to a new beginning in a healthier way and art is a very powerful medium that can help us deal with our problems and see them in a new perspective.
Applied Theatre is still new in the Baltics. How did people respond to last year´s training?
Last year's training was a wonderful experience. We had participants from different backgrounds who were interested in learning more about Applied Theatre and how they can develop their current work. Many participants later volunteered and worked in community projects under supervision and mentorship. Last year's programme made us realise how important experiential learning is and how when you actively experience the activities and analyse them within a group, then apply what you learn in internships, the knowledge and skills you received will stick with you and evolve within you to become your own unique form of facilitation.
And this is what last year´s participants say about the programme:
Adelė (actress from Vilnius): I enjoyed long and useful analysis of each game. We could talk and question as much as we wanted and that brought us an opportunity to see the immense potential of each game. And also fully trying it out on ourselves made us understand the benefit also through our bodies not only our minds.
Sandija (dramaturg, playwright, theatre director from Latvia): I was positively surprised with the fact that besides learning new exercises and getting to know the drama therapy method we were able to talk about important topics such as self-development, communication with ourselves and community. In short, how to become a leader that is powerful on the inside as on the outside. Also we need understanding of work ethics - what we can and can not. Those things were the most useful for me. And I am happy about it.
Benjamin (IT associate in Danske Bank, Vilnius): “I loved loved loved doing and learning dramatic exercises with the others. My inner inquisitive nature was screeching in bliss of having the opportunity to learn something I'm passionate about. I think the training changed how I listen to people, how they interpret things, I ask more questions and try to get their perspective better. It also worked a lot in my own social life.”
Baltic Applied Theatre School is organised by Arts Agency Artscape in close cooperation with the Estonian Theatre and Drama Association, Foundation Initium in Latvia, and äctiveäctive, a German theatre company. This programme is funded by the German Embassy in Lithuania and the Cultural Capital of Kaunas 2022.