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A Theatrical performance on Transfiguration was held in Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade this Friday. The staging was the result of a five-day workshop that joined refugees and the locals, where they explored the molding of one’s identity through a process called transfiguration.
The workshop was held by Junaid Sarieddeen, a writer, director and actor of Zoukak theater from Lebanon, which uses an original theater technique in their work.
What is your technique?
We have a drama therapy approach elaborated by one of the company members. She joined methods from clinical psychology and experimental theater. We base our work on conditions from drama therapy – how to protect the surrounding, how to organize the relationship between the individuals, the individual and the group and how to work on imagination. Through imagination you can reach a certain emotional maturity which leads to dealing with the problem in a healthier way. On the social level you are working on relationships, so accepting a proposition from someone different than you becomes accepting them as an individual. When you have a mixed group you will see that all Serbians are different and all Afghans are different. These ethnical walls or illusionary borders become unimportant; you break them and go to another level of communication.
How would you explain the term „transfiguration“ in the simplest way possible?
Many figures in society become a target for any reason, physical, mental or ideological. When they become this target the awareness of their difference becomes more intense and they reach a state of transfiguration. It transforms their identity either into something glorious and ideal or something not accepted at all. You’re either a hero or a monster. It’s how society functions, in a way. Slowly you might find that a “refugee” starts being an identity, even though it’s not. A refugee becomes a figure, a monster, because of the image drawn by the media.
How do they become aware of these things?
Sometimes without focusing on that it just happens. For example, there are exercises to break the wall between you and the other person. You have to throw a ball to a participant and say their name, and then they also have to throw it back. When this is repeated between you, you will start to smile because you’re repeating this very simple thing together. This smile breaks something standing between you. You start being cautious about how this person is moving and how they’re looking . You become aware of yourself, that you’re in their place, in the same situation, and as you understand the position of this person you stop judging them. The next level is when you start discovering the creativity of the other. You become amazed and have empathy towards this creativity; you start to relate to what they are.
How do you reverse the transfigurational process, how does an individual go back from their given role?
I don’t think there is a going back, I think it’s a transcendence movement. You go to another level, there’s no way to return.
How do you overcome it, then?
You work on your community to make your presence less extreme for them. It’s a work on others, not on yourself. Many of these figures fight for their presence and they become the sacrifice of their ideologies or choices. For society it is a place to throw all their ugliness so they become cured and less self-judgmental. It’s like catharsis. Everything they don’t want they put on this victim, and the victim becomes the redeemer. There is no return.
If the individual changes the surrounding, where’s the best place to start? How would one go about doing that?
Through believing in one’s self. self-confidence is the first thing one should have. It will become your only weapon and put your personality, identity and presence in society, empowering the individual and their choices. That’s why I like the theater experience. It’s a social experience, you work on yourself within a group, within a minor community that represents the bigger community. It’s work on these micro-communities that’s the starting point.
How similar were the directions your participants went through in their transfigurational process?
There are people who passed a difficult path to arrive to a goal and they didn’t reach this goal yet. They are stuck now, stuck in time, three months, six months, a year. They start to feel the absurdity of their situation. This is something specific to the newcomers , while the others that are living here don’t have this issue. When you are sitting in a refugee camp your personality starts being erased, you enter a gap between yourself, your past and your future, you lose the will to do anything. After two days of work some participants were saying that for the first time in a long while they feel alive, that for a long time they hadn’t felt appreciated. That’s really very precious, it makes you remember why you do this.
What are you hoping to achieve with the audience?
It’s very challenging, because I don’t want the audience to sympathize. We don’t want to expose misery or the bad situation they are in right now. It’s a composition of all participants and their workshops. It gets the audience to think about this, about their own selves and actions they take in their daily life towards the person who is different.
Author: Ivan Čolić
This text was written as a part of Divided Past – Joint Future project and it does not represent nor reflects attitudes and viewpoints of the European Union, its institutions and bodies. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the text lies entirely with the author