The discussions in class surrounding the topics of women and violence and the legal system reminded me of Zeina Daccache (a Lebanese actress, director and drama therapist) and the work she does with inmates in Lebanese prisons through her organization Catharsis: The Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy. Often working with those who have committed the most violent crimes, she works with inmates to deal with the emotions surrounding the crimes they’ve committed (or been accused of, as there are cases of corruption and wrongful imprisonment among those she’s worked with) and allowing them to assume roles that help them to work through the trauma they’ve experienced and to bring attention to the state of the Lebanese prison and justice system. The project is the first of its kind in Lebanon and only came about through Daccache’s tireless efforts to bring drama therapy to Lebanese prison’s that had previously been isolated from the public and the media.
The two most notable examples of her work have been in the Roumieh men’s prison and the Baabda women’s prison. In both, Daccache has implemented the same formula, but for very different audiences. In Roumieh, Daccache worked with twelve men to produce their own version of Reginald Rose’s play 12 Angry Men titled 12 Angry Lebanese. The play becomes a role reversal of sorts, where the men who had been judged all or most of their lives become the judges- debating and prosecuting the same society that played a role in their current circumstances. Many of the men had stated that the project was reinvigorating and had helped to restore a sense of humanity in themselves and others. For them, their identities were no longer just associated with being a prisoner or the crime they committed.
In the women’s prison of Baabda, the drama therapy takes on a very different context but has a similar end result. The women and the plays they perform are a discussion surrounding the gender disparities that still exist in Lebanese societies and the painful and damaging outcomes of these inequalities. Their plays often discuss the painful details of topics such as forced marriages, physical and sexual abuse, rape, and neglect and try to break the through the veil of shame and silence that these topics are often shrouded in. In the CNN interview (posted below), Daccache mentions that for many of these women, it was the first time that they had ever discussed what they experienced and lived through. But the result was the same as that of the men’s prison: many of the women walked away feeling empowered and like they had taken control of their histories and their stories. And a similar theme runs through all of their stories: the ability to tell stories that hadn’t been told before.
(Trigger warning for mentions of abuse and sexual violence)
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The two major stakeholders in a project like this could be either students in a peer mediating programs or even those living in communities affected by long histories of ethnic, racial, religious, etc. tensions and violence. Although Drama Therapy requires a certified drama therapist, aspects of it can be implemented in many schools and classrooms. I found that there had often been a strong emphasis on the idea of role-reversal and assuming new points of view, which is essential to resolving conflicts and disputes. By teaching students to reenact the dispute, but through another person’s point of view, students of all ages will learn to approach conflict creatively and while being open towards the experiences of others.
However, I think drama therapy would be most beneficial to communities and peoples where there is long history of trauma and conflict within and between communities. The dramatic and slightly fictionalized aspect of drama therapy offers a safe space to explore emotions that are often raw and too painful to deal with in the “real-world” setting of everyday life. It may also encourage participants to become active participants in the rebuilding process that occurs after prolonged conflicts, empower them to become more than victims of circumstance and begin to chronicle the origins of the conflict.
An advantage of programs centered on drama therapy is that it often employ multiple intelligences all at once. They require engaging our emotional intelligence and building analytical skills. It allows participants to build a small community with one another and create a safe space to explore sometimes-painful topics and subjects, while at the same time increasing participants’ self-esteem and pushing them to become active participants in their lives and communities. Because of the emphasis placed upon role-reversal, participants are able to reframe history not only for themselves but for their audience as well. Through drama therapy, participants are no longer just the subjects, but simultaneously become the creators, writers, and directors. They’re not just writing the beginning, but the resolution as well.