Angelo Miramonti, Monica Prato


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The article presents the results of an art-based action research inspired by Theatre of Witness (Sepinuck 2013) and conducted with a group of psychotherapy students in Italy after the first COVID-19 lockdown in March-May 2020. The creative results of this experience include seven monologues that weave autobiographical stories with significant objects the participants chose to represent their subjective self-discovery during the confinement. On stage, each participant imagined that an object representing their experience during the lockdown had words, memories and emotions, and made it speak and act as a living object.

We analyse the process and results of this creative process and propose a broader reflection on the use of drama in Gestalt psychotherapy. In particular, we investigate how Testimonial Theatre could be a specific tool to work on the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 with groups and reflect on the relationship between dramatization and autobiographical memory. We recommend the intentional use of Testimonial Theatre to accompany the elaboration and integration of traumatic experiences as a form of Adversity Activated Development (Papadopoulos 2007) and a way to creatively share the uncertainties of the present during and after the pandemic and positively cope with the its symptoms, like bereavement, anxiety and loss of an image of the future. Finally, we reflect on the role of the theatrical mask as a way to share the deepest truths of the individual and make them visible to others, through embodiment and dramatization. 

Keywords: Gestalt psychotherapy, Testimonial Theatre, Theatre of Witness, Autobiographic Therapeutic Performance, COVID-19.

A. Miramonti, M. Prato, Progett-azione in natura. Esperienze sul campo, in “Educazione Aperta” (www.educazioneaperta.it), n. 10 / 2021.


Introduction

Gestalt Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach systematized around the 50ties in the United States by the German psychoanalyst Frederick Perls. Many disciplines have been influencing this method over time: not only the purely psychodynamic orientations (especially the works of Sàndor Ferenczi and Otto Rank), but also body-based psychotherapies inspired by Reich’s methods, that place the feeling of the body and its capacity for expression at the core of clinical investigation. Eastern philosophical doctrines that focus on the centrality of awareness and being in the present moment deeply influenced the development of Gestalt Therapy as well, and allowed it to be grounded in a holistic perspective that looks at the functioning of the person in continuous relation with his environment. In Gestalt Therapy, the organism and the environment are interrelated and cannot be separated, they form a whole in perennial interchange; they represent a single interacting ecosystem, which regulates itself and grows according to each of its elements. Psychological health is therefore not seen as the absence of a “mental disease”, but as a state of balance and harmony, while neurosis is seen as arising from a conflict, and both the conditions are identifiable at the “boundary line” between the organism and its environment. Gestalt Therapy gives the name of “contact boundary” to this fluctuating line where the self and the other meet and something happens, because it is on this line that the person’s emerging need and what is available in the environment to satisfy this need can join forces or clash, depending on how “friendly” this encounter is. In Gestalt Therapy, growth comes from metabolizing the unknown, which is taken up by the environment, and making it known, so as to transform it into an aspect of the self[1]. The encounter between Gestalt Therapy and Testimonial Theatre is located on this boundary, in a creative space of narration that leads the participant to an experience of putting autobiographical material into a performative form.

The first encounter
One night they told me that the world would stop for a few days.
Then the days became weeks, and the weeks became months.
In the meantime, I continued to exist, within the four walls of the house.
I continued the sessions with my clients, I continued my consultancies,
I designed support desks and participated in meetings.
All sitting on my sofa,
while outside it was unleashing an event that would forever change the course of history.
What effects has the pandemic had on clinical and therapeutic practice?
How did each of us re-design the relationship with our clients?

On 2-4 October 2020, the IX Conference of the Turin Gestalt Psychoterapy School (acronym in Italian: SGT) took place in Turin, an annual event where students from the Counselling and Psychoterapy post graduate courses share their experiences and learn new approaches. One of the key areas of reflections was the impact of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown on the clinical work carried out by Gestalt psychotherapists and counsellors. Through different tools, we asked ourselves about the difficult historical moment that everyone was going through on a professional and personal level, trying to identify new approaches that could be applied to our daily practice with clients, while we recognized that we are equally traversed by a shared sense of uncertainty. Within this background, the SGT decided to offer the students an Autobiographical Theater Workshop. The workshop’s title was “S-Confinamenti” (Trans-Passing) and the facilitators were Monica Prato, Gestalt psychotherapist and trainer in the SGT, and Angelo Miramonti, Community Theatre professor. The objective of the workshop was to explore how body exercises, creativity and verbal and non-verbal interaction in a group could be used to elaborate and integrate the traumatic experiences of COVID-19 first confinement (March-May 2020) and reflect on how this process could be applied in session of group psychotherapy and counselling. The methods used included body work, non-competitive games and autobiography related to the participants’ memories of the Italy’s first lockdown (9th of March- 18th of May 2020), trying to make visible those remnants of suffering, beauty and transformation that inhabit every profound human experience.

The isolation imposed by the Italian authorities to contain the spread of Covid-19 was perceived by the participants as a collective trauma[2], but also as a moment of interior and interpersonal discovery, an opportunity to reconnect with a past that was sometimes hastily thrown back. The participants tried to weave, through autobiography and theatre, a new fabric of stories. On the one hand, the forced distancing between people has opened a passage towards existential void in many people; on the other hand, the confinement has allowed many others to encounter their limits and establish new borders, to demarcate their boundaries in relationships with themselves and the others. This was particularly true in situations that had become so cumbersome as to invade the present and threaten the possibility of satisfactorily inhabiting the world, suddenly confined within four walls.

This is how the “Trans-Passing” monologues were created. They took shape from stories that awaken intrusive emotions, too uncomfortable to continue to be confined in silence and isolation. The body has memory; it frees the authentic movement that unexpectedly builds meanings. Through dramatization, the unspeakable buried in the person unfolds, mending fragments of memories and initiating a transformative process in a continuous exchange, which was articulated working in pairs and eventually shared with the whole group, encountering the unspeakable of the other. The eyes of the observer and director then become threads of a direction that slowly builds the plot of the scene, in which everyone becomes the protagonist of her own monologue. Tracing the traumatic event through words and movements gradually weaved the script of each story, allowing the participants to recall and revisit their emotional states of the confinement, that were permanently kept as memories of the recent past and regained meaning and value. The language of theatre made visible the beauty and strength the participants bear in themselves, giving life to real monologues presented to the audience to sanction the rituality of the stage action and complete the cathartic process of enacting and being seen and validated by the community. The assimilation of what at other times has created suffering and discomfort can therefore continue its course and pieces of individual history that would have remained suspended or unexplored can be “digested” by the subject and elaborated within the group.

The theatrical medium, already chosen by Fritz Perls as one of the main paths towards the expression of authentic emotion, allowed each participant to embody their own personal story, making it visible to themselves and others. Every participant had encountered moments of suffering and discovery during the lockdown and during the workshop s/he interpreted them in a dramatic action that re-signified a specific moment of their own life. As Miguel Benasayag argues, theatre in this autobiographical form “allows us to share a common dimension”. It is in the relationship within the pair that the dramaturgy is built and the story unfolds, through a common action. The actor’s goal is “the ultimate and innermost truth. Since his job is not fiction, but unmasking, that is, the discovery of her innate personality in all its deformations[3]“. The directorial work and the lessons of Max Reinhardt[4], which strongly influenced the construction of some Gestalt Therapy clinical techniques[5], aimed precisely at unearthing the truth, the authentic pathos that resides in the depths of the individual. In the work with the two chairs (one of the cornerstones of the Gestalt tradition) the patient stages a real theatrical piece, where, through the alternation of identification and alienation of parts of the self, inner conflicts, fantasies and dreams take over. Through dialogue, the polarities that grip us, making us immobile and incapable of making choices and taking away spontaneity from our movements, find a possibility of integration. The resolution of the inner conflict gives new freedom to the person. In this regard, Perls writes:

But what are we rehearsing for?
A comedy, an action? For which performance?
Without evidence we risk.
We are spontaneous,
Impulsive
Ready to act regardless
To the dangers
Real, or in fantasy
Without rehearsing we throw ourselves,
without testing whether it is hot or cold,
To hell with the consequences! Like a hero
With blinders to survive.

Testimonial Theatre

“What is truly personal

it is almost certainly universal.”

Carl Rogers

The “Trans-passing” workshop was inspired by the techniques of Testimonial Theatre[6] and in particular by Theater of Witness, a theatrical method systematized by the North-American director and playwright Teya Sepinuck starting from 1986 in the United States, Northern Ireland and Poland[7]. The goal of Theatre of Witness is to make visible the stories of people who have experienced situations of trauma and healing that radically transformed their lives. This technique aims to give back the voice to the protagonists of these events and to inspire the audience with testimonies of dialogue, resilience and reconciliation. Sepinuck and her disciples have used this technique with former-combatants, relatives of murdered people, abused minors, refugees, torture survivors, prisoners and relatives of people with chronic diseases. One aspect that distinguishes Theatre of Witness from other forms of Testimonial Theatre is that in Theatre of Witness it is the person who lived the experience who theatrically narrates it on stage. For this reason, Theatre of Witness almost always works with non-professional actors and the distance between the person acting and the character embodied on stage is very small. By attending a Theater of Witness performance, the audience can recognize the actress or actor on stage as the witness to a story that the person experienced in her real life. Moreover, Sepinuck points out that Theatre of Witness does not unilaterally focus on stories of suffering, it is not a form of “dramatization of pain”, with the aim of provoking a reaction of indignation in the spectators; it rather focuses on how the protagonist found paths of healing in the midst of her wound, making visible stories of suffering and transcendence. This method does not exclusively focus on the witness’s past, but also on her present, on the gifts and resources that the person carries, and on her dreams and aspirations for the future. The entire creation process focuses on personal testimonies, ancestral memories, autobiographical accounts and aspirations towards the future. Although many productions also constitute a vibrant call to collectively act against injustice and discrimination, Theatre of Witness does not seek primarily to arouse indignation in the audience, but to inspire them with stories of courage and resilience, documenting, without any fiction or exaggeration, true stories of violation and reconciliation, embodied on stage by the same people who experienced them in real life.

At the beginning of the process, the Theatre of Witness facilitator selects a group of people who have been directly involved in the same historical event (for example: a civil war, a natural disaster, etc.) or who share the same situation or experience (for example: being in prison, being a caregiver of a person with dementia, being an asylum seeker, etc.) and conducts a creative workshop with them. Based on their autobiographical accounts, the facilitator prepares the script of the play, in a constant process of listening and writing, intertwining the stories and points of view of each witness in the dramaturgy of the whole production. The process culminates in the presentation of a play where the witnesses act before an audience that has often lived similar experiences (relatives of chronic patients, former combatants, etc.). Some Theatre of Witness productions brought together survivors of intentional violence and those responsible for this violence, to explore issues of responsibility, guilt, restorative justice and forgiveness. Theatre of Witness productions create spaces for empathy and reflection, which invite the audience to move from deeply rooted and polarized ideological positions towards mutual understanding and reconciliation. This theatrical technique has been used by Sepinuck in conflict contexts in Northern Ireland[8] and by Miramonti in Colombia[9].

Research methodology

The recent epistemological debate on qualitative research[10] stressed the need to complement research methods that elicit and analyse discursive productions of key informants (such as semi structured interviews, questionnaires and focus groups) with body-based and art-based methods[11] to explore embodied imaginaries, representations of the self and the other and highlight the negotiation of shared identities and perceived sense of belonging in a given community. Furthermore, research in creative arts therapies highlighted the effectiveness of autographical forms of therapeutic theatre[12] and rigorously measured its impact on the patients’ wellbeing[13]. Bases on these considerations, our research adopted drama-based methods based on Collective Dramaturgy[14] to elicit and analyse the embodied memories and autobiographical narratives of a self-selected group of adults who experienced the first Italian lockdown in March-May 2020. This research adopts the methods of Participatory Action-Research, as defined by McIntyre[15], and qualitative case study, as defined in Creswell and Poth[16]. The informants were involved in actively constructing the data and analysing them through their body, sounds, animation of significant objects and after-action discursive reflections. This case study is also inspired by the “field experiment” methodology[17], where the relationship between bodies, individual memories and a collective historical event in a sample group is not studied with covered or uncovered participatory observation, but through the explicit elicitation of embodied narratives and perceptions, that are performed and discussed within the group. In particular, the aim of this pilot workshop is to investigate how Testimonial Theatre could be used to work with groups on the psychosocial impact of COVID-19 and the research question that led our analysis was: how Testimonial Theatre could be applied to work with groups on the psychosocial impact of the Covid-19? During the research, the two authors collected the following empirical evidence: 

Field notes based on their participatory observation of the process from the specific point of view of the facilitators, who designed, conducted and evaluated the workshop. The notes include observations on the verbal and non-verbal behaviours of the participants as individuals and of the group dynamic as a whole. They also include proxemic and kinaesthetic behaviours, both in the warm-up games, in the creation in pair and in the dramatization in front of the whole group.  

Videos of the monologues with movement of the camera approaching and distancing from the performer in different moments of the performance[18]

This empirical evidence was analysed in light of the research question, following this method of analysis:

Collect all the written observations of verbal and non-verbal behaviours of each individual and analyse how they were expressing the emotions, memories and insights related to the confinement and how they were being embodied and integrated by the person.

Watch the videos of the monologues for the first time in the sequence in which they were presented and identify some key recurring themes (solitude, helplessness, defensive behaviours, bereavement, reconnection with nature and art, empowerment, etc.).

Watch the videos a second time and analyse if/how the embodiment and dramatization in front of a small audience of such experiences of suffering and resilience was helping the participants cope with the trauma of the confinement and re-signify it as a moment of self-discovery and interior transformation.

Both the conceptual and methodological findings presented in this paper aim at equipping future psycho-social work practitioners with tools to broaden their understanding of the link between individual bodies, collective memories and creative arts therapies, not only analysing aesthetic processes of co-creation of shared theatrical narratives, but also intentionally constructing them.

The remaining part of this article presents the steps of the creative process and the key findings of the research.  

The creative process

The workshop lasted seven hours, divided in two sessions of three and a half hours. The participants were eight and the authors of this article had the role of co-facilitators. The workshop’s starting point was inviting the participants to introduce themselves through games of presentation and activation of the body and all the senses[19]. The second step was to build a ritual space, where each participant presented a significant object that represented a key discovery they had during their lockdown, and narrated the boundaries drawn and the encroachments of that experience. The third step was to create pairs, where each witness enacted her discoveries in a monologue, with the direction of the other. Each participant then presented their monologue to the group and received feedback from the other participants and the facilitators. The participants subsequently incorporated the feedback and completed their monologue in all its aspects: the text, the movements, the props. The last step was to present the monologues, one after the other and video record them. The video of the monologues was presented on Sunday 4 October 2020 and published on the Facebook page of the Turin Gestalt School[20].

The monologues

Giulia opens the play. She enters the scene and builds a circle of chairs around herself, like a wall, a protective and limiting prison. Enclosed in her circle, Giulia reads the logbook of her lockdown, marked by the same repetitive schedule of work, meals and sleep. Then she suddenly throws away the chairs and regains a larger and freer space, she sits down and reads a poem:

Fortuitous or lucky happiness,
if all you can give me is a plastic ring
black,
who want to chew?
Sticky,
stand out,
few words.
Elio from the house next door,
will it really be him?
Blow on the cloud,
and re-explain the constellations
but no, not to make categories
just really look at them
that the direction is necessarily the right one
just really admire us to navigate in the dark
happy
that there is already someone who will scream from down here
nuraghe[21].

Giulia leaves the scene and Simona enters, lapidary and definitive, giving voice to a feeling of many people during the lockdown, affirming a sheer truth without appeal, too naked not to arouse shame, modesty and bewilderment: “I can’t do it … it’s too much for me …” she repeats with her eyes down, as she gets up and leaves the scene.

She is followed by Orice, who has lost two loved ones to Covid-19. She sits down and lights two candles, she calls each of her two loved ones by name, she takes leave and lets them go: “I’m with you, have a good trip. See you soon…”. She utters her funeral prayer for them, while with a breath she blows out the candles. She then silently dances and spiritually connects with the people she has taken leave of.

Clara enters the scene, she sits on the ground, completely covered in a dark, shapeless fabric. The fabric moves like a mountain shaken by underground forces. From under the cloth, Clara throws pillows in all directions, as if she was getting rid of too much bulky luggage. Finally, he throws off the cloak, shows her face, covered by her long hair and says in a low voice “To be …” to which another voice over imperiously replies: “To have to!”. These are the two poles of the antinomy that has marked her lockdown: simply being and having to be. Then the “to have to” slowly wanes and the “to be” voice takes on more and more strength, until the protagonist shows her eyes, looks straight ahead and only says, in a firm and calm voice: “To be”.

A moment later, Luisa enters the scene, she moves with robotic movements, which marked her days during the lockdown: “I’m at home! I am at home! She then dives into an imaginary “funnel” and moves with another mechanical movement: “I’m out! I’m out!” she repeats robotically. Slowly her gestures lose strength, she stops and breathes deeply, dances slowly and extracts her colours, smells them, gets his hands dirty with the earth of a vase, smells it and reconnects the two most important medicines she had during her lockdown: painting and nature. Luisa breathes deeply, surrounded by her plants and her colours, and calmly concludes: “I’m at home”.

After the regained calm, the agitation begins again, Francesco entered the scene: “Today it’s the Carnival street party and we are all going to dance! We are all in the square dancing like crazy, and the first voices begin…”. Then he stops exhausted, puts on an expressionless white mask and screams, as if he wanted to convince himself: “It’s OK! Isn’t it?” He then stops, takes off his mask and says: “Then I started staring at the dark branches of the trees against the clear sky, right outside of my window. I moved the bed in my room, just to be able to wake up and fall asleep every day… and watch them. While I was mending my socks, I looked at them. And I saw the outline of the trees on the sky that was finally clear. And I saw the leaves. I couldn’t help but look at them”.

A suspended moment passes and Katia enters the scene, pronouncing in her mother tongue (Brazilian Portuguese): “This is my home, this is my space” and, dancing on an imaginary line, she demarcates her inner and interpersonal boundary, a frontier that has felt violated and overrun many times during her lockdown. While dancing, Katia sings a song from her homeland, while with her feet she demarcates her spaces and protects it from the intrusiveness of others. Then she ends her piece with a bow and a bright smile.

After the workshop: dreams and reflections

“Let your dream set sail,
put your shoe in it.”

Paul Celan

The construction of the monologues and the staging of personal experiences allowed the participants to freely access aspects of their inner world that are often preserved and protected from what is expressed in social life, especially during the COVID-19 confinement. When the expression of these interior experiences is inhibited, the intimate space of the subject remains “out of reach” and therefore becomes more and more hallucinatory, projected, obscured or otherwise unreal. Through the work of narrating autobiographical experiences through monologues, the creative act was able to draw on the most authentic expression of each participant, and the story was communicated taking distance from the conservative and stereotyped movement mechanisms often adopted in everyday life. These movements, although they are sometimes necessary, can prevent the subject from encountering the novelty. In Gestalt Therapy spontaneity consists in grasping, enlightening and growing together with the aspects of the environment that frighten because they are perceived as different, dangerous or simply distant from the subject’s experience. The unknown frightens, but, if growth comes from metabolizing the unknown[22], as Gestalt Therapy argues in its theoretical assumptions, then moving away from one’s own certainties to go see what lies beyond by taking the self to the other, it means to take a step towards change. The objective of the workshop was to work to keep the relationship between the inside and the outside lively and elastic, to facilitate the dialogue between these two different parts and to support an intimate and profound encounter between the participants. The external environment represents an important boundary: the body of the other allows each person to feel their own, even just the effort that leads to that limit is itself a transformative mechanism.

“I can’t do it, it’s too much for me” these are the only few words that a participant manages to say in her monologue. Making this sentence explicit and the staging in front of the group her limitation and her sense of powerlessness represent not only a movement, but a passage towards that unexplored space that embodies inability itself. In the moment in which, aware of one’s own inability, the subject leans on it to show oneself to the other, at that precise moment a new experience is being created that simultaneously approaches and moves away from that same fragility, that in this way can be embodied. This bidirectionality therefore activates this process of corporeality, which is fundamental for the integration of the Self and, at the same time, allows the elements of the organism-environment dyad to act and be acted on at the same time, rather, the subject discovers and makes herself[23]; that is, in uncovering herself, the subject forges herself and allows the environment to change.

“With you, have a good trip” this simple phrase represents the auspicious accompaniment of a participant who, through dance, narrates her mourning: the forced separation in front of which the death placed her, she expresses the pain of memory. In those passages, in those free and loose movements that tell her story to the audience, there is the possibility of letting go, of assimilating the loss of a loved one, of using this evocative scene for a therapeutic purpose. Once again, we find ourselves at the contact boundary between organism and environment, between individual and group, where the weak figure stands out in the foreground in relation to the background, which is necessary for that specific figure to emerge and dictate a new change.

From this perspective derives the therapeutic value that Gestalt Therapy gives to the present moment and to shared experience, fundamental ingredients for being able to co-create an experience that will lead everyone towards a personal metamorphosis of the Self.

After the workshops, the participants shared their desire to follow up on the experience. Some have emphasized the usefulness of theatre in the training of Gestalt psychotherapists and counsellors and have expressed the desire to be part of a permanent Theatre of Witness laboratory, which could bring together students from various years of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Schools, patients and other interested people. More generally, the workshop stimulated a reflection on how drama-therapeutic methods and in particular autobiographical and testimonial theatre can complement the current approaches to individual and group therapy of the Turin Gestalt School.

Some of the workshop’s participants are currently in therapy with one of the authors. Aware that this double belonging could have polluted the clinical space by making it complex in the relational dynamics, it was nevertheless decided to take the risk and chose to experiment with this double role. For this reason, for some participants the workshop’s environment assumed an intense emotional connotation. Through this double channel, it was therefore possible in the following weeks, during individual psychotherapy sessions, to collect the experiences that emerged from the workshop and elaborate the insights achieved during the dramatization, further facilitating the “digestion” and assimilation of the contents encountered during the creative process. For one person in particular, the putting in shape of some of her difficulties and the transition to corporeality were enlightening elements and a decisive force for an evolutionary transition that, within the clinical setting, it had been difficult to achieve. For this person, the boundary between wanting to do something and doing it for real became clearer and this increased awareness made it possible to give greater strength and intensity to her actions. Somehow, the most expressive translation of this difficulty could, through the monologue, find a solid and concrete form, that allowed a greater elaboration. Moreover, the final staging in front of the audience, become and act to honour and celebrate the fragility she brought, and this act made it possible to further fortify this experience.

Conclusion: masks of the depth

“Everything that is deep loves the mask.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person

Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”

O. Wilde

The “Trans-passing” workshop highlighted the paradoxical character and the intrinsic ambiguity of theatre, which is at the same time a space of fiction and of revelation of profound human truths: a place to cover and to dis-cover oneself, an epiphany place in which to reveal – to oneself and to others – truths buried under blankets of conventions, incorporated and covered by the masks of social norms. The character’s mask appeared as a gateway to the deepest truths of each one. The Theatre workshop was not only an experience of wearing a mask (fiction), but also a moment to drop the masks that have long adhered to the face, petrifying it in a few predictable grimaces, considered necessary to belong to a homologating social order. However, the mask is also a “character”, a creation at least partially distant and different from the person who represents it. Even when the participant plays herself, she represents herself in a recent past which she presentifies and symbolizes on stage. The dramatic space is therefore configured as a dichotomous space, where the subject enacts a factious reality and at the same time the subject is seen by the audience as a real person acting, and she sees herself while she is being viewed by the audience. The dramatic space therefore also becomes a space for remodelling and reimagining identities, a paradoxical space, where autobiographical fidelity and symbolic transfiguration do not contradict each other, but find a deep synergic interweaving. This process evokes the phrase of Teilhard de Chardin: “everything that rises converges”, where “rising” in this case is the descent into the depths of human experience and the “converging” is to recognize the universal traits of the search for meaning and recognition of every human being. This aspect of the Theatre of Witness supports the systematic and intentional use of theatre-based methods to promote Adversity Activated Development in people who have survived natural or geopolitical traumas, as defined by Papadopoulos[24]. Moreover, this Theatre of Witness experience corroborated Carl Rogers’ idea that: “what is truly personal is almost certainly universal”: it showed that at its roots, one’s self is branched out and intertwined with other selves in a common human experience. The witness who embodies some personal aspect of her lockdown on stage is also narrating that experience from the point of view of a broader, transpersonal awareness. A point of view that in the very personal and intimate traits of individual experience finds the universal of human life, of the attempt of being in the world as subjects endowed with meaning in a world equally endowed with meaning. Plunging into the depths of one’s self, one encounters the same depth as the other, encounters the knots that make us equal in the face of pain and uncertainty, but also united by the same search for meaning and beauty. For millions of people, the lockdown has been the collapse of their individual self, reflected in the collapse of the world as they had known it. For many, the pandemic has meant an individual and collective “apocalypse”, a historical moment of loss and reinvention of identity and significant ties. For many, the pandemic has been also the “end of the world”, the experience of the collapse of any possible world, which constitutes “the radical risk” and the source of the “crisis of presence” of the individual, as De Martino defines it[25]. This feeling of belonging to an era that leads not only to the end of “a” world, but which contains within itself the risk of the disappearance of every possible world, this feeling of belonging to a world where the sunset is the only possible horizon emerges in many narratives about the pandemic. The anguished question of many during the pandemic echoes De Martino’s question: “is this perhaps the case in any other possible world? And is there still some world beyond its fall? ” This “end of the world” is the apocalypse of the known world, the twilight of the usual idols and the place of the dawn of unknown divinities, a place of theophany, where new values ​​and ways of being in the world go through a painful labor and see the light with difficulty. In short, an apocalypse, in the Greek sense of “revelation” of other possibilities of the self. Not roads that have already been traced, but liquid routes travelled on the sea of ​​uncertainty. The “Trans-passing” workshop was a small experiment on a great historical moment, a tiny grain of sand thrown into the cogs of isolation and mental suffering. It was, above all, a flash before the dawn of a new beginning: the post pandemic world, because, as Heidegger wrote: “the night is the mother of the day”.

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Ray P., Pendzik, S., “Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance as a Means of Improving Executive Functioning in Traumatized Adults”, in “Frontiers in Psychology”, Vol. 12, February 2021, pp. 1-8.

Reinhardt M., Max Reinhardt über da Theater, Deutsches Theater, Berlin 1993.

Sepinuck T., “Living with Life. The Theater of Witness as A Model of Healing and Redemption” in Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre, edited by J. Shailor, Kingsley, London 2011.

Sepinuck T., Theater of Witness – Finding the Medicine in Stories of Suffering, Transformation and Peace, Kingsley, London 2013.

Stelter R., Experience-Based, Body-Anchored Qualitative Research Interviewing, in “Qualitative Health Research”, Vol. 20, Issue 6, 2010, pp. 859-867.

Taylor, M., Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt and The Body, Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK, 2014.

Thomson, P., & Jaque, S. V., Testimonial theatre-making: Establishing or dissociating the self, in “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts”, 5(3), 2011, pp. 229–236.

The authors

Angelo Miramonti (Ph.D.) is professor of Community Theatre at the Institute of Fine Arts in Cali (Colombia). He is a registered Drama therapist and the founder of the “Arts for Reconciliation” research project in Cali (Colombia), focusing on the use of arts for dialogue and reconciliation among former combatants and victims of the Colombian armed conflict. He authored a number of articles on the use of arts in peacebuilding. He holds a PhD in Economics and a Masters in Cultural Anthropology.  

Monica Prato is a psychologist, registered psychotherapist and trainer at the SGT (Turin Gestalt School). She directs her clinical activity to adolescents and families, through psychotherapy and theatre work. He has been collaborating with Mamre Foundation for several years, which focuses on with ethno-psychiatry and mental health of migrants.


[1]  F. Perls, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, “Gestalt Journal Press”, January 1951.

[2]  For an introduction to trauma-informed approaches in Gestalt psychotherapy see M. Taylor, Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt and The Body, Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK, 2014.

[3] M. Benasayag, Schmit, G., L’epoca delle passioni tristi, Feltrinelli Editore, Milano 2011.

[4]  M. Reinhardt, Max Reinhardt über da Theater, Deutsches Theater, Berlin 1993.     

[5]  Perls attended the rehearsals of important Reinhardt’s plays and therefore had the opportunity to study in depth his theatrical style and his way of directing the actors.

[6] P. Thomson, S.V. Jaque, Testimonial theatre-making: Establishing or dissociating the self, in “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts”, 5(3), 2011, pp. 229–236.

[7] T. Sepinuck, Theater of Witness – Finding the Medicine in Stories of Suffering, Transformation and Peace. Kingsley, London 2013.

[8] T. Sepinuck, Theater of Witness – Finding the Medicine in Stories of Suffering, Transformation and Peace. Kingsley, London, 2013.

[9]  A. Miramonti, Stories of Wounds, Paths of Healing: Theatre of Witness with Victims of the Colombian Conflict, inEducazione Aperta”, Vol. 8, 2020 and Miramonti, A., “Bodies, Memory, Territory. Testimonial Theatre with Colombian Afro-Descendant Women”, Educazione Aperta, 9, 2021.

[10] R. Stelter, “Experience-Based, Body-Anchored Qualitative Research Interviewing”, in “Qualitative Health Research”, Vol. 20, Issue 6, 2010, p. 859-867.

[11]  Aa. Vv., Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, edited by H. Smith and R.T. Dean, Edinburgh University Press,2009.

[12]  Aa. Vv., The Self in Performance – Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, and Autoethnographic Forms of Therapeutic Theatre, edited by S. Pendzik, R. Emunah, D. Read Johnson, Palgrave Macmillan, London 2016.

[13]  P. Ray, S. Pendzik, “Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance as a Means of Improving Executive Functioning in Traumatized Adults”, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 12, 2021.

[14]  K. Lynn, S. Sides, “Collective Dramaturgy: A Co-consideration of the Dramaturgical Role in Collaborative Creation”, Theatre Topics, Vol. 13 no. 1, 2003, p. 111-115 and Fritz, B., The Courage to Become – Augusto Boal’s Revolutionary Politics of the Body, Danzig & Unfried, Vienna.

[15]  A. McIntyre, Participatory Action Research, 2008, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.  

[16]  J.W. Creswell, C. N. Poth, Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design, choosing among five traditions (Forth Edition), SAGE Publications, 1997.

[17]  J. W. Creswell, R. Shope, L. Vicki, P. Clark, D.O. Green, “How Interpretive Qualitative Research Extends Mixed Methods Research”, Research in the Schools, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1-11, 2006.

[18]  The video is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ8-YxrWBTE

[19]  For a detailed presentation of these exercises see Boal 2002 and Miramonti 2017.

[20]  The video is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ8-YxrWBTE

[21]  The nuraghe are ancient circular constructions of Sardinia, made of stone. 

[22]  F. Perls, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, “Gestalt Journal Press”, January 1951.

[23]  Ivi.

[24]  R. K. Papadopoulos, Refugees, Trauma and Adversity-Activated Development, “European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counseling”, 9(3), 2007.

[25]  E. De Martino, La fine del mondo, contributo all’analisi delle apocalissi culturali, Einaudi, Torino, 2011.