Healing through performance | Rebecca Camilleri

A newly-formed community-arts association teamed up with Sedqa to help recovering addicts.

Rebecca Camilleri:
Rebecca Camilleri: "Sometimes you need to go to the people. You can't always expect them to come to you."

The practical application of art will always be viewed as something of an impossibility for a number of reasons. Except when a film or performance rakes in a substantial profit, its effects are difficult to properly measure (and even then, profits aren't necessarily a marker of quality), and creative projects will always struggle to be viewed as anything other than an elitist pursuit, or a form of entertainment.

As if to complicate matters further, enter the phenomenon of drama therapy - or, the practice of applying theatrical pedagogy to conventional methods of therapy.

A recent initiative taking place over an eight-week span at Sedqa put a form of this practice into action, with the collaboration of two professionals in the field - drama therapist Lou Ghirlando and applied drama practitioner Anna Formosa - and a coordinator of the newly-formed NGO which initiated the project: Society for Contemporary Arts, Rebecca Camilleri.

Camilleri - a professionally-trained dancer and a member of the local performance group the Rubberbodies Collective - was always acutely aware of certain preconceived notions about art and artists, particularly in relation to their relationship to the "real" world.

"While I was a dance student in Malta I very much had the impression that art, or performance, is something that you do in concrete steps and sealed in a very tight structure: you train, then you sit for an exam. It's only when I went to study at Dartington College in England that I was introduced to things like community theatre," Camilleri says. The 'opening up' of the cultural experience to a community-wide level which allows for more direct engagement was, in Camilleri's view, a crucial component of what made the Sedqa workshops into a success.

"Sometimes you need to go to the people. You can't expect people to always come to you."

The workshops themselves may have consisted of somewhat 'basic' exercises - no rigorous dramaturgy or choreography was attempted - but according to Camilleri, they served to foster a mutual sense of trust among the participants.

"Before our very first session, we, as a group, created an 'agreement' and flagged up certain 'key words' like 'trust' and 'respect'. We were happy to discover that all of the participants were very observant of these ground-rules."

The sessions, on the most part, treated drama as play: participants were asked to build 'tableaux' with their own bodies, to work together in an attempt to keep balloons from falling to the ground... "with the balloon exercise, for example, what they discovered was that if you panic, you'll let the balloons fall but if you remain calm, you'll succeed," proving that even such a basic 'game' can reap real psychological rewards.

Camilleri was also satisfied with the way that any distinction between the Sedqa residents, the drama therapists and herself appeared to melt away as the workshops went on.

"It's almost as though it stopped mattering why they were at the centre in the first place and just let themselves focus their minds on the workshop."

On the subject of letting go of one's psychological baggage, Camilleri describes a motif that proved to be useful throughout the entire eight sessions.

"I used the image of a backpack," she tells me, shrugging her shoulders to illustrate the process. "You take out what you don't need, and you put in whatever you want..."

Peeling the layers of the project to its core, Camilleri observes that, perhaps contrary to popular perception, "all art is simply about sharing".

"Sharing an observation, a perception, or a moment. Then you can take that moment, and carry it with you on your next stage in life."

The project was funded by Youth in Action