How do I plan a theatre trip for people with lived experience of trauma? — Clean Break



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a photo of the set of Dixon and Daughters which is a 2 story house

How do I plan a theatre trip for people with lived experience of trauma?

Our team have shared how they plan a theatre trip for Clean Break Members

Clean Break plays shed light on the experiences of women who are criminalised. These realities are rarely depicted authentically on stage, which is why we feel it is important to support people with experience of the topics in our plays to come and see them.

However, when bringing a group of people with lived experience to see a play with challenging subject matter, it is important to put additional steps in place to ensure that the trip is positive and fulfilling, rather than overwhelming or activating.

Clean Break’s Creative Associate, Titilola Dawudu and Participation Manager, Sophie Connolly have written about how we approach theatre trips to Clean Break plays with our Members (women with lived experience of the criminal justice system, or who are at risk of entering it). Read below:

One of the most important aspects of how we delve into challenging themes - such as those in Dixon and Daughters, which was a co-production with Clean Break and National Theatre - is using joy as a tool. This is not to make light of issues, it’s to find lightness amongst them.

During the play’s run at the Dorfman theatre, 20 Clean Break Members (women with experience of the criminal justice system or at risk of entering it) were invited to engage in a day at the National Theatre, where the Clean Break team facilitated pre-show and post-show workshops, with the performance of Dixon and Daughters in between. We also had a tour of the set and conversations with the cast.

Much like all our work, whether it’s shows, Members Programme activities or work in women’s centres and prisons, we implement wraparound care to ensure everyone involved can feel like they can show up and participate in the work fully. This will always look different depending on the work in question, however the underpinning to how we ensure care is embedded throughout our practice is outlined and examined in our Leading with Kindness training offer.

So, back to the joy. For the pre-show workshops, before Members saw Dixon and Daughters, we used joy to create an environment where Members could feel emotionally prepared to watch the play. We began the day with tea and breakfast, followed by a fun warm up game and a grounding breath exercise. Providing something to eat at the start of a session helps to ensure everyone has the energy to engage as best as they can, and is why food is such an important part of a day at Clean Break. The pre-show workshop consisted of Clean Break’s Support Manager, Tracey setting the tone by asking us all what our favourite songs are that makes us happy, bring joy and hold special memories for us. Before long, as each Member went round and gave us their offering of a song, people started singing and a chorus of songs from across decades filled the space.

We then moved into discussing the themes of the play, which was made easier as there was a self-care guide provided for the show, which is something Clean Break makes available to all theatre audiences.

Going through the self-care guide and providing the use of tactile stress relievers (such as fidget toys, pipe cleaners, stress balls, and aromatherapy-scented pieces of material), was another offering to Members to self-manage and regulate as they watched the play. Using the items was a way for Members to stay present, remember to feel what’s around them, to know that they’re in a theatre and that they are safe, and to manage their breathing.

After we saw Dixon and Daughters, the group went into the post-show workshop. When we facilitate workshops, we always leave space to adjust to the tone of the room and how each participant is engaged. In this case, we needed to gently bring joy back into the room, we did this by shifting the heaviness from the play with music and creativity. Before delving into the post-show creative responses, as we always do at Clean Break, it was time for some tea and biscuits whilst ambient music and aromatherpay diffusers filled the space, providing sustiance, comfort and grounding.

Once everyone had something to eat, with a mound of arts and crafts tools, the Members were able to use the materials to depict an element of Dixon and Daughters that they found important, pivotal or funny. Members created wonderful pieces, such as a crepe paper fire which represented the fire within the character of Briana or a playdoh model of the lighting design; it was important to focus on the artistic parts of the play rather than just unpacking the difficult themes.

With all the plays we commission at Clean Break, there is an element of hope within each story. Dixon and Daughters is a play where the end isn’t necessarily wrapped up in a bow and all issues are resolved. The hope is that change will eventually happen within the family in the play. We wanted the Members to think about what hope looked like for each of the characters. Everyone in the group chose a character and wrote a letter to them imagining their life in the future. As these letters were being read out, a few cast members came into the space and heard their characters being spoken of in this way. We found out later that some of the letters were then used by the cast before they went on stage as a way to cherish each character and all that they carry, which shows how mutually beneficial holding these sorts of workshops can be.

Dixon and Daughters, like all the plays we commission, started with a playwright working with Clean Break Members. The writers embed themselves in all areas of our work so they are able to write stories that authentically depict the lives of women who have had experience within the criminal justice system, or are at risk of entering it. It is these women who do not often have their stories told, and so seeing your own experiences depicted on stage can be empowering, particularly if theatre is a world which you have traditionally been excluded from. When planned and delivered effectively, workshops like these can help every woman be a part of experiencing theatre.

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