BOSS: Building of strong strategic partnership and networking for theatre groups of homeless and prisoners



Study-working trip summary report

     The main objective of the Divadlo Bez Domova (Theatre With No Home, herein after also referred to as DBD) representatives' study-working trip in Norway has been to establish a strategic partnership with the theatre organization Vardeteatret. Elements of this partnership were laid out in November 2015 during the international festival of homeless theatres ERROR, which was organized by DBD in Bratislava, Slovakia. The festival and conference, which was an essential part of it, was also attended by a representative of the Norwegian theatre group Vardeteatret, the artistic director Jo Skjønberg. During a short bilateral meeting Jo Skjønberg and the artistic director of DBD, Patrik Krebs, discussed the possibility of a future cooperation and possible opportunities to meet in Oslo and to see the work of Vardeteatret right in and outside of prisons.
     In the study-working trip DBD has been represented by Patrik Krebs, Jozef Bujna and Tomáš Kubiš. The host organization Vardeteatret has been represented by Jo Skjønberg, Leif Sørensen, Katrine Fjørtoft, Siv Skjønberg and Matthew Trustham.
     In the joint meetings the representatives of both organizations have introduced each other's history and current activities. Vardeteatret presented their work with inmates and with people who are in the process of leaving or just after leaving prison. They use theatre work as a tool for reintegration into an ordinary life without crime and substance abuse, preserving or restoring their relationships with family, education and getting a job. Prisoners and former prisoners create the performances and become actors and actresses. Another important activity run by Vardeteatret is the project "Help, I am free!", which has been successfully implemented for the last 5 years in prisons in South Africa.
     DBD have introduced their theatrical work with homeless people, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged or excluded persons. DBD representatives presented their activities and projects, specifically the international festival of homeless theatres: “ERROR”. They have invited Vardeteatret to take part in the ERROR 2016 edition.
     Vardeteatret performs its plays to inmates inside prisons and to the public – in its own theatre space,  in schools, in work places etc. They work directly with prisoners and ex-prisoners who are the actors and with the audience. They bring to the inmates in prisons the themes that affect them personally, which often encourages them to join the theatre group. With performances for the public they disrupt and help to break down stereotypes and prejudices, to which the prisoners or people with an criminal records have to face.
     DBD representatives have attended two "Fengselsfuglene" performances. The play reflects the relationship of a repeat offender, Karl,  with his immediate family, especially with his son whose mother was hiding the truth of his father’s incarceration. Another line of the performance deals with the traumatic memories of Karl – a repeat offender, who had previously been sexually abused by his football coach.
     For the first time the DBD participants have seen this play in Bruvoll prison where they have been sitting in the audience along with male inmates. During the performance they have had the opportunity to see that it has caught the inmates' attention, some of them have probably been personally touched by the play. The play was followed by a discussion in which the inmates have exchanged a number of questions and answers with actors and actresses. The inmates have been interested in how the play was created, whether it is based on reality, as well as if and how it is possible to join the theatre group. Some inmates have said that the topic was close to their hearts.
     The next performance of "Fengselsfuglene" the DBD representatives have watched together with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to the Kingdom of Norway, František Kašický, was with students in Nydalen school Oslo. The play was also attended by deaf students while the dialogues and monologues have been interpreted into sign language. The play has again been followed by a rich debate, with a number of questions addressed to the actors who had spent part of their life in prison.
     DBD representatives have also visited two other institutions in Oslo. The first was a day at an integration centre for homeless people and people with addictions, which is one of 50 institutions operated by Blå Kors Norge (Blue Cross Norway) throughout Norway. The centre offers its guests (clients) meals on a daily basis, crisis intervention, education, job training, various types of counseling, and connect them with other social services and housing opportunities.
     The second visit was to the headquarters and local office for members (clients) of the foundation WayBack, which has offices in four other Norwegian cities. WayBack helps and supports imprisoned offenders in the process of release and after release in order to enable them full integration into ordinary life, without committing crime and substance abuse. The centre is open daily, members can use the phone, computer, participate in self-help (support) group meetings or other counseling and support activities, aimed at restoring social contacts, education and employment. The organization also helps them with finding and paying for accommodation. Several employees of the organization (including its executive director) have their own experience with being imprisoned and addiction to hard drugs.
     The DBD representatives' study-working trip in Norway has a number of concrete results, which have come out as a result from the joint meetings and discussions. Vardeteatret and DBD have jointly prepared and signed a Partnership Agreement at the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in the Kingdom of Norway, in which they agreed to work together, to share and exchange knowledge, experiences and best practices in the field of theatre and drama therapeutical work with disadvantaged individuals or groups. Tangible proof of this is the agreement on the participation of the Norwegian theatre Vardeteatret in the international festival of homeless theatres ERROR 2016 in Bratislava, 24 – 26 November 2016. Vardeteatret will perform 2 plays as well as hold a lecture/presentation of their work and activities at the festival Conference. Participation in ERROR 2016 will provide both theatre organizations a space for meeting with other theatre groups, and open opportunities for further international cooperation at a European level.
     DBD representatives presented their organization and its activities to Blå Kors Norge and WayBack. Representatives of both Norwegian organizations have also been invited to present their work at the festival Conference during ERROR 2016.
     Another result is the new knowledge and experiences that DBD representatives have gained in Norway. In the Vardeteatret office they have participated in an introductory ritual of the organizational team and actors/actresses which helped them to better understand the work style and method of communication within the team. In prison they have seen rehearsals and warm-ups before the performance as well as how the performance can be used for work with inmates as well as stimulating the interest in possible future actors. At the same time they have had the opportunity to prove that the theatre is a way of fostering tolerance, social inclusion, gender equality, intercultural dialogue and understanding, as well as a perfect tool for breaking down the xenophobia, racism, hate speech, violence, stereotypes and prejudices towards excluded and disadvantaged groups. DBD plans to use these experiences in theatre performances and interaction with the audience – whether it consists of public, specific groups (e. g. students) or various disadvantaged groups.
     DBD representatives have visited the 22 July Centre (museum), which is located on the site of neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik's terrorist attack on 22 July, 2011, as well as the silent ferry port of Utøya. From there it is possible to see about 600 meters distant island of Utøya, where he continued in his massacre. This experience has confirmed that it is important to focus on the danger of attitudes and opinions of radicalization and to bring these issues on a theatre stage.
Supported by a grant from EEA and Norway Grants
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