November 9-11, 2015: Reflections from the International Applied Theatre Symposium: Performance of Hope, the University of Auckland

By Katie Chown

It was like going to a banquet of delight for the soul. The earnest and heartfelt welcome ceremony set the tune for three days of togetherness and sharing in the light of hope, experience and knowledge. We sang together, greeted one another and shared a meal before anything else.

I was out of my comfort zone at this conference(nervous body language), but that’s why I was there: to stretch, to learn, to meet people, to listen, and to speak. All of these things happened and more!

There was an abundance of workshops, performances and presentations which took me on journeys exploring the rich potential of what hope actually looks like in difficult times and places. This included theatre making in primary schools as well as prison work, empowering spoken word poetry, giving life to discarded objects, reclaiming ancestral heritage and protecting the land from harm.

We had opportunities to play and perceive the world like children do; with wonder, awe and curiosity. There was space to cry: to shed tears and feel the weight of real concerns for a time . . .  Not to absorb the burdens of the world or get lost there; just to feel and cry and let that be an acceptable, understandable response.

On the third day I spoke about my work in Myanmar and how dance practice led to Occupational Therapy engagement in an orphanage setting. I wasn’t too nervous – I felt very lucky indeed to have the opportunity to be there. Humbled by people’s responses and grateful for feedback, I attended the following sessions with a smile in my chest and an inner sense of achievement.

There was a closing ceremony where we sang together again and participants were invited to share anything they wished before we parted. Some people said a few words to express their experience and gratitude of the previous days, others sang, shared poems and some people danced, including myself. To be nourished and inspired so much and so deeply was a gift.


Katie NZ photo

Photography of New Zealand  by Katie Chown © 2015, reprinted with permission