The puppets as an art-therapy

The puppets as an art-therapy

Reflections after a workshop with a group of unemployed participants in the framework of the project implemented by Grodzki Theatre.

As part of the project, I conducted five two-hour workshops, during which puppet theatre techniques as well as techniques related to psychodrama and drama were used.
The exercises performed during the first session were aimed at integrating the group, building trust, a sense of safety and readiness for cooperation. Then the process of creating puppets began, their individualization, and next participants were jointly inventing universal stories, that were presented in the form of improvisation without the use of words.

During the next sessions, the people who took part in them were opening themselves, they were more and more willing to talk about themselves, were overcoming their fear of public speeches, they were committed to cooperation.

Theatrical activities with the use of puppets proved to be a valuable method of art-therapy nature.

Over five consecutive meetings I noticed a change in attitudes and behaviour of each person who took part in the workshops.

PARTICIPANT 1 At the beginning of the workshops, he was very distant. He did not want to take part in the first exercise meant to be integrating the participants, during which he had to ask any questions to other persons. However, during each subsequent session he was more and more engaged in the group. At the first two meetings he did not allow to be photographed, but he did not refuse to be present in the common photos taken during the following sessions. He seems to be inherently distrustful of people. On one hand, he demonstrated independence and distance to the activities undertaken as a part of the workshops, on the other hand, he reacted very positively to the behaviour demonstrating kindness of other group members, he became more gentle and open. His puppet was a mysterious wanderer. It was not known where he came from, no one knows where he is going, no one knows who he is. He consistently strived to keep his puppet secret and indefinite. He did not want to clarify it, invent its history. I was very intrigued by his resistance to concretization of the character he had created. He said that he had begun to study (English Studies) a few times, but he was not able to finish his studies due to some problems.

PARTICIPANT 2 participated in the workshops with great confidence and commitment.
Her puppet was Mrs. Spring. The author made her attire with great attention to detail. She was always prepared for activities. She showed her creativity, she willingly helped other people who were less efficient manually. Then, even when she got a job, she tried to shift the hours of work so that she could participate in the workshops. Thanks to the workshops during which she had opportunity to use her manual skills and to help others, her self-esteem increased. Workshops were for her also a detachment from everyday problems and created a space for self-belief.

PARTICIPANT 3 was immensely engaged in workshops, creative and with a rich imagination. During the creation of puppets she was very worried when it turned out that she did not take any thread and a needle with her while another participant had those things with her, so she could carefully prepare her puppet’s outfit. During the last workshop she also got stressed when she realized that she did not dressed in black, as the leader had asked before. It was only when she was told that in full light it did not really matter, that she felt a great relief and was at ease again. She needs support from other people to be able not to care about irrelevant matters and to assess the situation properly. Her character Anastazja, came from the upper classes, was escaping from someone, secretly pacing the streets of cities. Her outfit was multi-layered, very sophisticated.
The workshop was an opportunity for her to get to know herself, reflect on her own motivations. After the presentation of improvisation prepared by her group, she said she realized that, just like the heroine of the scenes, who was not able to trust people immediately and was experiencing her “regret at a loss”, she also had recently felt her grief and only now was ready for a new life.

PARTICIPANT 4. Her character is Elfka, a female elf, who wanders the world in search of her brother. She enjoys fantasy literature, perhaps the figure of her brother appeared as a result of her personal life experiences. Actions with the use of imagination were a great fun for her, she willingly took part in them, she cooperated well with other members of the team.

Two people who joined the group after two workshops and have been continuing to the end of the project.

Participant 5 – a young man with difficulties in self-reliant functioning. He is afraid of contact with other people, riding through the city by bus is a big challenge for him. However, during the workshops he said a lot about himself. He talked a lot about his fear. He performed in the group improvisation and talked about himself and his feelings, because, according to his own words, he acted in front of people whom he knew and trusted. The performance was also bearable for him because he did not have to say anything during it and it was a joint action.
The group used in the staging his idea of a character, a former soldier whose aggression towards other people resulted from his war experiences.

PARTICIPANT 6 –  an educated person (a graduate of mathematics), his manner of pronouncement indicated greater erudition and knowledge. He talked a lot about energy from outer space, in his statements some undefined “they” existed. On one hand, he participated in all activities, on the other hand he demonstrated distance and down played everything that was happening around. All the time he emphasized that it was a good fun, that he did not take seriously all that we were doing. At times he seemed to be tuned out, but he would gladly answer when asked. He understood the story literally. For him it was supposed to be the story of a specific veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress, not an universal story about a man, who couldn’t not cope with emotions.

The puppets turned out to be a great art-therapy method.

– Participants talked about themselves through the characters they created. Thanks to this, they did not feel forced to self-analyze, but naturally created their stories using their own experiences and emotions.

– Creative activity was a positive and attractive experience for the participants of the workshops. They were inventing something from the beginning, giving their characters individual features. They were seriously committed to the process of creating puppets, and later on they were very attached to them.

– An important value of the workshops is group work, during which the “stronger” persons helped the weaker, they supported each other, and built relationships.

– The final outcome of the workshops, that is a presentation of prepared performances, was a great experience for the participants. They greatly enjoyed that the spectators understood their story and its message. For the majority of participants it was a subjective experience, increasing their self-acceptance and self-esteem.

For the efficacy of the process that takes place during the workshop cycle it is worth ensuring that all participants can take part in all the activities. From leader’s point of view the exchange of people in the group was the most difficult situation. Some of them could not continue their attendance at workshops because they started working or were participating in other project activities. New participants had less time to integrate with the group, and as a result their openness was smaller than the others’.

An interesting experience was how participants adapted puppets, made by persons who had to give up their participation in the workshop, by re-dressing them and inventing their stories.

Iwona Kusak



Jolanta Kajmowicz-Sopicka

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