Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.5

November 6, 2003


Peace and Conflict event looks at language of emotion

by Jason Gondziola

As a young girl, Carmella was told a story about her father lying down in front of a British tank during the 1956 war in the Middle East. She and her family had been living on a kibbutz, and her father’s actions, as told to her by her mother, a Holocaust survivor, were all he could do to safeguard his family and home.

Amazingly, it worked. The driver of the tank showed mercy, and turned around. Years later, Carmella’s son is now himself driving a tank in Israel — for the Israeli army. The parallel is not lost on Carmella.

“I knew which story was in my head, and finally I said to him, ‘Don’t forget to have mercy in your heart’,” she said.

This and three other stories were given life on the stage of the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall on Sunday, Oct. 26, as part of Concordia's Peace and Conflict Resolution series. The event, titled Healing the Wounds of History, was conducted by Armand Volkas, a renowned drama therapist who has worked with Holocaust survivors and children of the Third Reich, among others.

Stephen Snow, co-founder and coordinator of the Graduate Drama Therapy option in the Creative Arts Therapies program, produced the event. He and Volkas had participated in a workshop together, and Snow felt that Volkas' skill in the challenging field of drama therapy could be of benefit to Concordia.

"To me, it was a perfect match of bringing Armand, who has worked with the most challenging situations, to a situation that was very, very filled with rage and pain and sadness," he said. "I knew that he would be able to create a container for that work, and I think he did."

In the days leading up to Sunday’s event, Volkas conducted a 16-hour workshop with a group of Israeli and Palestinian Canadians. Participants were encouraged to be honest with one another and to express their feelings as frankly as possible.

"Doing the workshop I think I did see some growth," said Volkas. "I think there was a lot of mistrust and anger, and I think that it softened over time. I do think that the work of the workshop was translated into the public event; we were able to broadcast this event—what might happen when you have two groups telling their stories."

The result was a dramatic and painful look at the truth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told through the universal language of emotion. The four stories, two each from Israeli and Palestinian Canadians, were enacted through the medium of playback theatre by a five-member dramatic troupe who would listen to the stories, as told by audience members and members of the two-day workshop, and then perform a dramatic re-enactment of the story, backed by improvised music.

It was very effective. Tears were shed, both on stage and in the audience as the feelings of rage, loss, and a tragic sense of missed opportunity were given form. The event ended on a positive note, with Volkas expressing his hope for peace in our lifetime.

Volkas said that the event served to de-politicize the reality of a conflict that is almost always discussed in political terms, and allowed both the performers and the audience to witness the emotional reality beneath.

"Enactments transform [the stories]," said Volkas. "They become universal, they become archetypal, they become human, and not just related to the politics."

Although Snow regrets that there wasn't a stronger student turnout, especially among Israeli and Palestinian students, he feels the show had a positive effect on Montreal’s community.