Workshop at the JCC Dbayeh Center

Many members of the Palestinian and Lebanese communities have negative images of one another. This, over the years, has lead to hatred, misunderstanding, fear and discrimination amongst the communities. These attitudes have been long standing and are being passed from parents to children. Negative images exist not only at an individual level but also at a community level.

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Dramatic storytelling breaks down mental health barriers

When the sold-out show began, people scrambled to find a place to sit. More quotes came through the speakers. The audience was silent, but not for long.

Musician Melanie DeMore and the McPherson Neighborhood Leadership Academy Children and Youth came out, wielding colorful pounding sticks, and encouraging the audience to clap along, sing along and even stand up. The kids wore black T-shirts with the words “everybody has a story…” printed on them. The message of the music was to be there for one another and not to give up on the ones you love.

“The most precious thing we can do for each other is to be there,” DeMore said.

Then it was time for Living Arts Playback Theatre, a drama therapy group based in Emeryville. Through music and drama, director Armand Volkas’ actors portrayed their own stories – one would tell his or her story, then the others would act it out – literally and emotionally.

Then it was the audience’s turn to share individual stories and see them spontaneously acted out on stage by members of the Playback Theatre.

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Conflict Transformers: How theater is helping heal ethnic tensions 16 years after war in Kosovo

A young Kosovar Serbian actress sinks to her knees and, stricken with grief, expresses her longing for an uncle who is still “missing” 16 years after Kosovo’s ethnic conflict ended in 1999. The Kosovar Albanian man sitting to her left on stage watches mesmerized. It is his story that the actress is telling, and though he is unable to understand her words, spoken in Serbian, he tells the audience after the performance that she has captured the essence of his grief and pain. Through theater, the actors are retelling the history of violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo in a new way that encourages empathy and healing. At the end of the evening, which is full of audience stories re-enacted, another audience member stands up and asks the interethnic theater group in front of her, “Where have you been for the last 16 years?”

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Using psychodrama to heal the scars of the Holocaust

An adjunct professor of expressive arts therapy at San Francisco’s California Institute of Integral Studies, Volkas is the founder of workshops for people who share collective trauma stemming from a historical event. For the last 30 years he has taken the workshops to troubled regions all over the world.

As the son of Holocaust survivors and a therapist, Volkas said his early interest was more personal: He wanted to study how the legacy of trauma handed down in Jewish families also affects generations of Germans. It was not work he necessarily chose, Volkas said, but rather was something he could not turn away from — nor erase inside himself.

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All the World’s a Stage

It is a well-known adage that experimentation is an active science. But from his home base at the Living Arts Counseling Center in the tree-nestled, bustling community of Berkeley to the four corners of the world, internationally renowned drama therapist, educator, and theatre director Armand Volkas has proven that is it also a profoundly active art. An ‘experiential’ therapist, Volkas transcends the marginalized, fringe perception such a title often evokes.

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