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hand, breast, heart

by Nicole Angela Pearson


Years ago I came across the expression, “Turning what we call poison into medicine.”  For me, theater has always been a space of transformation, a luminous, magical place where all things are possible.  I have spent years as both an artist and an activist.  I thought my activism would help create the conditions for my artistic work.  However, after many years of activism it has become clear to me it is the reverse.  The artist uses their imagination to create visions that expand what is possible.  The activist steps into that space to create structures of change. Without the artist there is no successful activism.  We must craft experiences that put into the practice those lofty beautiful ideals of justice, interconnectedness and joy. As I have watched the world plunge further and further into darkness it became clear we were never going to think our way out. We had to feel the pain of it, we had to acknowledge all the terrible things we had weathered. We had to find peace with those things.  The pain itself was information, a kind of wisdom we have to learn how to harness.  Not alone but together, in community.  The play is one woman's journey from familial pain to communal suffering.  And finally to the joy that connection brings.



Trauma, theater and healing


The title of the play hand, breast, heart comes from a physical grounding response to reconnect mind and body in the face of a traumatic experience or memory.  The practice came to me when I found myself in the midst of a troubling waking memory.  The memory was so real I completely lost sense of where I was, even more troubling I could not easily bring myself out. In fact, I felt trapped and got very scared. I was in a grocery store and had to think quickly about what to do.  My options at the time were either run out of the store screaming or find a way to get back into my body. Desperate for something to do I looked at my hand. Relieved I could recognize my hand I placed it on my chest where I could feel the warm, softness of my breast.  In that stillness of relief, I began to feel the pulsing beat of my heart. 


That experience planted a seed.  I knew the memory I experienced was not personal.  It had no connection to my lived reality but somehow the memory made itself known to me.  It seemed clear memories keep showing up because they need us to remember them. They need us to acknowledge what happened. I began to wonder how many horrific events continue to haunt us? How much of our current violence and trauma is built on the old violence and trauma?  How much of their energy remains in the spaces where they occurred?  Is there a way for us to hold them, to look at them without causing further harm?  What information might be found in these experiences?  Is there something they might teach us?  The continued harms we see inflicted make it imperative we find ways to break this cycle of violence and trauma.  From this sense of urgency I began to imagine ways to release ourselves from their grip. 


Theater presents us with an opportunity to collectively look at the most challenging aspects of our humanity. It is a collaborative artistic expression that both relies on and creates community The magic experienced in theater is real. We create a container where we engage not only the audience but with the unseen energies and spirits that flow all around us. We play with those spirits, we channel them, we give voice to their experience. In doing so we connect to the theater's ritual roots. We create a communal gathering to transform the most painful experiences into art and in doing so find peace and healing.    

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