FES graduate student tests theatre as therapy

Troubled by the militarism and its effects on women in the Middle East, environmental studies graduate student Farshideh Nasrin has turned to theatre therapy.

Nasrin has developed a series of thought-provoking theatrical workshops on the invasion of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She has been presenting them in various locations in Ontario this summer as part of her course work.

“My thesis is about Iranian artists in the diaspora," says the Iranian-born student. "Through these presentations I wanted to experience how a theatre artist can work in the Iranian-Canadian and general Canadian community."

The theatre world is familiar territory for Nasrin. She obtained a degree in drama from Tehran University, where she later lectured. In Iran, she also directed productions and acted in numerous stage and radio plays. In addition, she spent time in Japan researching theatre. Her academic career in Iran ended as a result of the Iranian Revolution.

Left: Farshideh Nasrin performing in 1983 in Iran

Through the workshops she is now conducting in Canada, Nasrin is not only exploring her own identity as a displaced artist who has escaped a politically troubled region, but also hoping to create greater awareness of issues at the heart of the conflicts and promote healing for those who have been victims of the conflicts.

In a workshop at the University of Guelph in June, she led 12 graduate students through various exercises. In one, she asked them to suggest symbols of power – a knife, a gun — as a way of exploring power dynamics and the escalation of violence.

In another, participants came up with five words denoting peace and five denoting war, and then used them in sentences. Through this exercise, Nasrin says she has discovered that many Canadians have similar concerns when it comes to the conflicts, namely the safety of children, poverty and death.

In a third exercise, participants assumed the roles of peacekeepers and feminists interviewing three characters, portrayed by York students: a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who had been raped by American soldiers, an educated Iraqi woman who wants to emigrate to Canada, and a traditional Iraqi who mistrusts foreigners.

Playing the roles were York students Nayrooz Abu-Hatoum, Helia Hazaei, Mahgol Izadei, Sheryl Peters and Lisa Ross.

Right: York students Helia Hazaei and Mahgol Izadei participating in a workshop developed by Nasrin

At the Ottawa Heritage building in June, Hazaei and Izadei helped Nasrin facilitate a workshop on theatrical improvisation and body movement. The York students also performed a short play, written by Nasrin, called Stolen Identity, which deals with the same theme as many of the workshops — the effect of the conflicts in the Middle East on women.

Probably the most challenging workshop, however, will be the one taking place at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education tomorrow. Women who spent up to 10 years in prison in Iran but are now living in Canada will be talking about their traumatic experiences.

“Using theatre, I would like to help them to express themselves,” says Nasrin. “They have so many memories that they do not want to remember. Many have never been in a situation where they can talk about it to others.”

Story by Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer