View from the Inside: Courage Journey is a puppetry- based workshop that encourages discussion about mental wellness. Through the creation, exhibition and performance of a self-reflective mask-body puppet, participants develop community, foster resiliency and gain a voice for their stories.
The program has had remarkable resonance.
Through 2015-16, WP Puppet Theatre (WPTS) brought together a team of professional who delivered the workshops to around 50 participants:
- Circle of Supports – Boys and Girls Club, an afterschool program for Indigenous youth
- Pathways to Housing, a project of The Alex for Adults at risk of homelessness
- United Active Living – Garrison Green Seniors Centre
- Studio C, a community mental health program
In 2016-17 the team offered three-hour mini VIEW workshops to 75 participants from:
- Jack James High School alternative high school
- St Basil’s Malkite Green Catholic Church and Syrian Refugee Youth Group,
- Brenda Strafford Women’s Shelter
- Pathfinders – Girl Guides of Canada
- Four Directions Indigenous Foster Children Program
The resulting puppets were included in art shows that validated the participant’s creative process and helped build their self-esteem.
In 2016, together with This is My City Festival, WPTS mounted two exhibitions featuring the extraordinary mask-body puppets. The display at The New Gallery +15 had over 130,000 viewers. The United Active Living exhibit of 40 artworks and writings had over 120 viewers. Additionally presentations were made at Puppet Power 2016: Connecting Generations conference and Creative Aging conference.
In 2017 WPTS screened a documentary featuring performances by the participants with This is My City Festival. Also in 2017, Wendy, Allan Rosales and Suzanne Clease created Healing Ointment – an art exhibit comprised of art pieces, which respond to the stories heard during the VIEW program. It will next be toured by TREX throughout Alberta in 2017-18:
- Providing dialogue and awareness on the universality of mental wellness challenges.
- Improving the conversation and understanding of people with mental health challenges and encourage empathy.
- Promoting mental wellness through creative living practices.
The engagement and interaction, risk taking, and attendance attest to the impact. The subtitle “Courage Journey” evolved as the most frequently used words to describe the program.
Participant responses are thoughtful:
“Art has the ability to heal and transform. Art has the ability to soothe your soul… The process of doing the mask and evaluating who am I, helped get back in touch with who I lost. ” – Eli
“I want someone to look at my mask and see that it is powerful… It is a metaphor for how I see myself now… What it has done for me is a lot of healing.” – Donna
“The idea was special and unique… it was the first time I enjoyed art, like that I can hide secrets… Everything was special, the whole thing. It made you accept yourself, all sides… love yourself.” Syrian Refugee Youth
The VIEW project has four components providing a unique and innovative approach:
- “Public Me,” where participants explored trust, team building, how they present themselves to others and perceive how others see them, to create the outside of the mask.
- “Private Me” was explored. Participants collected images, ephemera and other objects to represent their inner self as expressed on the inside of the mask.
- “Connected to Me” where participants attached objects to their mask that represent their relationship with the community and their own history.
- “Presenting Me” which was focused on mask-puppet manipulation and sharing stories or artistic statement.
All workshops included reflection, community building and discussion, which growing research on art activities and art therapy, suggest improves symptoms of depression, reduces symptoms of trauma, improves mood and increases sociability and social engagement (Gussak, 2006; Henderson, Mascaro, & Rosen, 2007; Lyshak-Stelzer, Singer, St. John, & Chemtob, 2007; Puig, Min Lee, Goodwin & Sherrard, 2006; Rusted, Sheppard, & Waller, 2006).
VIEW from the INSIDE: Courage Journey demonstrates that puppets have a special power as metaphors and proxies, and stories have a power transcending time & culture. It’s also clear that the creative process can help diverse groups of people to better understand each other, promote diversity, inclusion and provide a platform to express significant social issues. And this is healing through the arts manifested.