Ellen Goodwin – 3FF Schools Team
Theatre and storytelling are a powerful ways for people to share their beliefs and values. With this in mind, 3FF partnered with MUJU, HEC Global Learning Centre, Jewish Community Secondary School (JCOSS) and Eden Girls’ School to create three very special creative link days as part of our Faith School Linking programme.
At this three-day link, a group of 15 Muslim and Jewish Year 7 girls joined creative forces to explore stories of inspiring women from their faith traditions and their relevance to their own culture and identity in everyday London life.
We were interested in finding out how three days of immersive interfaith engagement through participatory theatre might strengthen the relationships and in-depth exchange between the students, as well as their confidence to express their faith and belief.
‘It doesn’t really matter what faith you’re from, we all have a connection with drama.’ Rufaydah, Eden Girl’s School.
‘I enjoyed meeting new people through drama and learning about them and their stories.’ Mollie, JCOSS.
The girls engaged in three days of theatre and storytelling, exploring stories of Muslim and Jewish women that inspired them. Stories of Esther, Umm Salamah, Asiya, Sarah and Hagar, and Anne Frank were exchanged and unpacked. The girls conducted a philosophical enquiry into the power dynamics present within the stories and how this effected the choices and position of the women in the stories. Concepts of power, choice and voice were explored through a range of theatre exercises, games and improvisation.
At the end of the three days, the girls put on a celebratory performance of their work, in small mixed groups of Jewish and Muslim students. In a Q and A, artistic facilitators Alia Alzougbi and Andrea Tuijten spoke about how the girls had organically chosen to focus on things they had in common. Investigating stories of inspirational women which feature in both Jewish and Islamic traditions, the girls drew on their personal experience of modern-day culture to reimagine these women in contemporary context with emphasis on presenting themes such as peer-pressure, courage and power, integrity and visual identity.
After speaking to some of the students, it was clear that focusing on their day-to-day lives and shared experiences allowed them to better relate to each other.
‘Stories from other faiths and my faith can still impact us even though they’re from a long time ago.’ Mollie, JCOSS.
‘We all had different opinions on each story, and translating it into everyday life definitely played a part in helping us get to know each other.’ Imogen, JCOSS.
What the students had in common initially helped them enter into a dialogue, whilst the creative process proved incredibly effective in creating solid relationships between the students.
‘I’ve learnt that although we come different faiths and different cultural backgrounds, we actually have lots in common. We share a love for drama and the things that we did.’ Neha, Eden Girls’ School.
‘When we were performing, we could feel what others feel.’ Sadia, Eden Girls’ School.
Through participating in the drama activities and games, the students learnt more about each other’s faiths and beliefs, as well as their individual and personal interpretations of sacred stories. Many students reflected about themselves and their own personalities throughout the programme. One student from JCOSS commented that through trust exercises, she had not only realised how impatient she was, but also how long it takes to build mutual, trusting relationships.
‘I’ve learnt how to express myself more using drama’. Maya, JCOSS.
‘The girls from the other school are nice and we get on well together. I’ve learnt to be more confident in myself.’ Sadia, Eden Girls’ School.
It was clear from the final performances that the girls had really enjoyed themselves, and that engaging in the process of making theatre together had particularly helped them enter into in-depth dialogue about their identities, faith and beliefs. The creative process and the significant amount of time spent together led the students to consider the importance of the bonds they had created over three days. The girls voiced a shared recognition of wider significance of such bonds towards creating meaningful intercommunal relationships and a more positive society.
‘Our communities and our world in general should be diverse. It would be quite boring if we only knew about ourselves.’ Neha, Eden Girls’ School.