NET/TEN Shareback: Looking for Lilith - Theatrically Processing Grief as an Ensemble

Spring 2017 Travel Grant Recipient

Looking for Lilith (Louisville, KY) ensemble members traveled to Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala to reaffirm a 13-year relationship with sister ensemble El Proyecto Historias de Fe (HdF). The trip provided an opportunity to meet with a new cross-sector partner (a health advocacy organization in Pacaj), and memorialized and celebrated the life of Alicia Moscoso, a HdF ensemble member who passed away recently.

SHAREBACK:

After working together for 14 years, last year a member of our partner group rather suddenly passed away. During our time together we developed a process for honoring our friend and processing our grief as a community using our theatrical devising process. This process may be helpful to other ensembles experiencing such a loss.

Theatrically Processing Grief as an Ensemble

Looking for Lilith Theatre Company (LFL) and the Historias de Fe (HdF) ensemble have been working together for 14 years. Last year a member of the HdF group rather suddenly passed away. For the first time we collectively had to discover how to memorialize and honor the life of our friend and colleague and discern how to move forward in her absence. During our time together we developed a process for honoring our friend and processing our grief as a community using our theatrical devising process. This process may be helpful to other ensembles experiencing such a loss. We have outlined below the process we used.  Please use the elements that feel useful to your group and your group’s context. If your ensemble is facing this kind of loss our hearts are with you and we hope that this process will make space for your grief, bring forth good memories and a sense of closure.

Background and Context
Looking for Lilith Theatre Company is based in Louisville, KY. The Historias de Fe Ensemble is based in Guatemala and its members live all over the country. They meet several times a year for retreats to plan projects and develop scenes. Throughout the year some or all members travel to do performances and workshops for groups around the country. LFL members often skype into a portion of their retreat to participate in planning. In December of 2016, Jennifer, who is the partnership director for LFL, Skyped into one such retreat. At this time, she was informed that one of the HdF members, Alicia, was not there because she was in the hospital. Marta, another member of the group, was going to go see her in the hospital and take cards from the group on her way home. Less than a week after this retreat, Alicia passed away. Alicia’s funeral was in a remote part of the country and only Juana Herlinda, another member of the group, was able to travel to her funeral on behalf of the group. LFL and representatives from supporting partners in the USA were not able to travel to Guatemala until May of 2017. The joint retreat in May 2017 was the first time that the whole group had been together since Alicia’s death. It was also the first time that all of the HdF group had gathered after her death.

Process Time Frame
Because we are only together once a year we did this as a retreat over 2 days.  For a group that is in the same location these steps could be done in smaller chunks or over a longer span of time.  Although there was something nice about this focused time to grieve and celebrate our lost friend. During those 2 days we also spent a lot of time just being together.

The Process

Step one: Stories of what happened (2-3 hours)
While the HdF women had informed LFL of Alicia’s death, LFL members didn’t know all the details of what happened and what each ensemble member experienced. We understood basically what had caused her death but we didn’t know the specifics. Sharing stories is at the heart of what we do together in this partnership, and making space for under-heard and unheard stories is core to LFL’s mission. We felt it was important for each HdF ensemble member to be able to share her experience of what happened if she wanted to do so. 

This process was very simple.  We sat in a circle.  We went around the circle and each person shared what she had experienced around Alicia’s death. We have a practice of not interrupting when someone is sharing a personal experience so that her voice can be honored. Because we are used to sharing and hearing stories in this way we didn’t set that parameter formally. For some groups it could be helpful to intentionally articulate that to the group.

Step Two: Remembering (2-3 hours)
Alicia is…Graffiti Board – (Materials: Chart paper and Markers)
In our next session we used a graffiti board, our favorite brainstorming tool, to recall the qualities of Alicia. We used a large piece of chart paper.  In the middle we wrote “Alicia is/Alicia es”.  We used the present tense because we felt that she still was those things in our hearts. Graffiti Boards are a silent brainstorm tool. Each person gets a marker and writes words that come to their minds that describe our friend Alicia. After all had written what they wanted to, we read it out loud.

Photo Timeline (Materials: Photos, Index cards, Markers, A long table or floor space)

  1. Before going to Guatemala we collected pictures of Alicia from all that years we have been working together. 
  2. On each index card we wrote a year of the project and laid them out on the table in order
  3. Each person was given a small stack of pictures.  Together we figured out which pictures went in which year and laid out a photo timeline of Alicia’s participation in the project.
  4. After we finished laying out the timeline we all took our time traveling down it looking at the pictures and sharing memories.
  5. The pictures brought up memories we had forgotten. We started telling stories. We had to help each other remember what happened which year. It was a nice review of our partnership highlighting Alicia’s participation.

 

Step Three: Creating Memorial Movement Piece (1-3 hours depending on size of group)
It should also be noted that the memorial movement piece we collectively devised is an adaptation of Looking for Lilith’s Welcome ritual we use when we welcome a new company member. In that ritual each current company member shares a story about when she first realized the new member was “Lilithian” and creates a still image representing that story. The image is given a title that describes the quality of the new member represented in the story.  The images are put together with the titles into a movement piece that is performed as a gift for the new member.

  1. Seated in a circle, each person shared a favorite memory of our time with Alicia.  It’s important to ask that people share specific memories of moments rather than an accounting of the relationship or general memories. 
  2. After each memory is shared, the person who shared creates a still image using other members of the group.  She also selected one of the qualities from the Alicia is Graffiti Board to be the title of each image using the phrase “Alicia is ________”. (It’s helpful if someone is writing down the titles on a chart paper so that people can seen them)
  3. This is repeated until all have shared. There should be as many images as there are people, unless someone has opted not to share.
  4. The images are then rehearsed again in order.  The titles are read aloud and serve as a reminder of what each image is. (It’s easiest for people to remember them if they are done in the order they were created but the group could also decide on a different order if that serves the group.)

 

Step four: Putting Together Memorial Service
The group selected readings and songs that Alicia liked or spoke to the group experience.  Those were given to ensemble members to read or lead and an order was decided on. The center of the memorial service was the Memorial Movement Piece. The piece was rehearsed several more times. We had one person who had the list of titles and read the titles out loud. The images were made by the group. We used the following pattern but this could be adapted to fit the needs of the group. 

  1. The group is in a circle.
  2. Narrator would say the first title with this phrase. “Because Alicia is_______.”
  3. The first image is formed by the group.  When the image is frozen.  The whole group says, “We celebrate her!”.
  4. People in that image go back to the circle. 
  5. This is repeated until all the titles are read and images are performed.

 

Alicia loved flowers and the retreat center had a beautiful garden.  After a short rehearsal we went out to the garden to do our memorial service.  We put a picture of her in a vine.  After the service we had coffee, sweet bread and chocolate.  Find a location that is meaningful for your group for the service.  Follow it with community time that makes sense for you. After this process we felt ready to move on to project planning.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

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