Workshop by Katarzyna Niziolek: Participatory Theatre and Memory

‘The narrators are not only witnesses – least of all are they witnesses; they are actors and makers’ (Svetlana Alexievich). ‘Participation’ and ‘social impact’ seem to be the catchphrases of the day when it comes to both art, and social research. On the one hand, participatory action research has already become a well-established practice in the world of qualitative methods in sociology. On the other hand, the so-called social turn has placed the arts closer to sociological concepts and methodology as a means of not only interpreting art, but also constructing artworks. These changes are opening new doors for both sociologists and artists interested in working together and exploring the ‘in-between’ areas of art, science, and social engagement. One such niche is being occupied by participatory theatre – a wide array of diverse and innovative practices that create conducive contexts not only for interdisciplinary collaborations, but also for citizen participation. As an academic sociologist and qualitative researcher, I have been exploring this area of theatrical production for several years now – collaborating with artists as a theatre curator, observing the practice from the inside, looking for possibilities of exchange between participatory theatre and social research. During the workshop, I intend to share some of my experiences and insights by focusing on ‘Prayer. A Common Theatre’ – one of the projects we developed together with playwright and director Michał Stankiewicz. It was a series of collectively created performative adaptations of ‘The Chernobyl Prayer’ by Svetlana Alexievich, with the participants moving between the memories collated in the book and their own varied experiences, and thus – as ‘actors and makers’ rather than ‘witnesses’ – constructing a collective memory of the disaster.