On a cold, crisp November evening, we welcomed our participants at the grand and recently renovated Leith Theatre.
We could see everyone was a bit wary, wondering what exactly they had signed up for! Gavin, warm and friendly and well used to meeting nervous participants, soon put them at ease. After a round of introductions, including Gavin on image theatre and myself about the research project, we played some fun ‘warm up’ games. One of the activities for instance involved the group working together in sets of three to make distinct shapes (alternating between ‘tree’, ‘crocodile’ and ‘elephant’), whereby whomever Gavin pointed at formed the centre of the image and the two participants on either side adopted accompanying poses (e.g. swaying branches, paddling legs or flapping ears of animals). This was a good laugh especially as we all made silly mistakes, muddling instructions and doing the opposite of what we were meant to. We enjoyed ourselves immensely and not only had we loosened up but we were now more inclined to open up to more sensitive issues such as our own experiences of faith and conversion and how we may have been emotionally affected.
Gavin now led us into a process of building up a ‘world of images’ linked to each other, and he steered us towards images built around the topic of religious conversion. Each participant was invited to think what imagery this concept evoked for themselves and adopt a corresponding pose. Each of us was translating concepts in our heads to distinct physical stances and we began to see what this concept meant to each person. Gavin then invited us to consider what ‘faith’ meant to us and portray this in an image. He got us to break into smaller groups based around similar images, so that one group’s image was more suppliant, another’s defiant or exalted. The most interesting exercise was when Gavin asked us to repeat the same exercise with religion in mind. In most cases, there were clear differences between ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ with faith interpreted as more personal and religion as more institutionalised, while faith formed communities, religion organised individuals! The transition from images of ‘faith’ to those of ‘religion’ were most telling.
Our second workshop explored the topic of conversion through the ‘Rainbow of Desire’ technique. We were invited to narrate our encounters with religious conversion, out of which we were to choose an ‘unresolved’ one to enact. Having chosen Piyush’s story of his encounter with Mormons in the Meadows, several of us enacted the scenario with Piyush playing himself. Gavin invited us to participate in enacting a ‘rainbow’ of desires, asking us to consider the scenario in the light of two questions: ‘What did each person involved want?’ and ‘What was their main desire?’ To do this we had to interpret Piyush’s narrative and his choice of words. Responses ranged from relatively straightforward – “I want you to leave me alone” – to quite complex: “I want to learn how to do what you do in order to be able to resist it”! To finish, Gavin led some reflections on the conflicts and similarities between the various desires suggested by the group, as well as the difference between ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ desires.
Our many responses indicated how each one of us responds to encounters with the language of conversion, whatever the religious faiths involved might be. There was so much more to talk about but by eight, after two intense physically and emotionally engaging workshops, we were ready for dinner.