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Karin Diamond and Alison O’Connor

Re-Live: Life Story Theatre

In 1995 Karin and Alison travelled to Romania to stage a play in an orphanage for 500 children and young people. The experience was terrifying and wonderful and has shaped the next 20 years of both our lives. Something changed the day the children performed their play. In us, in the children and in the staff members who made up the audience. The rigid rules and beliefs of that institution had been momentarily challenged. Theatre had allowed those children to be seen and to see themselves as something good.

This glimpse into the transformational power of theatre ignited something in us and set us on a 20 year journey of friendship and creative discovery.

Re-Live’s work began when its co-founders, Karin Diamond and Alison O’Connor created their first theatre performance, with a group of older people in Cardiff in 2006. What started out as an idea for one show snow-balled into an exhilarating journey which led to the formation of a company and a growing body of work. Bringing together Karin’s experience from professional theatre, film and T.V. and Alison’s applied theatre and counselling practice in prisons and mental health settings, the company began to develop a unique methodology of life story theatre.

We have been developing our methodology of Life Story Theatre over the past nine years. In that time we have worked pre-dominantly with older adults on a process of life review, inspired by the work of Butler (1963) and Birren (1991) and our own theatre and counselling practice in a variety of settings. We have developed an approach which is collaborative and hopeful, one which encourages people to reflect on their experiences and find a story to call their own.

Our vision is a world where everyone’s story can be heard. We continue on our journey, empowering people at the margins of society to tell their story, embracing new technologies to spread those stories far and wide, enabling audiences to witness the experiences – ordinary and extraordinary – that make us remember what it is to be human.

This presentation will explore the transformative potential of sharing personal stories with an audience through life story theatre and will raise questions about the wider, political impact of this work. Karin and Alison will share reflections on their work with older people, focusing in particular on their current work with families living with dementia and veterans and families affected by mental health challenges.

We will raise some of these questions:
What is it about telling one's story publicly that appears to be transformative and in some cases, healing? What is the journey for the performer, and what is the journey for the audience member? What are the ethics of this work? Who owns the story? Which is more important, process or performance... When does the personal become political? Does placing “real people” and their own true stories on stage have the potential to change public policy? Can theatre be an agent for social change? What is this work, is it witness theatre, documentary theatre, a therapeutic exchange in a public arena? All of these things...?

Karin DiamondKarin Diamond

Karin is co-director and founder of Re-Live in Wales. Her great passion for theatre began in primary school when she created her own experimental theatre performances and tested them out on her bemused classmates! Her deep love of the arts has seen her work in theatre, film and television for over 20 years, gaining a wealth of experience in performing, writing, producing and directing original work.

Karin trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and returned years later to lay the foundations of their outreach drama department, using drama to support and encourage young people to express themselves and build confidence.

She has designed and facilitated numerous communication skills programmes for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, Social Services and General Practice in Wales, always using theatre as a base for training and development.

Karin is a Winston Churchill Fellow 2010, researching 'Creativity in dementia care' with Dr Yukimi Uchide in Ofunato, Japan. This research continues to influence and inspire Re-Live’s work today.

Karin’s passion lies in the experiential relationship between performers and audiences. She believes that creative expression can release us from the existential tension of living and surprise us with new ways to live and relate to each other.

Alison O’ConnorAlison O’Connor

Soon after graduating in Drama and English from Bristol University and beginning to navigate the world of theatre making, Alison realised that her passion lay in theatre's transformative potential. She worked for several years with Geese Theatre Company, international leaders of arts in the criminal justice system, and here gained an insight into the therapeutic potential of theatre and its power as a tool for change. She became fascinated by what the telling and enactment of a story can do for performers, participants, institutions, staff members and audiences and went on to create theatre work in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, schools, care settings and with survivors of domestic abuse across the UK and in Romania, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.

Alison received a Creative Wales Award from The Arts Council of Wales (2013) to explore “Transformation in Arts and Health: Stories that Change”. Alison’s writing on Life Story Theatre with veterans and families has been published in the international journal, Arts in Health (2015).

Alison is also a Cognitive Behavioural Counsellor (University of Wales) with particular expertise in counselling older adults..

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