Cécile Rousseau

Playing with Fire: Theater Expression Workshops for Migrant and Refugee Adolescents

Mobilizing narratives through drama is a powerful form of expression of both the singular and the collective. This presentation will reflect upon the experience of a Montreal team who has worked with youth in migrant and refugee neighbourhoods during the last twenty years.

Summarizing successes and failures, I will argue that it is the relative feeling of risk in a holding and ritual environment which attracts youth toward theatrical expression and that enables them to reenact and transform both the daily experiences and those which are beyond what can clearly be articulated. I will also suggest that dramatic expression may deepen the wounds of social suffering when exclusion does not allow enough safety within the group, and when hope appears as nonsensical. In a context of increasing radicalization, monolithical narratives, even when giving a voice to the oppressed, may aggravate the social polarization. Moving toward partially shared and fragmented narratives may then become a possible avenue to repair the social link.

Beyond a critique of our own work, I will address how these results can be interpreted as simultaneously delineating a central role for art in constructing and negotiating meaning in a globalized world, while also questioning its destabilizing capacity when powerlessness dominates.

Dr. Cécile Rousseau, MD
 is professor of psychiatry at McGill University and scientific Director of the Research Institute on health and cultural diversity SHERPA. She has worked extensively with immigrant and refugee communities, developing specific school based interventions and leading policy oriented research. Presently her research focuses on the evaluation of collaborative mental health care models for youth in multiethnic neighborhoods and on intervention and prevention programs to address youth radicalization.