Conflict survivors find healing in theatre group performance

Wed Feb 6, 2013 10:26am EST
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By Teddy Nykiel

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for helping unite a continent. But one U.S. woman is demonstrating that in Northern Ireland, peace and reconciliation can also be fostered in more personal and expressive ways.

Teya Sepinuck from Philadelphia is the founder of Theatre of Witness, a group that puts on dramas to tell the stories of people who would not otherwise be heard, performed not by actors but by the people themselves.

The most recent production, "Release," portrayed the experiences of six men involved in the Northern Irish conflict which pitted Catholic Irish nationalists seeking a union with Ireland against Protestant loyalists determined to keep Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom.

The show, funded through the European Union's Peace III Program, was designed to bring together people from opposite sides of the three-decade long conflict and reach reconciliation and forgiveness.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the violence, often referred to as "The Troubles," before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 led the nationalist Irish Republican Army to disband.

"Release" includes a range of perspectives: ex-prisoners, a former prison governor, a former British soldier, a policeman, and a man who survived a car bomb as a child.

"They walk in each others' stories, which is like walking in each others' shoes," Sepinuck said. "It's just incredible. They love each other, so it's like watching love grow."

James Greer, a former member of a paramilitary group, said that although he was reluctant to open up initially, participating in Theatre of Witness was one of the most positive experiences of his life.   Continued...