One of the listening stations

Patchwork stories- an inspiring partnership

Patchwork stories is a project that is borne out of a partnership between Dr. Fiona Macbeth, Senior Lecturer in Drama at the Exeter University, and Dr. Megan Altruz, Assistant Professor of Applied Theatre and Community Cultural at the University of Texas at Austin.

Fiona and Megan met through a staff exchange and realised that they share a commitment to socially engaged and applied arts work. They have been supported to build the university partnership by developing work together that makes connections between students, staff and local communities in both countries. 

The aim of the project is to create spaces where stories can be heard that give us insights in to how we may stay open and turn towards one another, in times of difficulty. The project is inspired by the idea that “Some insights of our human hearts are so deep it takes a story to bring them home to ourselves and to share them with others.” As described by Brother David, a Franciscan monk.

The students involved included undergraduates and postgraduates from the University of Exeter and University of Texas at Austin . The students along with Fiona and Megan discussed the process of telling stories, recounting their stories and discussing questions to ask interviewees. Different parts of the community were interviewed by the students from people in a prison, peer mentors from Recovery and Integration Service (RISE) Recovery in Barnstaple , service users and staff at EDP Drug and Alcohol Services (EDP), a South West based charity  and Hidden Gems, a place where unemployed people can make jewellery.

  Moriah and Grace were two students who were involved in the project this year who interviewed people at Hidden Gems. Moriah, a Masters student from University of Texas at Austin, and Grace, graduating from the University of Exeter this year, got involved with the project as they really enjoy applied theatre and the power of stories. Grace commented, “It is a great chance to work with people from EDP and mix and share cultures”.

One man who was interviewed said he found it hard to talk to other people about his experience unless they had experienced something similar. However, this man did talk about his experiences and Moriah noted that “it was very special that people opened up, especially as I have come from another country.”

The exhibition, which ran on Tuesday 28 June at the University of Exeter was a great success, with around 50 visitors, including some people who had shared their stories.

Visitors had the chance to listen to stories at different listening stations, which were centred on a particular theme, for example forgiveness, sadness and joy. When you entered the room you felt as though you were on a ship, with sails separating the room into three sections, students dressed up and the calming sound of waves. Megan said “the stories range from parent child relationships, friendships, taking risks to making surprising discoveries about yourself. They speak back to how Arts and stories can build communities and show what it takes to sit down and turn towards each other.”

After visitors had listened to the stories they were encouraged to reflect on what they had heard and to write words or phrases or even draw on pieces of fabric. People then placed their strips of fabric into a suitcase and pulled out someone else’s strip of fabric. Visitors had the opportunity to tie their fabric on to others and to weave them together. Lastly people were challenged to choose a boat, which was pegged to string, and to answer the question on the paper. An example of one of the questions was “when have you not taken the chance to make a difference to someone else?” These questions were similar to those interviewees had been asked when they were telling their recorded stories.

The exhibition was a chance to reflect on other people’s stories, discuss these stories and to tell our own stories. The project continues every year and next year will be in Austin, Texas.

For more information visit the Patchwork Stories website. 

Date: 4 July 2016

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