Chapter 25: Learn Dis!: A Community Does Research on Itself Through Playback Theatre
David Jan Jurasek
David Jan Jurasek holds an MFA in Creative Arts Therapies from Concordia University of Montreal, Canada. His master’s research was an arts-based heuristic inquiry in the form of a self-revelatory performance, published as a book entitled Guide Me: Solo Dramatic Research Into Becoming a Therapist. He has written, directed, and edited several short and feature-length films, some recognized internationally, in the fields of biography, mental health, and personal development, including Where Is Home? and One Story at a Time: A Playback Theatre Experience. He is currently in the process of writing interactive manuals entitled Worry to Wonder, The Inspired Playback Handbook, and The Heartfulness Practice. David also works as a child and family therapist and a mindfulness martial arts instructor at Integra, a pioneering mental health clinic serving families with learning disabilities in Toronto, Canada. He is the founding director of The Inspired Playback Theatre Company, reflecting the real-life stories of diverse populations all over Canada since 2004. David recently founded Heart of Helping, a business dedicated to supporting helpers to master their skills while nourishing themselves more deeply. You can find him at www.heartofhelping.com.
Approximately one person in 20 has a disability that profoundly affects how he or she learns or does things. While to the untrained eye it’s not clear why people have disabilities, people with learning disabilities (LDs) have historically been labeled as “stupid,” “slow,” “defiant,” and “lazy.”
In 2009, working as a therapist with families affected by LDs, I was struck by three staggering realities. First, almost everyone felt alone and unique in his or her situation. Hearing the common themes of isolation, shame, confusion, frustration, and loneliness often made me wonder about how much more solidarity people may feel if they only met others who shared their experiences. Second, some of my clients were gifted creatively and wanted to find ways to express what they were experiencing. Some would write poems, which they shared with loved ones, while others found ways to speak directly in front of their schools about living with their learning disabilities. Third, everyone who engaged in the confidential cocoon of therapy had some form of wisdom that I judged to be worthy of sharing with others. Every client eventually came to offer me tips about parenting, friendship, dealing with limitations and bullies, and other important life lessons. It continues to be an incredible honor for me to behold such hard-earned gems of insight and universal common sense on a daily basis. Thus, I wanted to share with others, in an ethical and respectful way, the wisdom I’ve been privy to.
There was also a personal motivation at play. I am someone who has used various forms of art since early childhood to work through all sorts of painful emotions and complex situations, including having been a child refugee. I am also professionally trained to use art and theatre in communities as a form of research, communal ritual, and even group therapy. I believe that people become more powerful and better equipped to heal when they are given the tools and support to express themselves. I also did not like how much of what is said about learning disabilities comes from those who study it and try to help, rather than those who actually live it. Therefore, I wanted to be co-creating this research with my clients and to engage the greater community with what they themselves had to share.