Public Creative Space

Generally speaking, there seems to be a general lack of opportunities for meaningful social interactions between members of a same or diverse community. It is in this context that the idea of the public creative space was born. A public creative space is a social encounter of individuals coming together to discuss, explore and reflect on issues affecting their social lives. It facilitates the expression, exchange and confrontation of personal and social experiences in the context of a group. Most importantly, it is an attempt to creatively develop social and cultural dialogue between individuals within and across communities through artistic expression. It is a praxis that reconnects personal experience to collective experience, a relational space that ‘contains the tension between the needs of self and other’ (Froggett, 2008). It is also a praxis where the therapist reclaims his/her social role and makes use of his/her skills and knowledge to facilitate a process of personal and social transformation.

The Public Creative Space is structured around the notions and the use of story, body and space.


Stories are the backbone of our existence. Our personal stories make us who we are. No one will ever share a story similar to our own. Stories are fundamentally different from each other. Telling our stories is therefore a process of affirmation and validation of who we are, giving form to our world. ‘The very act of speaking one’s story publicly is a move toward subjecthood, towards agency, with political implications’, writes Cohen-Cruz (2006). But storytelling is also a communicative process, a process of exchange with other stories, where for it to work there must exist a mutual acceptance that any stories are as valid as our own. In addition, the process of sharing stories will create possibilities for relatedness and bring about a sense of community, not a restricted consensual community, but a community able to embrace its own complexity and to recreate itself. Stories are therefore not only the backbone of our individual existence, but also of our collective existence.    


Human experience is primarily an embodied experience and our body remains our first mode of relatedness to the world and others. The world opened itself through our senses, and through our senses it continues to be a subject of wonder. A child starts exploring the outside world through his body. His body teaches him pain, pleasure, yearning, tiredness, sadness and many other feelings. Our bodies have been storing memories, information and relational experiences of others well before we were capable of articulating these into any sort of language, and our bodies continue to do so throughout life. ‘The body remembers’ writes Babette Rothschild (2003). In a very similar way, Jacques Lecoq writes that ‘the body knows things that the head doesn’t know yet’ (my translation from Lecoq, 1997, 22). In the Poor Theatre of Grotowski (1991), the artistic effort is to attend to the body and to ‘let it speak’, having eradicated it from unnecessary ‘blocks’. The body is also a source of knowledge. The ‘political body’ translates the ways in which our body has absorbed the cultural, social and political context in which we live. Boal also sees the body as ‘the primary locus of the ideological inscriptions and oppressions’ (Auslander, 1994, 124). Attending to the body means engaging with a wider experience that has been gained throughout our live. It also means creating physical possibilities where our relationships with others can become different and where our understanding of others can reach new meanings.


If story and body are essential parts of our social and cultural experience, so is the space in which we live and that we share with others (or dispute with others). Space is not an infinite, unlimited and indefinable entity. Space is socially defined like any other areas of human experience. Urban spaces, for instance, are social spaces organised around some very specific values and reflecting specific views on social relations. The way we organise the space will determine the way we interact with one another and who we will be interacting with. This is true for any sort of space, from public space to office space. Spaces are political stakes with important effects on social and human relations. Reclaiming space, occupying space, invading space are serious political statements. Like Popen writes, ‘space shapes sociality in powerful and substantive ways’ (Popen, 2006). Cultural spaces have also different connotations, from segregation and division to dialogue and tolerance.

At the intersection between story, body and space (each capturing and expressing fundamental aspects of our relational experience), lies a space of possibility. This is where I locate the public creative space as a space of dialogue and interaction potentially leading to a greater awareness of ourselves in our relationships with others and of our ability to live with one another. This is fundamentally an in-between space. A space where different (sometimes oppositional) worldviews meet and are put in relation to each other. And it is from that relation only that something new could emerge. The concept of in-betweeness is familiar in theatre and ritual studies. In rituals, in-betweeness is a liminal space (Turner, 1969) or transitional space where new states of consciousness emerge without having reached any new fixed form yet. In-betweeness in theatre has been described by Boal as ‘metaxis’, or a ‘space for interplay’ (Linds, 2006, 114) between real and imaginative material. It is a space where the ambivalence between what is and what is not (or not yet) can live. Fischer-Lichte (2009) argues that in-betweeness in performance is particularly useful to examine processes of cultural exchange. She writes that in performance, new forms of social co-existence are tried and tested. In-between spaces, argues Homi Bhabha (1994), are cultural ‘interstices’ where identities, definitions and certainties can be (re)negotiated. Bhabha describes moments of in-betweeness as ‘moments of aesthetic distance’, possibilities of dynamic mutual engagement between ‘me’ and ‘not me’.


Auslander P. (1994), Boal, Blau, Brecht: The Body. In: M. Schutzman & J. Cohen-Cruz (eds.), Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy and Activism. London: Routledge, 124-133

Bhabha H. (1994), The Location of Culture. London: Routledge

Cohen-Cruz J. (2006), Redefining the Private: From Personal Storytelling to Political Act. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 103-113

Fischer-Lichte E. (2009), Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between. New Theatre Quarterly, 25 (4), 391-401

Froggett L. (2008), Artistic Output as Intersubjective Third. In: S. Clarke, H. Hahn, P. Hoggett (eds.), Objects Relations and Social Relations. London: Karnac, 87-111

Grotowski J. (1991), Towards a Poor Theatre. London: Methuen

Lecoq J. (1997), Le Corps Poétique. Arles: Actes Sud

Linds W. (2006), Metaxis: Dancing (in) the In-Between. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 114-124

Popen S. (2006), Aesthetic Spaces / Imaginative Geographies. In: J. Cohen-Cruz & M. Schutzman (eds.), A Boal Companion: Dialogues on Theatre and Cultural Politics. London: Routledge, 125-132 

Rothschild B. (2003), The Body Remembers. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

Turner V. (1969), The Ritual Process. Chicago: Aldine

Author: J. F. Jacques

expressive arts therapist, clinical supervisor, somatic practitioner, consultant, author, trainer

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