In March 2021, Direção-Geral das Artes (General Directory for the Arts of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture) supported 19 artistic projects within the framework of the Arts and Mental Health Programme. This programme aimed to create synergies, through the arts, that would help meet the challenges which were, and are still, faced in the field of mental health in Portugal, and to promote the struggle against the discrimination and stigma generally associated with mental illness. This line of financing resulted from a partnership with the P28 association.
The Hearing Voices Project, produced by Marionet, resulted from this financing, with the partnership of the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, the Hearing Voices Movement and Radio Aurora of the Júlio de Matos Hospital. The goal was to give visibility and offer some enlightenment on the experience of hearing voices other people do not, so as to help reduce the stigma surrounding it.
The Hearing Voices Project took on this commitment to artistically approach the voice hearers’ experience, portraying its significance, sensory perception, changes through life, periods of crisis, but also of alternatives, and their place in a narrative of the self.
In what concerns social intervention, the project makes a contribution in sensitizing for the experience of hearing voices and the diverse ways in which this experience is lived and understood, fighting stigma and discrimination and fostering positive responses to related experiences, by bringing awareness to a variety of ways of dealing with harsh or confusing voices, and promoting safe spaces for sharing.
THE PROJECT AND ITS PARALLEL VOICES
What was proposed, then, was the creation and public performance of a theatre show, that would promote reflection on the experience, together with other initiatives, disseminating the topic widely. Complementarily, a sound installation was created from the Countless Voices show; several round tables were held on the theme; several programs were created and broadcast in Rádio Aurora- A Outra Voz‘s regular podcast, and a number of personal articles were published in P3, a section of the Público newspaper.
The project resulted in the creation of a show promoting reflection on the hearing voices experience. A research-based theatre methodology was used: interviews were made to voice hearers, as well as to caretakers, from which the show’s dramaturgy was created.
As a collective art form, Theatre results from the gathering of a variety of artistic visions, which we purposefully exacerbated in building this show. Thus, the scenes composing it result from a multiplicity of voices, and reflect different perspectives and sensibilities regarding this reality. The intimate discourses uttered by these voices and those who hear them, take the leading roles here, in a fiction inspired by realities which often overwhelm us.
A sound instalation was simultaneously created and first presented to the public from November 25th to Dezember 10th 2021, in Teatro da Cerca de São Bernardo.
“Estás a ouvir-me?” (“Can you hear me?”) is a sound exercise devised from the theatre show on the experience of hearing voices. Throughout 2021, Marionet developed a research, reflection and discussion process, which culminated in the performance of the show “Countless Voices“, as part of the wider-ranging “Hearing Voices Project“. This sound exercise was faced from the get go, just like the play, with the primordial difficulty of presenting a reality this diverse by those who have never experienced it.
For this very reason, this sound instalation was never meant to be a faithfull or realistic depiction of what it is to hear voices. It was never aimed at portraying the people who have no trouble dealing with their voices nor those who, on the other hand, would rather silence them. “Estás a ouvir-me?” was born from the multiple heard voices that came together to breed life into this project. From a question that, out of the 17209 words in the play’s script, disquieted the author of the instalation, Sílvio Correia Santos.
- ROUND TABLES, SHARP TALK AND POST-SHOW TALK
On June 9th, 2021, the first online round table of the Hearing Voices Project took place. Titled “Hearing (other) voices: what futures for mental health in Portugal?“, it counted on the interventions of Allan Barbosa (Queer Tropical), Celina Vilas-Boas (Hearing Voices Movement Portugal), Maria (Sex Workers Movement), Rita Joana Pinheiro Maia (National Association for Informal Caretakers), Shenia Karlsson (Portuguese Institute for Black Women), and was moderated by Rita Alcaire of CES.
On July 7th, 2021, the SHARP Talk took place, in Zoom, titled “Are there human rights in psychiatry? Mental health and social justice on the crossroads“. The talk was held by the Centre for Social Studies’ researchers Sílvia Roque and Tiago Pires Marques. On October 20th, 2021, Rita Alcaire and Tiago Pires Marques participated in the Round Table “Ethics and Research in CES“, within the 16th Cycle for Young Scientists, with Ana Cordeiro, President of CES’ Ethics Committee, where ethical issues in social sciences’ research was discussed, as well as the “Hearing Voices Project“.
Concerning the cycle of talks this project generated, on November 28th 2021, a post-show talk was also held. The goal was to open a space where the artistic and technical teams of the “Hearing Voices Project” could talk about the research and learning process leading to the show. The talk was titled “Let the Airplane through” and counted on the presence of all of the project’s partners, as well as the public.
Rádio Aurora, of the Júlio de Matos Hospital, created five podcasts in relation to the “Hearing Voices Project“, within their usual weekly radio programme, broadcast in several national radios and also available online. On the first episode Juš Škraban and Celina Vilas Boas, founders of the Hearing Voices Movement Portugal, are interviewed. The two-part interview with nurse Roberta Machado was broadcast in the second and third episodes of the podcast. In the fourth episode it’s social assistant Erika van Der Hakken’s turn. The fifth episode will be broadcast soon.
Episode 34 (September 30th 2021), with Hearing Voices Movement Portugal
Episode 35 (October 7th 2021), with Roberta Machado – part I
Episode 36 (October 14th 2021), with Roberta Machado – part II
Episódio 41 ( November 18th 2021), with Erika van Der Hakken
Thanks to the partnership with P3, a section of Público newspaper, six articles were also published, written by members of the various partner institutions.
Celina Vilas-Boas, of the Hearing Voices Movement Portugal, May 12th 2021
“There is an apparent consensus that listening to voices other people do not is, of necessity, a problem, synonimous not only with madness, but also violence, that supposed danger justifying the use of all means to suppress them and/or distance the individual from a social life. The fact is that these experiences are more common, and quite more diverse than we tend to imagine.
Rita Alcaire, of the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, May 26th 2021
Recent research shows that about 4% of western population has the experience of hearing voices. However, when we focus on short or isolated experiences, that percentage grows exponentially, reaching, on some research on specific populations (on college students, for example), values as high as 40 to 80%.
Nuno Geraldo, of Marionet, August 13th 2021
And the challenge is to writte without turning a blind eye to the difficulties of those who hear them and without reducing them to some symptom of mental illness. But rather to open expression spaces for both voices and hearers. The difficulty is to find the voices and the words in me that those who hear voices can recognize as their own.
Rádio Aurora – The Other Voice, October 10th 2021
Hearing voices, one way or another, is a natural thing, just like having a mental illness… it can happen to anyone. We should listen carefully to and believe the people who hear voices. We shouldn’t doubt it just because it didn0t happen to us.
Tiago Pires Marques, of the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, December 5th 2021
The Hearing Voices Movement offers a space for listening and sharing experiences, and therefore a “different form of intensive care” closer to a patient’s therapy. This movement, with over 30 years’ history, by opening up a sociability space free from the stigma associated with this an other misunderstood experiences, is inspiring of the attitude needed for a more inclusive society.
Mário Montenegro, of Marionet, February 17th 2021
It is hard, for those who do not hear voices, to put oneself in the shoes of those who do hear them. In an attempt to atenuate this difficulty, we tried to aproach that reality, throughout the whole creation process of the play, by listening to and asking questions of those who live with it, and imagining the circumstances in our life-experiences that allow us to realize what that experience might be like.
- “VOICES”, BY STUDENTS OF THE ARTISTIC STUDIES DEGREE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF COIMBRA
Students of Artistic Studies Degree, under the guidance of Mário Montenegro, have publicly presented, on May 19th 2021, their Theatre Workshop exercises in articulation with Marionet’s Hearing Voices project, on the experience of hearing voices, resulting in this “Voices“.