In March 2021, the organisation of the Ministry of Culture of Portugal Directorate-General for the Arts (DGARTES) 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 that were, and still are, 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 funding resulted from a partnership with the P28 association.
The Hearing Voices Project, produced by Marionet, resulted from this funding, with the partnership of the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, the Hearing Voices Movement and Radio Aurora from the Júlio de Matos Hospital. The goal was to give visibility and contribute to the enlightenment of the experience of hearing voices that other people do not hear, so as to reduce the stigma surrounding it.
The Hearing Voices Project took on the commitment to artistically approach the experience of hearing voices, portraying its meaning, sensory perception, changes through life, periods of crisis, but also alternative ones, and its place in a self-narrative.
In terms of social intervention, the project contributes to raise awareness of 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 raising awareness of a variety of different 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 special programs on the topic were broadcasted in the podcast of Radio Aurora – A Outra Voz, as well as a set of opinion texts 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 followed: interviews were made with voice hearers, as well as 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 deliberately 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 of these inner voices, and those who hear them, appear here in leading roles, in a fiction inspired by realities that often overwhelm us.
THE SOUND INSTALLATION
A sound installation was simultaneously created and first presented to the public from November 25th to December 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, that culminated in the performance “Countless Voices“, as part of a wider project called “Hearing Voices“. 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 installation was never meant to be a faithful or realistic depiction of what it is to hear voices. It was never aimed at portraying the people deal well with their voices nor those who, on the other hand, wish to silence them. “Can you hear me?” was born from the multiple heard voices that came together to breed life into this project. From a question that, among the 17209 words of the play’s script, disquieted the author of the installation, 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 of Informal Caregivers), Shenia Karlsson (Black Women’s Institute in Portugal), and was moderated by Rita Alcaire of Centre for Social Studies (CES).
On July 7th, 2021, the SHARP Talk took place, through 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 the CES“, within the 16th Cycle for Young Scientists, with Ana Cordeiro, President of the CES Ethics Committee, where they spoke about ethical issues in social science research, as well as the “Hearing Voices” Project.
Regarding the cycle of talks this project generated, a post-show talk was also held on the 28th of November 2021. The goal was to create a space where the artistic and research teams of the “Hearing Voices” Project could talk about the research and learning process that led to the show. The talk was titled “Let the Airplane through” and counted with the presence of all the project’s partners, as well as the audience.
Rádio Aurora, from Júlio de Matos Hospital, produced five podcasts as part of the “Hearing Voices“ Project, integrated in their usual weekly radio show, broadcasted in several national radio stations and also available online. In the first episode, Juš Škraban and Celina Vilas Boas, founders of the Hearing Voices Movement – Portugal, were 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 the turn of social worker Erika van Der Hakken, who works with voice-hearers. 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
ARTICLES IN P3
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 hearing voices other people do not is, of necessity, a problem, synonymous 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 much more common, and far 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 the Western population has the experience of hearing voices. However, when we focus on short or isolated experiences, that percentage grows exponentially, reaching, in 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 write 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 recognise 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 the people who hear voices and believe them. We shouldn’t doubt it just because it didn’t 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 sharing experiences and listening, and therefore a “different form of intensive care” closer to a patient’s therapy. This movement, with over 30 years of history, by opening up a sociability space free from the stigma associated with this and other misunderstood experiences, is inspiring 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 themselves in the shoes of those who do hear them. In an attempt to atenuate this difficulty, we tried to approach that reality, throughout the whole creation process of the play, by listening to and questioning 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 THE STUDENTS OF ART STUDIES FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF COIMBRA
Students of the Bachelor degree in Art Studies, under the guidance of Mário Montenegro, have publicly presented, on the 19th of May 2021, their Theatre Workshop works in articulation with Marionet’s Hearing Voices project, on the experience of hearing voices, resulting in this “Voices“.