Experiencing Emotions - Reflections on Unit 1 Workshops


In his lesser-known work, The Rainbow of Desire, Boal states his position on the relationship between theatre and therapy. One of the arguments laid out is the difference between the ‘theatrical stage’ and the ‘therapeutic stage’. When describing the therapeutic stage, Boal (1995:24) states: 

In living the scene, she is trying to concretise a desire; in reliving it, she is reifying it…not only what one wants to reify is reified, but sometimes also things that are there, but hidden.

Writing in a pre-pandemic era, Boal’s observation and analysis would have been based on physical, face-to-face workshops. The idea of delivering arts-based approaches to mental health via an online conference platform such as Zoom would have been unimaginable when Rainbow of Desire was published in 1995. The MAP at Home team delivered the first set of online workshops for community participants, teachers and healthcare workers in March 2021. In a post-workshop evaluation, a participant said the following:

I liked the emotion circle exercise because it led me to experience emotions and feelings, I never knew I had.

Whilst not making the claim that the workshop is complete proof of Boal’s claims, the experience and feedback of the participant provides a pointer to the potentials of delivering online psychosocial support through the arts. From the early experiences of the project, there are indications that a ‘therapeutic stage’ can be digital and enable a space for participants to reify conscious and unconscious emotions. This blog discusses the preliminary findings from the Unit 1 workshops that were facilitated by MAP master trainers and psychosocial workers in March 2021.

From Wednesday 24th – Saturday 27th March, the MAP at Home team delivered five workshops reaching 103 participants. The workshops took place in the following districts: Gicumbi, Kicukiro, Rwamagana, Rubavu and Huye. The participants consisted of teachers, healthcare workers and community participants. The first unit of the 12-unit series was delivered by district facilitation teams which consisted of MAP Master Trainers and Psychosocial workers from partnering organisation Uyisenga Ni Imanzi. Unit 1-Trust was developed by Professor Ananda Breed and Chaste Uwihoreye and bought together arts-based games with psychosocial therapeutic exercises. For further details of the games and exercises in Unit 1, please see here.


The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the use of digital platforms for educational, artistic and psychosocial support amongst other functions. This is best exemplified by the enormous growth of daily meetings taking place on Zoom; 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 compared to 300 million daily meeting participants in April 2020 (Business off Apps, 2021). As Kara, Çubukçuoğlub and Elçic (2020) state; ‘the global public use of digital technologies speeded up more than anyone could imagine before’. Whilst it appears that use of platforms such as Zoom is exponential, this does not necessarily equate to an equality of distribution. Whilst Rwanda boasts of advanced connectivity compared to its regional neighbours, there are great inequalities on a global scale. The most recent survey by the World Bank in 2017 found that 21% of Individuals use the internet whilst Global North states such as the US and Germany both register 88% (World Bank, 2017).


This is broadly representative of the divisions between high-income and low-income countries where internet usage and access are concerned. This experience was reflected in the build-up to the Unit 1 workshops with a mix of fear, joy and excitement being expressed by participants via their respective district WhatsApp groups. Most participants had never used Zoom before and a lot of time was given by the team to ensure technical training was provided beforehand. Whilst face-to-face workshops may solely rely on human capital for engagement, the digital workshop space is complex with a need for human, digital and economic capital. The purchasing of phones and monthly data bundles for participants was a prerequisite to overcome the issue of internet access that most participants encounter. A significant and anticipated learning from the workshops was the need for extensive preparation to ensure access.

Whilst research has shown that there are significant issues with replicating face to face experiences on a digital platform (Collective Encounters, 2020; Doughty, Francksen, Huxley & Leach, 2008:9), the blog will detail one experience that points towards the potential of developing an embodied digital space and issues that can result from such a space. On Saturday 27th March, a workshop was held with participants from Huye district. Whilst reflecting on the emotion circle exercise, a range of participants expressed how they felt that they did not simply ‘show’ but ‘felt’ the emotion. It was recognised by participants that the expression and embodiment of emotions enabled a collective experience:

I loved the emotion circle exercise the best because all day I was stressed with work. However, seeing everyone express the emotion of happiness put me in a good mood, this shows that your friends and family can lift you up when you are feeling down.


Whilst positive benefits are gained from such an embodied engagement when discussing emotions such as happiness, the exercise also focuses on anger, confusion and grief. Personifying such emotions led to one participant stating the following:

…some of the emotions that were being showcased were really triggering to me they took me back to a place and sadness.

The aspect of working at distance via digital platforms presents a strong challenge to elements of safeguarding and care when moments such as above occur. The MAP at Home team has a rigorous safeguarding protocol with district psychosocial workers providing follow up phone calls to community members who are receiving psychosocial support as well as a clear referral process with each participant having the number of their district psychosocial worker. If a participant does require or has requested support, psychosocial workers will conduct face to face meetings with the support of psychosocial and safeguarding lead, Chaste Uwihoreye. This process was followed throughout the first workshop and provided support to participants who requested support.

Whilst the first workshops are not representative of an entire process and it is hard to make comparisons, the first series of workshops in the MAP at Home project have highlighted significant learning. These include the benefits and issues of an embodied digital space, the logistics of digital safeguarding and the prerequisites for delivering a digital arts-based workshop.  Returning to Boal, the notion of a therapeutic stage appears to have plausibility within a covid-19 digital era as demonstrated by feedback from community groups. The longevity and continuity of such a practice is an aspect that will be closely observed in future workshops.

This blog was co-authored by C. Uwihoreye, Q. Mukagitore & M. Elliott


Boal, A. (1995) The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. London: Routledge

Business of Apps (2020) Zoom Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020). (Online) Available at: https://www.businessofapps.com/data/zoom-statistics/ (Accessed May 1st 2021)

Collective Encounters (2020) Delivering Participatory Theatre During Social Distancing: What’s Working?(Online) Available at: https://collective-encounters.org.uk/library-resource/delivering-participatory-theatre-during-social-distancing-whats-working/?portfolioCats=60 (Accessed 28th April 2021)

Doughty, S.,Francksen, K., Huxley, M & Leach, M. (2008). Technological enhancements in the teaching and learning of reflective and creative practice in dance. Research in Dance Education. 9. Pp. 129-146.

Kara, N., Cubukcuoglu. B and Elci, A. (2020) Using social media to support teaching and learning in higher education: an analysis of personal narratives: Association for Learning Technology Journal. Research in Learning Technology. 28.

World Bank (2017) Individuals using the internet (% of population) – Rwanda. (Online) Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.USER.ZS?locations=RW (Accessed May 1st 2021)



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