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Pioneering theatre project builds resilience and changes attitudes towards inequality

Cutting-edge theatre research is providing audiences worldwide with new opportunities to understand and remember the consequences of war, ethnic cleansing, persecution and population displacement. One such project, The Tin Ring, brings to life the personal experiences of a Holocaust survivor to explore these issues and to initiate reflection, self-discovery and resilience.

The Tin Ring performed by Jane ArnfieldJane Arnfield, an Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance and an Assistant Director of The Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families at Northumbria University, has made a vast contribution to theatre practice and audience experience through her pioneering production: The Tin Ring by Zdenka Fantlová. Adapted from the book by Mike Alfreds & Jane Arnfield. Performed by Jane Arnfield. Directed by Mike Alfreds. Designed by Imogen Clöet. Produced by The Forge & Human Remain. It tells the story of Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlová who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1922 and lived through the horrors of the Second World War, but kept hope as she held on to a tin ring, given to her by her first love, Arno. 

In association with The Forge, Ms Arnfield has created an education programme, Suitcase of Survival (SOS). This programme features panel discussions, film screenings and public engagement events, as well as lecture presentations and solo performances of The Tin Ring to explore the issues surrounding human rights, migration, asylum and peace.

Through the SOS initiative, schools have adopted arts and drama based approaches to help pupils explore scapegoating and political persecution and build personal resilience. Performance and testimony are key tools in the exploration and understanding of human rights, and in developing cultural and trauma resilience therapy. To this end, Ms Arnfield’s teaching and research has developed a distinct practice called (LMTM) Living Memorial Theatre Methodology (2018), forensically examining the similarities, differences between creating (auto) biographical theatre and Biographical Narrative Interviewing Methods (BNIM) Sociology and furthering the analysis of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic past of the city of Lodz in Poland. 

Academic research projects include commissions by international, cultural organisations, Marek Edelman Dialogue Centre, Lodz, Poland, Defiant Requiem Foundation, Washington DC, USA. Ms Arnfield originated LMTM to test methods of participatory engagement by adapting material from memoir, fiction, non-fiction, diaries, letters, objects into performances. 

As a Leverhulme Trust International Academic Fellow (2018/19) at the University of Lodz Centre for Biographical Research and Oral History in Poland, and a Visiting Professor (2020/21) Ms Arnfield developed her LMTM on hidden sites of cultural significance. Reconstructing sourced material into contemporary transcripts, play scripts, librettos, musical compositions, choreographed sequences. LMTM cultivates a process of de-centring, of viewing events from the perspective of others, not in a purely cognitive sense but at a more holistic, emotional level enabling audiences to ‘inhabit’ the original testimony. 

The impact of these projects is wide-reaching, having implications for developing pedagogies, theatre practice, audience experience, and beyond. An impact assessment of The Tin Ring and SOS, funded by the Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund, found that the initiatives had a positive impact on student researchers and other audience members. The Tin Ring not only raised awareness of the Holocaust but also led some respondents to consider the current refugee crises in Europe and elsewhere. Some respondents also noted that the play encouraged them to reflect on their individual experiences of tragedy.  

Arnfield’s Living Memorial Theatre Methodology (LMTM) was integrated into a programme at Marek Edelman Dialogue Centre Lodz, Poland commemorating the 75th memorial of the deportation of the Jews from Western Europe to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto (2016) and the 75th Commemoration of the Liquidation of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto (August 2019).  

The Tin Ring play (TheatreFilm) was funded by Arts Council England and premiered at The Lowry in Salford, UK. To date, it has been seen by more than 10,000 audience members in 17 (Spain Onati Basque Country has been added for 2022) countries worldwide and is used by Arts Council England as a national case study for best practice in attracting new and diverse audiences. It has also been performed at a private viewing at The Speaker's House in Westminster, London. The performance and its associated pedagogies has enabled organisations such as Imperial War Museum North, Marek Edelman Dialogue Center, The Defiant Requiem Foundation, Washington DC, and Czech Centre New York, to extend their research and raise awareness about the Holocaust. The Tin Ring play will also be archived at Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, for visitors to the museum to view.

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