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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 by Zdenka Fantlová published by McNidder & Grace brings to life the personal experiences of a Holocaust survivor to explore these issues and to initiate reflection, self-discovery and resilience.

Jane Arnfield, an Associate Professor at Northumbria University, has made a vast contribution to theatre practice and audience experience through her pioneering production The Tin Ring. The play was adapted from the book by theatre director Mike Alfreds and Ms Arnfield, and is performed by Ms Arnfield and produced by 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, research and collaborative work in Lodz, Poland, with the Institute of Sociology, University of Lodz, and Marek Edelman Dialogue Centre is furthering the analysis of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic past of the city.

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.  

To date, The Tin Ring has been seen by more than 10,000 audience members in 13 countries worldwide. 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.

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