Marina Pallarès-Elias

Turning ‘no’ to ‘yes’ – using theater to empower the powerless

10 min read
Credit: Acting Now © 2017

Alone. Helpless. Rejected.

These were feelings that engulfed the eleven-year-old Marina Pallarès-Elias when her mother died. Her life was swallowed by darkness that seemed to never end and she soon became accustomed to solitude. Loneliness took her to the streets. She was rarely in the classroom.

One day, a teacher at Marina’s school suggested that she join the theater club. It was ‘The Infinite Company’ which met twice a week. Marina had no prior experience in performing, but she decided to join.

The magic of theater immediately captivated her. She felt emotions released. It was liberating. Darkness converted into beauty. She felt safe. She felt like she could be herself and not be judged. She felt like she belonged.

After her first stage performance with the group in front of a real audience, Marina was overwhelmed. People clapped and smiled. They looked happy. She felt accepted. “They were admiring me for the first time in my life. I discovered, for the first time, something I could do to make people happy,” said Marina.

That was a life-changing moment. She found a new mission in life. She would use theater to help others the way it had transformed her. She would help others find their own voices through theater.

Pain and trauma are often-dealt topics in her theater group Acting Now, where she works with people with learning disabilities and mental health challenges, LGBTQ+ and refugee groups – those who are vulnerable, marginalized, and under-represented. Marina says her pain has allowed her to be more empathetic with the pain of others, especially those who are marginalized in society.

“Pain is universal. When one has felt and lived profound pain, such as what I lived in my own story, the pain of others is experienced in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood. My heart connects, my listening is activated, my attention is focused, and my creativity is sparked,” Marina says.

The theater of yes

It was back in 2004 that Marina started working with vulnerable groups – either socially, personally, or culturally. She felt their stories needed to be heard, even if they weren’t professional actors.

Ten years later, she headed to Cambridge, UK to study a master’s degree in dramatherapy at Anglia Ruskin University because she wanted to use theater as a tool to bring communities together. After completing it, Marina founded the company Acting Now to create theater works with people at risk of social exclusion.

Here, “Participants connect with their emotions and with themselves, see and accept who they are, and remove the masks they wear every day,” Marina says. Acting Now removes pity from the premises and instead empowers the powerless, using fragility as strength.

Marina developed her own methodology called ‘Theater of Yes,’ which is aimed to put the ‘yes’ before the ‘no.’ The patronizing, suppressing, condescending ‘no’s that have been imposed upon participants are cancelled out by the ‘yes’s – a series of optimism that will allow them to “value their past, confront their present and see new options for their future.”

Credit: Acting Now © 2015
How it works

Theater of Yes is about accepting, loving, and embracing yourself, focusing on the positive to cure the negative experiences of pain, trauma, oppression, or injustice. Exploration begins with beauty and love, before delving into the wounds. Individuals express their stories with their bodies with simplicity, they exercise with rhythms and connect with their emotions. Stories of pain and trauma are shared with honesty while the group listens and embraces with generosity.

As they expose their wounds to begin the collective healing process, they slowly unleash their masks. Beauty of the individuals are discovered through their stories and everyone is respected without judgement. The ‘yes’ empowers and liberates them from the ‘no’ imposed on them – the negative force that prevents them from growing as an individual.

Credit: Acting Now © 2015
Credit: Acting Now © 2017
Theater for social change

When the collective work is publicly staged, that’s when theatrical beauty becomes the catharsis for change. Spectators connect with the emotions of the protagonist and experiences cathartic moments during which prejudice is broken. In order to achieve this, excellence is required for the quality of the performance.

“To succeed in this revolution of discarding prejudices, it is absolutely necessary for the theatrical result to be excellent. We can only break prejudices and stereotypes if we are successful in moving the audience,” Marina says.

To Marina, theater is a powerful tool for change. It heals the pains of the wounded and melts the minds of the prejudiced. In the end, it brings therapeutic results on both ends.

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