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Using Creative Expression To Manage Grief

In March of 2014 my mother died very soon after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was a tremendously robust person in many ways; a pioneer, very funny and a close friend who I deeply loved, respected and continue to miss every day. Later that year, my colleague and close friend Jose also lost his mother very suddenly.

Having gazed at each other in disbelief for some time, we made the decision to try and make sense of our loss through our theatre company Moving Pieces. We set up the company as an alternative mental health provision to enable people to explore theatre-making, storytelling and physical movement for therapeutic value and enhanced wellbeing. Our creative workshops guide people though the process of creating their own stories that can be used to reflect on personal experiences and deep-felt emotions, so it felt apt to apply this process to our coinciding bereavements.

One of our initial acknowledgements was that grief affects everyone in different ways. We found ourselves on discrete islands within the space, our worlds polarised as were our methods of managing loss. Any performance that we were to create had to reflect these two varying experiences.

From improvising on our interactions and how both our characters might avoid meeting the reality of loss, the stories of Lily and Paco began to emerge. For me, Lily revisits my upbringing in Wales, drawing upon the Welsh landscape to explore a longing to be back home close to my parents’ initiative, to leave London in the 70s and become self-sufficient farmers. The mountain becomes like another parent, a place of safety and return. For Jose’s character Paco, a Spanish immigrant, the mountain holds more practical significance. It is the tangible comforts of having a picnic, grounded by the close proximity of his chair and picnic hamper, yet also an obstacle to nourishment and the threat of wild boar…

Although our subject is as serious as it is sorrowful, we found exploring all aspects of our experience including the use of comedy created breathing space and relaxation. We made a decision to devise and perfrom the show through theatre clown, a particular form of physical theatre that allows the performer to reveal all the emotions that they are experiencing.

Including laughter enabled us to be as honest and as full-sized as possible. We wanted to show that there shouldn’t be any embarrassment about being open about all the different feelings you may have whilst grieving.

What we found through this creative process is that grief explodes assumptions, beliefs, positions, certainties, perspectives, and pulls at the collusive glue of relationships. But in doing so, it can create an opportunity to begin again, to reassemble and re-form. After retreating into their separate worlds, Lily and Paco meet, surrendering to their need for each other, concluding it’s much more difficult to get through this alone.

The finished show, that is now known as ‘Total Eclipse’, enabled us to move through these different stages of our emotions, giving us space to reminiscence on memories of our mothers but also reflect on how sudden loss had impacted on our sense of self and our relationships with others. It was through recognising this and connecting with our feelings through creativity and self-expression that we found this immensely valuable contribution that theatre-making can bring to wellbeing during grief.

Moving Pieces are holding an 8-week evening course, Stories from the Body, starting on 29th January which will guide you through the process of creating your own performed story with specific benefits for mental health and wellbeing. For more information and to book your place, email Charlie

Authors Bio


Charlie Blowers is Founder and Director of Moving Pieces, an innovative mental health provision combining arts psychotherapy, physical theatre and body-based approaches to protecting health and wellbeing. The company offers workshops, seminars and training to artists, theatre makers, healthcare workers, therapists, and counsellors who may be helping clients to manage loss, trauma and grief. Charlie is also a UKCP registered psychotherapist and clinical supervisor with over 18 years’ experience of clinical practice working with people experiencing emotional distress.

If you work with those who are grieving and would like to book a performance of Total Eclipse or theatre-making workshops with Moving Pieces, please find more info via their website or get in contact Charlie via email or Twitter

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