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The adventure of encounters

Habitat et Humanisme was created in 1985 in Lyon by Bernard Devert, a real estate professional who became a priest. The idea was then to create a resistance movement to the housing crisis that relegated low-income populations to the first “ghetto districts” on the outskirts of the gentrified city centres. Since 1985, the Habitat and Humanisme federation has been on all fronts: innovative housing solutions, solidarity savings, care for vulnerable people and inclusion; it is an extremely dynamic association with 4,200 volunteers spread across 55 associations in France that manage 8,200 housing units and 40 nursing homes.

I got to know the Habitat and Humanism federation through my friend Carol Poméon, who has worked there for 20 years and is responsible for its development. Over these years, she told me about the life of the association: the flourishing ideas of Bernard Devert, the meetings at the Ministry of Housing, the technical subtleties of the building law but also and above all, the encounters with tenants, volunteers and co-workers.

Encounters….sparks of all possibilities, are the beating heart of Habitat and Humanisme and the 99 project as well. Indeed, the vitality of these projects are not based on the artificial merge of individuals but nurtured by the encounters of unique personalities. With this idea in mind, Astrid Perroy, in charge of H&H’s support center and I imagined this new 99 device.

99 meetings, 99 stories, a community

The goal of this new documentary theatre project is to write in collaboration an original play with 99 voices inspired by the life stories of the stakeholders of the Habitat & Humanism movement, and then stage a theatrical performance with them. These stories, memories and dreams of employees, volunteers and H&H tenants were collected as part of a writing project (called a “collection”) carried out in collaboration with the association Ce que mes yeux ont vu from September 2019 to January 2020. The collection of texts provides the foundation for the collaborative writing workshops to be held from March to May 2020. Writers from 5 regions of France will produce short monologues inspired by those stories.  In June, a polyphonic play with 99 characters according to the original format imagined by Geneviève FLAVEN will be composed. The play will be presented to the public with amateur actors and actresses, all members of Habitat & Humanisme during the festival “C’EST PAS DU LUXE! » in Avignon, end of September 2020.

February 2020: a day of preparation for writing workshops 99.

On February 19, I went to Lyon to facilitate a day of training & preparation of the writing workshops with 7 writing facilitators from all over France. For most of them, writing workshops are a regular practise, but the very specific creative constraints of the 99 device were enough to confuse them. How to approach the collection of stories that has been entrusted to us? How to handle this composite raw material? Is there any risk to betray the people who shared their stories? I’m trying to explain. Writing from a text creates a movement of both intimacy and distance. On the one hand, we get as close as possible to someone else’s reality, we understand it “from the inside” but on the other hand, this exercise of empathy also reveals our subjective perspective that interprets, resists and finds its way “by saying things differently”. Grabbing the story of others requires our presence, listening and responsibility and the acceptance of our limits. Just like an encounter.

THE 99 SURVEY (2014-2019)

What theater tells about transformation

At the end of 2019, 450 participants were invited to assess and share their experience from the previous editions of the 99 projects (2015-2019). From this survey, it appears that collaborative theatre does more than increase self-confidence, improve public speaking or help build great teams. It gives participants the power they need and increases the emotional agility in cooperation. A source of inspiration for anyone interested in transformation.

Let people gain the power that they need

Despite of their busy professional life (68% have a job), a majority of participants (57%) embraced multiple roles within the project: they acted AND interviewed, they sang AND wrote, they coached AND danced. They decide to do more. Why? Their motivation was driven by the attractive palette of experience designed by the project that meets their personal needs or challenges. Indeed, theatre is a formidable space for experimentation without danger. It provides a space to explore new territories of expression, to test new ideas and validate them immediately. Of course, it improves self-confidence and communication skills, listening, vocal projection or observation but more importantly, it gives participants the possibility to gain the power that they need. By making these resources available, participants take an active part in their own empowerment and transformation.

Diversity is the secret ingredient that makes cooperation work.

The # 1 benefit of the 99 project, identified by 69% of the participants, was to give them the opportunity to meet people from different horizons and feel part of a community. Theatre is by definition a collaborative work of different stakeholders who combine their creative ideas and abilities for the best outcome. To do that, participants take part in discussions, practices, feedbacks and of course the performance. But theatre does more than great team building. How?  Understanding and embodying characters allows participants to relate better to different points of view. It invites them to become aware of their inner diversity, value the uniqueness of others and thus train their empathy muscle and develop their emotional agility. Creating diversity is not a “politically correct” gadget but really the ingredient that drives the dynamics of cooperation.

Download the report (in English)

Best wishes
Geneviève Flaven

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