How can healing be a form of story sharing? Looking at the intersections of ritual and performance, Artist-Investigators Meghan Elizabeth and SK Kerastas (now the Artistic Producer at Cal Shakes!) combined their backgrounds in theater and plant medicine to offer a curriculum called SPIRIT MOVES to Amber’s Group, a weekly support group for trans women of color funded by the San Francisco Department of Health’s Transgender Health Services.
Bringing together grounding, meditation, and plant healing over a shared space of food and ritual, SPIRIT MOVES supplemented the group’s purpose as a space for self-expression and healing.
Watch below to hear how Meghan and SK talk about the power of passing down the stories and knowledge that come from surviving, and from healing ourselves.
Want to see photos from the workshops? Check out more from SPIRIT MOVES here.
Full Transcript of Video:
SK: Hold on. Can we just start over?
INTERVIEWER: Oh yes, you can.
SK: Hi, I’m SK Kerastas.
MEGHAN: Hi, I’m Meghan Elizabeth.
SK: And we…
SPIRIT MOVES. The Artist-Investigator Program at California Shakespeare Theater investigates how the tools of theater artists can be applied outside the rehearsal room.
Cal Shakes 2015-2016 Artist-Investigators Meghan Elizabeth and SK Kerastas combined theater and plant medicine to support the self-expression and healing of Amber’s Group, a trans women of color support group funded by the San Francisco Department of Health’s Transgender Health Services.
SK: I ran a queer youth theater program in Chicago for 5 years, and that’s actually how we know each other, we met collaborating. Meghan was working at an organization called the Broadway Youth Center, and I would go…I think we collaborated on some workshops and did a couple of exchanges where the young people were working with…met each other. And that was kind of my angle and my focus and my passion.
MEGHAN: And I’m a former youth organizer…and I’ve done a lot of youth programming, different age ranges. And I’m also a current herbal student, or aspiring herbalist. My work was, has really been about merging sort of like, my political organizing field with myself as a healer. Well, we’re really exploring this concept as healing as a method of story sharing. And looking at how folks can share their stories differently when they’re operating through a space of healing ritual and… more specifically, ritual as performance. We did a lot of background work in things like, this is how you tincture a plant, this is how you make salve out of lavender. And through like, those practices of learning how to make medicine, we got to explore how people like to use medicine, and what sort of like, rituals or spiritual components that they bring to the table when they’re healing themselves.
SK: Well first of all, we didn’t really do any programming for…5 weeks…maybe?
MEGHAN: No, no, no, no…
SK: 4 weeks?
MEGHAN: More like 4 weeks.
SK: 4 weeks.
SK: We would just go, and share space. The group we were working with was a like, support group, that meets every week for trans women of color. We did four different Fridays of just…you know, chilling, checking in, just like everyone else did, getting a lot of advice, and uh…and eating. Sharing food together. And I think a lot of listening, too. We were really, in addition to relationship building in that time we were also like, okay, here’s the vibe of this place, here’s like… You know, it’s really different when you’re working with people who’ve like, shown up for rehearsal, vs. folks who are like, coming to a space to eat and get some basic needs met. You know, Meghan would like, open up the session with like, a nice grounding, usually just like some…guided meditation real quick, and then we would do, kind of like, half focused on medicine and half focused on like, some artistic practice. Meghan would introduce the plant, talk about its healing properties, and the group would like, make something together.
MEGHAN: The energetics of the plants would definitely shift the energetics of the story sharing, and I think that that happened…like a physiological medicine way and in like that if you huff enough lavender, your body will start to calm down. Or if you drink enough chamomile tea, you will, your cells will start to feel rejuvenated. And also in more of just like a, sort of magical way too in that like, if we did a practice of trying to do a movement that embodied what we associated the healing properties of rose to be, over and over again, those movements and those stories and those properties, would come out in how they chose to talk about their lives.
SK: Yeah that jasmine day was like…
MEGHAN: That got a little wild. Lavender.
SK: Oh my god, you remember! Really incorporating a lot of the elements and like, what people received from the plants into a performative space.
MEGHAN: Well then, we would close usually with…they would go into check-in.
SK: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MEGHAN: Which was also really insightful to see the ways in which people were checking in before our program would start vs. after they had been…after they had made some medicine and talked about healing value, talked about…healing rituals and then would check in again, their check-ins would shift. Drastically, sometimes.
SK: Yeah. I just remember, you know like the… people really connecting to what the plants were offering too. Like on the rose day we were talking about sort of the…harshness….as well as like, the harshness of the thorns as well as the softness of the petals of love. It’s like, the duality of love, right? And we checked in for like an hour that day, like everyone had a story, you know what I mean? Everyone wanted to talk about their ex, like everyone was just, you know…sharing in this really beautiful way.
MEGHAN: For example, one of the women in the program invited us, on the, I think our second to last week
SK: Oh, yeah…
MEGHAN: …of the program, to come see her garden. She had a plot, as well as a chicken coop in a community garden space, and so, there was also this thing, there was like this discovery that happened with her where it was just like, oh she already had so much information about plants, and…was already using plants to provide like, a healing ritual for her already. Probably about after week 9…I think is when realized that…it was time to do something more intimate. So, we started working, as SK was saying, with four women, and we met an hour before, their main drop-in group….and would just like focus on them and their specific stories and the way they wanted to tell it and…if their stories related to any of the plants we had been learning about. With the plan of…we built a large altar space and…we made little healing bouquets for everyone in the group. We set up the chairs…and the women would come in, sort of one by one and…perform, like, a ritual storytelling and…also of plant honoring. So they would pick their specific plant up off of a larger altar. Tell their story while holding the plant, introduce the plant to the group, and then sit down and light a candle for the plant. And then…at the end…they ended their stories by blowing out the candles together. It was very like, spell-like. Their stories were like prayers in this way.
SK: And the women in the audience were like, crying when they were asking questions. Which was like, something that was part of that culture, lots of like, affirmations to each other, you know? But…you could just like tell that the audience…who were their peers and family, you know, were like, really moved…Yeah…
MEGHAN: Maybe even just to see like, such a tenderness and…and respect given to those stories by like, you’re holding the flowers, you’re standing in front of us, you have the candle, you’re taking your time with the story. And it’s not even a story they hadn’t heard before, you know…but it was just such a difference of telling it in this way where you come in and you’re like, having a day and you’re like, “Girl, let me just tell you what you just happened to me, like, da-da-da-da vs. like…”
SK: And someone’s interrupting you, or whatever…
MEGHAN: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
SK: One participant, she was probably the oldest…
MEGHAN: She was probably the oldest, yeah.
SK: And you know, in group…like, I don’t think she ever said a word. She like never, you know…if, if she was pressed to check-in, she would say, “Things are going great” and you know…
MEGHAN: ”I’m fine…”
SK: ”I’m great, moving along.” But within this group, she just like, blossomed and was one of like, I would say —
MEGHAN: The strongest.
SK: Yeah! Like her story was consistent, she really took direction well, and um…yeah, you could just see her opening up through the process.
MEGHAN: I’m really…I feel hungry to work with an elder community again. I think…coming from the Midwest…I’ve never really had that much access to…a queer community over the age of…30, I mean…. To be able to spend my Friday nights with…my reflections, you know, with these like…these femme queers Black women was really special. And just like, absolutely…something that I…I didn’t even realize that I didn’t have access to until this group.
SK: We put in so much time to build relationships with these folks, right to…almost to the point where we’re like starting to become this stable presence in that space, only then to like, leave it so I think being like conscious of those…those dynamics at play and like…how can we….keep a good thing going, as well. It’s a beautiful thing to hear from people who’ve been through it. Like, over and over and over again, and have so much to say about how they survived and how they learned. They said we were always welcome.
SK: Yeah, and that we were family.