Jacques, Jean-François

Identification, catharsis and aesthetic distance in the performance of lived experience

Jean-François Jacques

This paper investigates the healing and transformative potential of the performance of lived experience in dramatherapy by particularly focusing on the relational dynamic between the performer and the spectator / witness. The paper aims to discuss how the encounter with an other, as performer within the shared space of the performance of lived experience, provides renewed ways of understanding oneself as witness. It argues that a recognition of and engagement with otherness and difference is an inescapable condition for self-actualisation. In the light of the theme of the conference, the paper aims at exploring how the relationality inherent in the performance of lived experience enables the access to unknown truths and the unveiling of unsuspected imaginaries.       

The paper is based on the discussion of the findings of a performance-based research investigating the production of meaning in autobiographical performance in dramatherapy. One of the research findings reveals how the process of witnessing in autobiographical performance enables the connection with oneself through the connection and identification with the performed lived experience of others. This identification results in a singular process of transformation and catharsis described as the unlocking of emotional and embodied states. The paper will particularly attempt to understand this phenomenon by suggesting how the process of identification is regulated through the aesthetic distance of the performance to create possibilities for renewed awareness, knowledge and change. The paper will make use of visual extracts of the research to illustrate the discussion.

Finally, the paper will envisage how the outcomes of the research study point towards new fields of practice and research in dramatherapy whereby the performance of lived experience can effectively support dialogue and understanding between individuals and between communities.



I am a dramatherapist and clinical supervisor working in a community adult mental health service in the NHS in Hertfordshire (UK). I have completed a PhD at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge in 2019. My areas of research are in autobiographical performance, meaning, intersubjectivity and spectatorship. I am published in the field of dramatherapy and have presented at conferences nationally and internationally. Recent publications include a chapter on ‘Intersubjectivity in Autobiographical Performance in Dramatherapy’ in the edited volume on The Self in Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), and a chapter on ‘Otherness and Meaning in Performance’ in the edited volume Cultural Landscapes in the Arts Therapies (ECArTE, 2017). Beside my work as a dramatherapist, I am also a community theatre director and a performance maker.


Recent Publications

Jacques J-F (2017). In Search of an Other: Otherness and Meaning in Performance. A Dramatherapy Perspective. In: Hougham, R., Pitruzzella, S. and Scoble, S. (eds), Cultural Landscapes in the Arts Therapies. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press

Jacques J-F (2017). A Relational Approach to Trauma, Memory, Mourning and Recognition through Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman. In: Auestad, L. (ed.) Shared Trauma, Silent Loss, Public and Private Mourning. London: Karnac

Jacques J-F (2016). Intersubjectivity in Autobiographical Performance in Dramatherapy. In: Pendzik, S., Emunah, R. and Johnson, R.D. (eds), The Self in Performance: Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, and Autoethnographic Forms of Therapeutic Theatre. London: Palgrave McMillan

Conference presentations:

2018: Last Tapes: Performance as Reflective Practice in Dramatherapy Research [Reflective performance]. Symposium on Practice as Research in the Performing Arts. University of Bedfordshire, Bedford. June 2018

2016: Autobiographical Dialogue in Performance [Conference paper]. Winter Conference of the British Sociological Association Auto/Biography Study Group. London. December 2016