During autumn 2012, the KO-KOO-MO Block Theatre enriched the everyday life of nearly a hundred children, young people and adults in various institutions. The target groups included special needs children, elderly people, and youths in child protection centres. In conjunction with the institutional visits, the project studied the use of a combination between puppet theatre and art therapy. After the performances, workshops were conducted using blocks to explore such themes as family, home and childhood. The team succeeded in recruiting Matthew Bernier, an art therapy expert and pioneer from the United States to participate in the project. Associate professor in art therapy, Bernier spent a week in Finland in September 2012 as a guest of the Block Theatre and accompanied the project on their tour of institutional visits. The project also included a seminar with Finnish and international experts on the theme of puppetry and art therapy. Matthew Bernier gave a summary of his observations and experiences of institutional visits with the Block Theatre.

In the institutions, the Block Theatre was received with curiosity, initially even scepticism. How could blocks be used to make theatre? Would the audience be able to focus on a non-verbal performance that lasts nearly half an hour? How do these blocks differ from ordinary building blocks used in children’s play? The answers to these questions surprised everyone, even the visitors themselves. The audiences watched the performances with rapt attention, living with the characters. The workshops produced unexpected group formation, immersion and exchanges of ideas. A set of blocks was donated to each institution to enable residents to continue the process begun in the workshop either independently or under guidance.

The workshops explored the blocks as geometric, abstract objects: what they are in themselves, but also what associations they give rise to in different positions and configurations by themselves or in groups. The workshop participants built sculptures alone, in pairs or in small groups, and discussed the results collectively. Through assignments, they created figures and worlds of their own with the blocks. In the hands of children, the blocks began telling stories. Young people used the blocks to create narrative content on themes they were unwilling or unable to verbalise otherwise. For the senior citizens, the blocks provided a means to build concrete mental images.

Many therapeutic qualities of the Block Theatre also emerged during the project. Being neutral, the blocks give builders a free hand to express anything they like. The block do not impose any preconceived ideas regarding such things as gender or whether a block represents something positive or negative. Users can ascribe such qualities freely as they choose, and to decide what things they want to tell with the blocks. In the case of youths who were accustomed to working alone, the blocks encouraged them to collaborate and establish social contacts. The blocks helped senior citizens to perceive and process memories, enabling some even to find new memories from the recesses of their minds. The blocks also enabled people to overcome verbal obstacles, social insecurity and disruptive behaviour.

The Block Theatre workshop provided the institutions with new tools for and perspectives on creativity, problem solving and fostering a spirit of community. The visits left a more or less permanent trace in the everyday routines of the institutions. As every institution received a set of blocks for their own use, the Block Theatre continues to live in them in different ways, depending on how actively the staff and residents use the blocks. The project will therefore in all probability have an impact also in the longer term. Particularly for the children and youngsters, the visit of the Block Theatre may have created important memories that they can return to when they are older.

The final report of the project can be read online at (palikkateatteri_hankeraportti2012). Linkki