Sunday, January 10, 2010
Today was our first day on the UPR campus, working in Dr. Rosa Luisa Marquez' theatre space with Julian Boal, joker and Theare of the Oppressed practitioner from France.
Julian began by giving a brief history of his involvement with the Theatre of the Oppressed movement, first becoming active after a trip to West begal, India, observing the work of Jana Sanskriti--20,000 peasants utilizing forum theatre to enlighten their people ten years ago. Since then, he traveled extensively with his father (Augusto Boal), working in a variety of contexts all over the world. He spoke of the start of the theatre of the oppressed movement, following an event where theatre actors enticed oppressed people in Brazil to be willing to "spill their blood to free the land," a step the actors themselves were not willing to do, which forced them to rethink their approach to working in theatre. The theatre of the oppressed handed over the theatrical means of production to the population, presenting a situation and asking the audience to consider how they might resolve it. This theatrical experience became a rehearsal for revolution, though Julian prefers to call it a rehearsal for change or transformation as revolution is often hard to come by.
Our activities with Julian were as follows:
1. Names X 3 – The group stands in a large circle with one person in the middle. The “it” person must say someone in the group’s name three times fast. If they succeed, they take the place of that person in the circle and the named becomes “it.” If the named person interrupts them by saying their name before they’ve completed the third time, the “it” person must go on to someone else.
2. Paced Names – The group walks around the space. The facilitator calls out a direction (1 name, 1 second; 2 names, 2 seconds; 3 names, 3 seconds – etc – up to the number of total participants—for our group, 26 names, 26 seconds) and the participants have to scurry about to say their name to as many people as directed and in the time allotted.
3. Passeo, Cabbanna, or Tempestado – as we did with Rosa Luisa in Cayey, the group works in triads where two clasp hands together and make a roof as the cabbana and one person crouches down in the space as the passeo (the person who lives in the house). If the “it” person calls “passeo,” all the passeos have to run to another cabbanna and the “it” person must try to get in one and become a passeo. If they fail, they are it again. If the “it” person calls “cabbanna,” all the cabbanna’s must separate an make new connections over an available passeo (unless the it person gets there first and someone else becomes “it”). Tempestado requires everyone to switch places/roles.
4. Complete the Image – similar to what we did with Rosa in Cayey, but a traditional twist. The group is divided into partners and they shake hands and freeze. Thereafter, they take turns disconnecting form their partner and reconnect in a new way (frozen image) that will suggest something new to a spectator. This new connection may be literal or not – as the participants see fit. As soon as your partner connects with you, you disconnect and form something new.
5. Image Theatre Demonstration--Create a Mode of Transportation – The group was divided into three groups and given approximately ten minutes to make a physical representation using only their bodies and verbal sounds to create a mode of transportation. Our groups chose Titanic, a tricycle, and a helicopter. For presentation, the group shows a frozen image to the audience which they must interpret (as anything – the topic is inconsequential) by taking guesses as to what else the image could be. The group then chooses one of these suggestions and animates it (carrying the queen, sado-masochism in a tree house – whatever it is). When the participants are clear about this alternative performance, the group performs their original idea (Titanic, tricycle, or helicopter—as we chose—but it’s up to the group to decide what they want to do.
6. Identifying Identity through Social Interaction—Each participant is given a name (either a real person or a societal title – Obama, God [I strongly suggest you not use this :-) ], Teacher, Student, criminal, Brad Pitt, etc) and they name is taped to their back so they do not know who they are. The participants walk through the space and it is their job to respond to the people as they encounter them in some physical way to show them who they are. This is a silent activity, but clever cues can help them—for instance, you can act like a paparazzi with Brad Pitt or come up with someway to pantomime his rainbow of children that he has with Angelina Jolie). When the participants begin to guess who they are based on how people are acting toward them, they should start acting like the person they believe they are. When everyone believes they have discovered who they are, they arrange themselves in a line so that the people with the most power are at one end, and those who have the least power are at the other. There are no right or wrong answers—particularly as no one is entirely sure of what their identity really is. When everyone is in line, the identities are revealed and adjustments are made to the line as the participants see fit, working toward a more ideal society.
7. Pass the Sound and Movement Combination – Everyone stands in a circle and closes their eyes. One person is in the middle and they make a sound and movement combination. The participants in the circle must then try to replicate that sound and movement, even though they haven’t seen it. Then, they open their eyes and do it a second time to see how the others have interpreted it. Then the person in the middle shows them what it actually was.
8. Focus the Sound and Movement Combination of images to male and female stereotypes and ideals – This followed the same directions as the previous activity except that the two circles were formed – one inside the other with the women segregated from the men. The men took turns in the middle making stereotypical sounds and movements that women are known to do and then vice versa. The women had to recreated the stereotypes the men provided and vice versa.
9. Building Improvisation from Sound and Movement Combinations of images of male and female stereotypes and ideals – After the previous activity, every individual came up with their own combination showing a stereotype of gender (men, then women, then a male ideal, and a female ideal) [it was ok if they referenced something from the previous activity]. Everyone took their pose of a stereotypical male and then the group divided into subgroups with other images similar to their own. Each subgroup showed their images individually and the spectators suggested titles for the images. The individual then chose one of these titles and added it to their image (they made the pose and stated the title). The subgroups showed their female sterotypes and received a title for them from the spectators. Now each individual had two stereotypes and two titles. The facilitator then asked the individuals to present their stereotype using the title from the opposite gender.
You’re confused – no? My female image looked like I was cradling a baby and my title was “Why won’t my baby stop crying?” My male image was a guy with his weight shifted to one leg, leaning slightly back and grabbing his crotch, with the title, “This is my power.” When I switched the titles, the guy holding his crotch and asking “Why won’t my baby stop crying” was interesting, but holding the baby and stating “This is my power” was UNBELIEVABLY BRILLIANT.
Of this work, Julian pointed out that there cannot be clear cut outcomes from a given activity. Overall, we do this work to engage with the participants. In some way this might help everyone to be a stronger member of the community and participate more fully, but the work has different meaning to each individual.
Oppression is mediated by culture, laws, etc. It is not on a person-to-person level, but on a systemic level. As such, it is never about the boss, but about capitalism. It is not about a racist person, but about colonialism and history. Even if you don’t experience oppression, that does not mean it does not exist and does not mean that we shouldn’t maintain solidarity with those that do. We are all workers. We may pay rent. We may be minorities. We may have some aspect of ourselves that we do not control which sets us apart from the mainstream. In some way, we are all oppressed. In this way, we do not work in theatre of the oppressed to help others—we do it to help ourselves—and encourage others to do the same.
Interesting quotes from a variety of sources:
“Maybe Bush is oppressed, but I don’t care.”
“The master is enslaved by the mastership.”
“The only way a policeman or a boss can help to fight the oppression they participate in as part of an oppressive collective is to quit their job.”