This summer I’ve been honored to be a part of various educational events where I have facilitated Theater of the Oppressed workshops with people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. Facilitating workshops at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference in Berkeley, California as well as the Female Flava – Strength Conference, Project Morry’s monthly meetings and the World Day of Prayer in New York, gave me the opportunity to practice the technique and witness the transformative power it possesses.
Theater of the Oppressed is a series of techniques and tools developed in the 1960-70s by Brazilian artist, activist and director Augusto Boal, who used theater as a starting point to address social/political concerns by engaging both actors and non-actors in dialogue. The technique and theoretical framework encourages the individual and community to explore ways of undoing oppression through active participation, creating a physical language for liberation. Boal’s work has reached communities worldwide through books, workshops and conferences that have established Theater of the Oppressed Centers in many countries. For more information you can visit http://www.ptoweb.org/, among numerous other online resources.
I’m excited to share a slice of the workshop at the World Day of Prayer, which is a worldwide movement of Christian women of many traditions who come together to observe a common day of prayer each year, and who, in many countries, have a continuing relationship in prayer and service. This short video introduces the wide range of perspectives and spirit that each of these women brought to the room.
After playing several warm up games and establishing the language of Image Theater, we got into smaller groups to create short presentations. I asked the women to create a theatrical representation of a topic that was important in their communities. One group presented a piece that depicted women’s roles in the cycle of life, from infancy to old age. They showed that often times the people who nurture us, raise us, help us to learn and grow throughout our lives are women. The second group presented a scene about domestic violence and the power that solidarity, support and prayer have in healing both victims and perpetrators of abuse. The third group created a piece that represented the responsibilities that women have on a day to day, taking care of the family and home environment by preparing meals, helping children with homework and maintaining a healthy living space. These responsibilities sustain us everyday, but they go unnoticed and unrecognized by society at large. Last but not least, the fourth group presented a theater piece about women's roles in war which was largely based on political conflicts in Sri Lanka. Women in this group demonstrated the vulnerability of being in the midst of war but also the power possessed in a unified effort to create peace while embracing and humanizing those that carry out military violence. Although everyone spoke different languages and shared limited English, we found physical theater as the universal way of telling our stories.
It was truly an honor and privilege to work with these women and to see a glimpse of their realities in a sacred space and time that we created. I send prayers of strength to these women as they are actively involved in uplifting their communities on all levels of society, and I thank them again for everything they taught me. I would also like to thank Jennifer McCallum, Alison VanBuskirk and Elmira Nazombe for allowing me to be a part of this unique and wonderful event.*