Theater of the Oppressed

I'm blogging on location from Chapel Hill, NC, where I've spent the afternoon and evening at at Theater of the Oppressed workshop. The Theater of the Oppressed uses theater as a tool for eradicating social injustice; it's linked to the ideas of Paolo Freire and pedagogy of the oppressed, ideas that propel my teaching. Although I'm usually all over experiences like this one, I have a few complaints--or maybe just cranky observations--about this one.

  1. It was interesting being a student, since I'm generally not in that position these days. I got some useful insights about my own classes. For instance, the guys leading this workshop seemed, at times, to want so badly to let everyone speak that they'd sacrifice momentum for the sake of inclusion. I do this, too. The problem is, when you're the student, you start getting bored, thinking, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard this before--let's keep moving!"
  2. Claire mentioned this recently: there are some kinds of scholarly writing (social science research, often) that stop at exactly the point where they're about to get interesting. They assemble a bunch of facts and then don't discuss what they mean, why they're there--the theory. I felt a bit like this today. We ran through hours of interactive theatrical games, and while they were fun, I kept thinking, "Okay, tell me how to use this in my class. And more importantly, how is this game going to help eradicate oppression?"
  3. And going along with #2, they got to the really, really interesting stuff at the very end, when we didn't have enough time to go into it as much as I would have liked.
But let me say something positive: the really, really interesting stuff was Forum Theater. The idea here is that the oppressed identify concrete situations in which their oppression is enacted. They act out one of these concrete situations--a situation that they don't have a solution for. After they act it out, they do it again, and anybody in the audience can say, "STOP" and intervene, taking the place of the oppressed character who is the protagonist and trying a new behavior to see what happens. Then you talk about it--all these Theater of the Oppressed exercises are about dialogue, not about producing a particular performance on stage.

In our class two people acted out a scene on a subway. A black woman was sitting in a row of six empty seats, and a white man walked in and sat next to her. Then the facilitator had them escalate the scene so that the woman got up and moved, and the man followed her. We talked about sexual harassment, rape culture, and white and male privilege. I stopped being a vaguely bored, increasingly hostile student during this discussion and was fully engaged--I could definitely see the political and pedagogical potential for this exercise.

1 comment:

The Mom said...

Sounds like it was a productive day for you. I've always said (or at least since quite a young age - before graduating from high school) that you can learn from seeing things done in ways you DON'T want as well as from ways you agree with. (Oops...ended a sentence with a preposition!) It's good to be in that student position now and then to keep yourself fresh.

I'm glad they got a little bit to the part you can see yourself using, though. That sounds very interesting. Let me know if you use it, and how it works for you.