In March 23-30, 2019 as part of the Polish NGO Trainers Association, I had the great pleasure to participate in the 8-day Theater of the Oppressed in Ulex Project training center run by the Col·lectiu Eco-Actiu organization, whose goal is to support organizations, activists, and people working for social change by providing them with tools and inspiration to act.
The training was conducted by two trainers from the English non-profit organization Reboot the Roots, which dedicates its work to building an inclusive society, and the is one of the main methods they use in their work.
The method itself is a very broad topic, but I would like to present in this text the three most important for me aspects of Theatre of the Oppressed, which I refer to when designing my trainings.
SPACE FOR IDEAS
It is important to understand what the Theater of the Oppressed is. Before training, I associated the name with such slogans as role-playing and skills training. Now when you ask me, I will tell you that this method is about:
- engaging people in dialogue concerning topics important to them,
- creating space which can hold different voices, points of views and proposing alternative scenarios,
- creating opportunities for trying different behaviors and exploring your ideas in a safe environment
Everything can be an idea - you can check what happens when a person behaves in a specific way or what happens when he does something different. What is checked on the stage does not have to change the situation for the better, it just has to change it, and how - we will find out in action. The more experimenting, the more insights and "AHA!" moments occur.
It is very important when applying the formula of the Theater of the Oppressed to specify the purpose of staging such a performance. The goal is not to find a solution to the presented situation! This, of course, can happen, but it is not the main goal of this method.
The purpose of such a performance is to engage people in a lively dialogue that takes place by bringing their perspective to the presented situation. The formula of the Theater of the Oppressed may also serve to broaden the perspective that is necessary before deciding on any solutions.
The term "performance" allows to emphasize the theatrical aspect of this formula, at the same time perfectly fits the training context, when, for example, participants in two subgroups prepare a "performance" for themselves.
In addition, many social topics are complex, which we try to simplify in everyday life, like including only two dominant voices in social debate. Quoting the leader of Reboot the Roots: working with this method allows us to increase society's capacity to contain diversity.
IMPLEMENTATION OF IDEAS
Theater of the Oppressed allows you to engage participants intellectually, emotionally and physically. It is a method that encourages the embodiment and implementation of ideas that come to our minds while allowing for such internal diversity.
Every day at Eroles, I experienced the difference between the idea I expressed - the intellectual concept and image that arose in my head, and how this idea would take shape when I present it with a gesture, figure or sound, and how emotions arise in this process, and what is more important – how this intellectual idea transforms and becomes more alive.
This way of working allows:
- look at what is between the idea and the action, for which we often do not give ourselves time in everyday life,
- observe how thought transforms under the influence of body involvement and emotions, and how this thought is received when we "embody" it.
I did not use any additional materials to write this article. The text presents my understanding of the concept of the Theater of the Oppressed and the content of the training at Eroles. If any of you would like to hear more or discuss this topic, I encourage you to contact: email@example.com
Author: Marta Sykut
The training was conducted as part of the project Competent trainers of NGOs on the European market conducted as part of the project "Transnational mobility of non-educational adult education staff", which is co-financed by the European Union under the European Social Fund under the Erasmus + principles
Polish Version: Teatr Uciśnionych w wydaniu Ulex Project i Reboot the Roots