… the poetics of the oppressed focuses on the action itself: the spectator delegates no power to the character (or actor) either to act or to think in his place; on the contrary, he himself assumes the protagonic role, changes the dramatic action, tries out solutions, discusses plans for change – in short, trains himself for real action.
Augusto Boal «Theatre of the oppressed»
Wednesday 04/05 was a day to try out theatre methods in social work.
The main activity method was forum-theater created by Brazilian director and Workers’ Party (PT) activist Augusto Boal in the early 1970s. We used the characters developed a day before to participate as oppressed in a scene of casting call process.
Forum-theater is one of the techniques of the Theater of Oppressed (among others are Image theater, Invisible theater, Legislative theater). New communication strategies here become the tools to resist oppression, as ordinary language is often a power machine while the traditional theatre language is always priveleged. It’s also called rehearsal or participatory theatre because it provides the idea of huge responsibility of spect-actors (spectators that start acting), it suggests cooperation, solidarity and horizontal interactions instead of indifference and contemplator position. This theatre practice is just a rehearsal but you have a great chance to play it on the scene of your real life in a daily and unfortunately very common situations. «Forum» which means here a discussion is happening during the play, acting as thinking, experiencing, expressing yourself.
Does it imply that it is played by victims/oppressed/miserable people? Of course not. Because each of us is somehow dispriveleged in his life, every day we experience our limits being treated in inequality and any of our personal stories may be played.
Below you’ll find the reflections on the method by one of the workshop participants – Valeria (Italy).
Say please a few words about your previous Forum Theatre experience (before our training).
I had experienced it in another training before. We had been divided into small groups and we were supposed to find a daily situation we faced every day when we were victims of oppression or we felt oppressed. After that we chose one and we had to perform this situation with one oppressed person and one oppressor and other characters (about 5-6) were just minor characters. In my group we decided to perform a quest for the housing: one migrant was trying to rent a house in Europe. Moreover we compared him with a European person (say, with a EU resident) who was also trying to rent the house. So we organized this rental agency and we received these two people. So we found that people behaved in various manners. In the end there were the employee and the head of the agency. We decided that the employee wanted to help these people but actually the head of this agency put some fixed rules to eliminate the possibility. We could not rent any houses for migrants. It made no matter if they had work or whatever. That actually happens in Italy. For example, many agencies provide very limited contract which is not very useful. It’s common practice for migrants to face many difficulties to find the house. So after that the situation was performed. We should have performed it for a second time but the people from the audience could actually stop the scene, freeze the scene and change one of the minor characters. They couldn’t change either the oppressed and the oppressor. For example in this case the empoyees. The new participants tried to find the right arguments to convince them to change these rules.
The group was mixed, some people were social workers. Everyone worked in the field of antidiscrimination, antiracism, but not necessarily linked to migration, but to minorities in general. Some people were social workers, some working with religious dialog, people working in sexism field, racism, something like that.
What’s the objective/intention of this practice from your point of view? And what was the theoretical background if you are familiar with it?
You can focus on your situation of oppression that you face every day in your life. And then by performing it you can make it a bit more exagerrated and more simple than in real life and then by intervention of the audience you can think of some strategies how you can act in your daily life. Because actually we are indeed these minor characters, we are not the oppressor, we cannot change the rule of our country. And may be sometimes we are not the oppressed, we are these characters in the middle. In a way through this methodology we can find out a way to act even if we are not so important, even if are not so much in power.
How did you find the implemention of the method in the course of our training?
I found it a little bit confusing in a way but may be we just played different version. For example, there were many oppressed, let’s say, not just one. We could have changed everyone but the oppressor. So the only character you couldn’t change was the opressor. Instead in the version that I know you cannot change either the oppressor and the oppressed. This made the scene fuzzier. Because the people were trying to change many characters at once and they tried to intervene all at the same time which made the scene a little bit puzzling. I also think that it’s better try to start with the situation you normally face because this could be more realistic and more effective in order to reach the aim – to be aware of the right strategy to use in order to avoid oppression in your everyday life.
Another thing, may be the oppression was not so clear at first. It was difficult for audience to be actually spect-actors because they couldn’t really find out the way to intervene because in the scene there were just the opressed and the oppressors, there were no other, like middle characters.
Do you find the method useful? How would you define a target group?
I found this method very useful, actually also to reflect on myself, the role I play in the society. But I think that it doesn’t work with migrants. But with people who work with migrants, social workers, this kind of people who are actually not the oppressed, not the oppressors, but these people in the middle. Just to give them an input to change something, to tell them that actually they have a small power to do something, to intervene, when they witness the situation of oppression.
I am thinking of migrants I am working with, and I think that they will be not cooperative at all. Maybe some migrants of second generation who are already integrated into the society so they can openly communicate, but they still fell the oppression. They are minorities presented in the society but they are still in the society. But migrants I am working with actually are very excluded. They won’t like to open up, to tell about their experience, or even worse to act. Howeber probably there are others newcomers who could be available to do such kind of exercise.
Please, outline your view on the role of art methods (in general) in the work with migrants in comparison with direct legal and social support.
If we are talking about forum-theatre this is different from other kinds of support because legal and social support are directly addressed to migrants, to minorities in general. But this method is addressed mainly as I mentioned before to characters who are in the middle. But in general art methods I think may be very useful to work with migrants because sometimes you can deliminate language barrier by for example using body language, movements or gestures. As in theater you do not necessarily need to speak, but to use your body, your appearance. And also I think it’s important because they can give input for self-expression. Oherwise it would be very difficult for migrants who really don’t trust people, they don’t want to talk about themselves. So maybe with their body, with their actions, drawings, in general with arts, music they can express themselves without feeling uncomfortable.
Are you going to implement the method in your work?
We were thinking in my organization of a training to exchange best practices between people who work in the migration field. So if me make this training and I am the trainer I will use this method.
Some more authentic inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I71sLJ-j5LE