Students use theatre for social change

Theatre of the Oppressed workshop presented by Luciano Iogna.

We all know that art can entertain us, but what is sometimes overlooked is that art can also teach us to change our social ideology. This is the philosophy behind Theatre of the Oppressed, an international organization and theatre practice that uses theatre to create social and political change. Mount Allison students were introduced to this form of artistic activism last weekend when Theatre of the Oppressed director and facilitator Luciano Iogna presented a workshop and public lecture through the Centre for International Studies (CIS).

Iogna, a Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre specialist, has worked in countries all over the world to use theatre as a means of political and social change.  During his CIS-sponsored lecture, Iogna explained that Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre are participatory forms of theatre that were developed to engage spectators (or “spect-actors”) in political issues by giving them the opportunity to become active participants in the creation of theatre.

Throughout his public discussion on Friday, Jan. 31 Iogna shared his experiences of working with oppressed groups of people in the Ukraine, India, and Turkey. In each case, he used theatre workshops, like the one he was to conduct with Mt. A students, as an avenue to explore systematic oppression on both a general and specific scale. In each instance, participants and “spect-actors” were able to openly discuss a taboo issue because they used the play as both a catalyst and a buffer zone for discussion, thereby protecting individuals, while beginning to make real life changes.

Following the discussion, a group of students from a variety of academic disciplines worked with Iogna to create their own Theatre of the Oppressed experience, with the aim of learning how to use theatre as a tool for global development and engagement.

“[I want participants to come away with an understanding] of the potential of form theatre as a tool in terms of education and social change,” Iogna said. “For this group specifically, in terms of global development and where they can take it as a tool to help them work with different communities”

 During the workshop process, participants went through the five steps that lead to a performance centred on a specific example of social or political oppression.

As Iogna explained, the first step, known as group building, is an essential part of the process.

“Often I’m not homogenous group of individuals—they might not familiar with each other. When working with a disenfranchised group, it can be difficult to build trust, so you want to take that time [to do so].”

After the group develops a level of openness and trust, they move on to the next stage of the process, known as the deconstructing and reconstructing phase. Here, participants learn to use their bodies in a theatrical capacity. The third step is the analysis of systematic oppression. This is where the real discussion begins, as participants construct scenarios surrounding issues they face in their lives. The goal is to look at how and why these problems exist, and how they can be changed. Next is the creation of the piece and the rehearsal, and finally comes what is referred to as the “instantaneous dramaturgy”—the presentation and practice of forum theatre.

“It’s difficult as we go through the first stages to grasp the full concept” Iogna explained. “I always tell people: ‘it’s going make sense at the end!’ And it did.”

The Mt. A group chose to examine the issue of domestic violence against women in their performances. After a spirited discussion provoked by the topic, they broke up into small groups to create their own scenes in an effort to talk about a pressing, yet sensitive social issue.

Workshop participant Franziska Glen was particularly interested in learning about the concept of theatre with a conscience, a category that Theatre of the Oppressed falls into perfectly.

[With this form of theatre], you’re not only creating entertainment,” Glen said, “You’re creating reactions, provoking people in either positive or negative ways, but always getting people to think, and hopefully change their perspective or views, and also just purely enjoy what they’re seeing or what you’re doing.”

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