Northern New Mexico CEC Artslink Fellow Iman Aoun, a Palestinian and director of Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah, led participants in a two-day Theatre of the Oppressed workshop in Santa Fe last month to trigger self- and group-awareness about critical issues, ways to combat oppression and bring about social transformation. Brazilian director and educator Augusto Boal, who believed “theatre is a language and so it can be used to speak about all human concerns, not to be limited to theatre itself,” established the Theatre in the 1970s. Aoun’s Ashtar Theatre (www.ashtar-theatre.org) uses Theatre of the Oppressed methodologies to create plays that promote interactive dialogue about change within Palestinian society.
Co-sponsored by New Mexico Community Foundation, the workshop opened with a series of sensory and physical games that had participants walking, running, creating “human knots” and disentangling them, following sounds with eyes closed, arranging bodies in the form of tableaus and machines—all “to get us deeper into ourselves,” said Aoun, “because in playing you open up without realizing that you are opening up. It works on the subconscious.”
On the second day, participants were divided into groups that matched the type of oppression each had encountered, including cultural oppression/racism, peer oppression, parental oppression and workplace oppression. “Each participant wrote their individual stories,” Aoun explained, “shared them with their group and created a ‘story of the stories’ collective story. Each group performed its story, which featured a moment of oppression between the oppressor and oppressed. This piece of the workshop is called The Forum, one of Theatre of the Oppressed’s core events. After the performance, we opened the floor for the audience to interact with the scene and become spect-actors. As a spect-actor presented an alternate solution to the scene of oppression, he/she was invited onstage to replace the protagonist in order to help overcome the oppressive moment and create a strength.”
“This is like food, like nourishment,” exclaimed Rosalia Triana, director of Española’s newly opened Main Street Theatre. “It is exactly what we need here. It’s like plugging us in to be recharged.”
“It gives me sense of the voice inside each of us that is coming out,” said Candelario Vasquez, who works on radio/media projects for Encuentro, an immigrant-serving organization. “I think that hope is coming alive through these performances.”
“These are such valuable tools,” said Aoun, “they can be used across the board for all kinds of issues—political, social, psychological. They can be tools for working with community and youth and to learn how to help groups look at their problems or challenges differently, to create open discussions and debates about critical issues between participants and to learn that discussion might bring transformation; that’s what it’s all about—transformation.”
“For me,” said Renee Villarreal, director of programs and community outreach at the NMCF, “this workshop is also a wonderful example of intercultural collaboration because various partners came together to make it happen. Some hadn’t worked together and some had. Thinking about all the moving parts to put an event like this together is pretty amazing. It is a good example of what collaborative leadership is about.”
The Theatre of the Oppressed workshop was sponsored by New Mexico Community Foundation, DNAWORKS, Moving Arts Española, New Mexico School for the Arts, Santa Fe Art Institute, Littleglobe and Performing Arts Conservatory of the Southwest.
Shebana Coelho is a Santa Fe-based writer and filmmaker.