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Theater, Play, and Creativity

January 15, 2013

Thursday evening the Center for Creative Connections was filled with thirty playful, divergent thinkers who were asked to have fun and break rules. These adults were attending a once a month program called Think Creatively taught by Dr. Magdalena Grohman and guest performer Harold Steward from the South Dallas Cultural Center.  During one portion of the evening, visitors engaged in playful theatrical activities that were developed from Steward’s theatrical background and knowledge of the practice known as Theater of the Oppressed.

During the 1970’s, Brazilian activist and actor Augusto Boal was the driving force for the creation of this theatrical practice. The goal of Boal was to use theater as a way to promote social change. Boal took inspiration from educator and theorist Paulo Freire, who is well known for his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In this revolutionary text, Freire argues that education should allow those who are oppressed to recapture their sense of humanity and overcome their sense of oppression. However, that oppressed person must play an active role in their own freedom. Inspired by the critical pedagogy of Freire, Boal believed that through the dialogue and interaction between actor and audience, people could free themselves; the actors and audience become active explorers and transformers of their own realities with the help of a facilitator. Theater of the Oppressed is about dialogue, playing and learning with one another to create change.

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As I watched Steward act as the facilitator, I was encouraged by the freedom that the participants seemed to gain with each passing moment. He had the visitors stand back to back; he then called out directions for each of them to follow. Placing one’s head to another’s hip, or positioning a knee to an elbow was really a sight to see.

After this warm-up, Steward and I demonstrated an activity together. I was directed to make a movement and was not allowed to stop moving until Harold said, “What are you doing, Amanda?” I was not allowed to respond with what my action was, but instead I had to say what I wanted him to act out. I called out the action, “Running a marathon,” and he pretended he was running the race of a lifetime. After, the visitors were roaring in laughter and running around the room, engaging in this activity. Steward had them stop and then broke all the rules that he just taught them. The pairs had to create their own guidelines and interpretations to the last activity. One pair decided that they were only allowed to sing to each other, another group determined that all of their activities to act out had to be represented in mime.

The visitors responded to the process and indicated that participating in these Theater of the Oppressed exercises was difficult for them at first because they had to overcome their initial hesitations to move, play, and be free without fear—but once they let go of all that was holding them back (or oppressing them), they were able to experience liberation and freedom from restraint.

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Here is another Theater of the Oppressed activity created by Augusto Boal that you can try with your friends!

The Name and Gesture Game:
The group will stand in a circle. The facilitator introduces themselves and creates a physical gesture. The whole group repeats the name and gesture. The process occurs until everyone has said their own name and preformed a gesture. Then, this process is repeated but without the name. Anyone who wishes takes a step forward and the rest of the group must say the name and preform the gesture.

I hope you’ll join us in C3 soon!

Amanda Batson
C3 Program Coordinator

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