Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Theater-Totter (an Academic vs. Fun See-Saw)

Today, we acted like idiots. I'm not kidding: we now have a four-step system of greeting people that includes stomping on the floor, grabbing an ear, and doing the macarena while saying "moo."

Welcome to Theater of the Oppressed. 

New building!
We stayed true to this method
in all of the activities we did today
This was  day one of our two-and-a-half-day unit, and it was pretty goofy. We're studying under Lisa Jo Epstein, who studied under Augusto Boal, the creator of Theater of the Oppressed...I guess you could say that we're learning from some of the best. We started the day with a circle, and Carlos, one of our classmates, led us in Qigong. Then Lisa Jo had a handful of us step up to give a few things we've learned so far in Social Justice. We moved over to the wall, and Lisa Jo put up some papers on Theater of the Oppressed and the learning method we'd be using. In her description, she explained that Theater of the Oppressed "humanizes humanity," and gives a voice to people who are unseen. "To look is an act; to see is an act of conscience."

Next, Lisa Jo told the class that the conventional way of greeting someone is by telling them your name and shaking hands. She proposed we play a game exercise where we find a few partners and create a "body shake," and without speaking, decide on a sound and a movement we would both do several times before moving on to the next person (while walking to find another partner, we would need to continue making the sound and movement; I ended up walking around like a monkey for a minute). After the activity, she asked four pairs to show the class their "body shakes" and we combined them to make...something (the "moo"ing macarena I referred to earlier). It's sort of like a warm-up, something everyone learned today, and something we use to start activities. 

After the exercise, we gathered around and talked about what it felt like and what the game meant. 

The class's analysis of the game
We also played a game (which I've played before in regular theater classes) where you are given a word, and your partner shapes you to represent that word. For example, we were given the word "fear," and you saw partners cowering on the floor. Lisa Jo pointed out the use of size and posture to show power. 

After lunch, we returned for a group activity where we defined social justice terms and gave answers to important questions about people and change. Different questions were answered with different colors. We had to group the colors, but I decided to be creative with my group's arrangement of sticky notes: I made a flower. Oddly enough, Lisa Jo later called our sticky note pages "plants," and the sticky notes "leaves." We arranged the answers that weren't repeated on the wall in their categories. 

Next was another nonverbal group activity like the "body shake" one. As a group of four, we had to silently decide on a motion and a sound. Again, it seemed strange and unhelpful at first, but our class analysis on  the activity taught us that it actually told us about our personal leadership and group participation strategies and styles. For example, I didn't control my group, but still contributed a sound and a motion here and there, without starting the action on my own every time. Other groups had students who did, and who were more active leaders. For me, the activity showed the different levels of involvement in group work. As a later part of the activity, we were allowed to join other groups, and we ended up with one large chanting group and a few smaller groups floating around it. We discussed the significance of it and the meaning behind following the group as opposed to staying with your original idea. 

The last activity was a game in which we made stage pictures with small groups to reflect a time in which you saw or experienced some form of oppression. We had to silently instruct our groupmates toward the tableau we had in mind, which was difficult, but which ended up working well. Everyone in each group made a picture, and we presented all of them to the class. After some more analysis, class was over, and we were free to seek out dinner and ice cream.

I made it back to the dorms with dripping wet hair (I forgot my umbrella) and relaxed for a while. I'm finishing Ways of Seeing now, and since Julia talks about Firefly any time we see fireflies, we're probably going to end up watching an episode on Netflix tonight. Fun!

The class is great. I'm loving the incorporation of theater, something I love so much, in our studies. Even though the things we did today were really simple, I really look forward to tomorrow's activities. 

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