Theatre of the Oppressed

The powerful tool of Theatre of the Oppressed has been used by several sangathans supported by SRUTI as a means of empowerment to generate social action. Under the guidance of senior theatre activist Sanjoy Ganguly who was trained in the art form by Augusto Baol, Brazilian pioneer of the theatre form in the 1960s, multiple workshops have been facilitated over the last decade.

Based on the method of dialectics, where a solution to oppression is reached through dialogue and consideration of opposing arguments, different forms of Theatre of the Oppressed such as Forum Theatre and Image Theatre have enabled perspective development amongst sangathan members in an innovative way.

Forum theatre was born from 'simultaneous dramaturgy' where spectators/audience are converted into ‘spect-actors’ who could find the solution for any problem under discussion. Through actor-audience interaction where amidst the middle of a theatrical work, the actors on stage stop the play and ask the audience for solutions to their situation, the audience is able to voice their opinion towards a solution.

Image Theatre on the other hand is based on demonstrating social ideas towards a clearer understanding of their intention. It has been successfully used by sangathans as another tool for initiating dialogue on sensitive issues in an engaging manner.


Art of the Oppressed - Visual Voices of the Marginalised, Delhi, 2006

A month long training on clay modelling to initiate dialogue on several social issues was organised in May. The training started on 1st May and concluded with a three day exhibition of the produced art materials from 2nd-4th June 2006. 50 activists from 17 sangathans participated in the training hosted by Delhi Shramik Sangathan. Senior artist KP Soman facilitated the training. Delhi Shramik Sangathan has been successfully using this tool for the last 4 years to initiate discussions on slum issues in their work areas.

As most of the participants were from rural and tribal areas, the training venue itself was a new experience for them. The training was held in the office of DSS which is located in one of the slums of West Delhi. On 4th of May, that very slum was demolished and a number of participants had to face the brunt of the constables of Delhi Police. Some 4-5 female participants along with one of the SRUTI activists were taken into custody for no rhyme or reason. For the rest of them it was a nightmarish experience to witness demolition of homes of thousands in a few hours. They realised that the city life is not as bright as it appears from the outside or as portrayed in movies and television serials. It was a difficult time for the participants as the people living in the demolished houses were crying for help and the activists couldn’t do anything for them. They instantly organised a protest march to the nearby police station where their colleagues were kept under illegal detention. They also helped the displaced people in collecting their belongings.

The facilitator did not give any topic for the clay models but the images of demolition and the experiences the participants had in their real life shaped their imagination and displacement became the dominant theme.

Each day 3 hours were marked for issues based discussions.  There were participants from different states with a considerable number from Orissa. The organisers and facilitator were apprehensive about the language barriers. In the beginning there was a little hesitation and low level of participation, but in the next couple of days all the participants evolved their own communication mediums.

The concluding exhibition at the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society drew a modest number of visitors. Response from the visitors was encouraging. The Exhibition comprised artefacts created by 45 youth activists from various states of India during a month-long workshop. Through the artefacts, artists tried to portray mass-scale displacement of people from their land and how their protests have been largely ignored.

The young artists were so unpretentious that they become immediately endearing. The story of Anil, a displaced resident of the Vikaspuri slums, beautifully depicted his plight through clay art. After his home was demolished by the Delhi Development Authority in May, he was relocated to Bawana -- an undeveloped area with meagre civil amenities.

His depiction of ‘blind justice’, represented by a blindfolded judge riding a bulldozer was thought-provoking. "We have been given land on a five-year lease, after that we don't know where we will be asked to go. And even the legal system has failed to recognise our plight," he added.

Similarly, upset over the rapid industrialisation and displacement of tribals, the youth of Orissa and Jharkhand created stirring works of art showing the destruction of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Satya Sabar, who stays close to Kalinga Nagar in Orissa, depicted the cost of development in the area with the killing of 13 tribals at the hands of the police.

Phoolchand Lavanshi, a class X student from Jhiri, Rajasthan, created a model depicting the depleting water sources in his area. His model showed birds, livestock and people looking expectantly at a dry tube-well.

To give the participating children a taste of traditional art, Orissa's `Pattachitra' exponent Dilip Kumar Nayak was also invited to participate in the workshop. As the time was short, the participants were not able to learn the intricate art of `Pattachitra' but they learnt the use of colours and canvas to create a tableau.

Some of the faculty members of JNU School of Arts and Aesthetics were so excited that they invited the participants and some of the artist-activists in their department for a five day exhibition and seminar on the topic Art and Struggle. The exhibition was held in the School of Arts and Aesthetics in the last week of August.

Both the events got coverage in both print and audio-visual media. A smaller exhibition was also held held during National Theatre of the Oppressed Festival, Muktadhara, at Kolkata in October 2006.

Theatre Training by Delhi Shramik Sangathan, Rishikesh, 2008

First Workshop -

Theatre training was organized by the Delhi Shramik Sangathan from January 19, 2008 to January 24, 2008. There were 44 youths identified from the different slums of the Delhi. There was a need for a second theatre team in DSS. One team was not able to cover all the identified slums. The youth who were part of the activist training program showed interest to learn this art of developing dialogue. The trainees were a mixed group with students & working individuals.

At the start of the training there was a meeting to ensure that all the participants get to know each other. Different exercises/games were used to build the power of sound, images, facial expression, body movements, etc. A play was prepared on the issue of domestic workers, their working conditions, etc. The trainees were quite new and were part of any theatre forum for the first time. Many of them were quick to understand the issue and act accordingly. Three members from the old team namely Karamjeet, Rekha & Subhas were co-trainers along with Anita & Ramendra. They organized the training in a very disciplined way.

One of the images of the play by a group can be shown by the given diagram:

Second Workshop (14 Feb 2008 - 16 Feb 2008) -

This was a follow-up workshop on theatre training organized for 3 days by the Delhi Shramik Sangathan at Rishikesh. 30 participants were present for the theater training programme.

The objective of the workshop was to train them on conducting forum theatre and the role of a ‘Joker’ in theatre forum. Theater is politics, was also one of the subjects of discussion. The participants were informed of the different types of theatre and its purpose. The groups were asked to make different kinds of images of domestic workers. The central team put up a performance through forum theatre elucidating the concept to everyone.

When the central team ended their performance, the senior team came forward to perform on the same topic (domestic workers). Mr. Ramendra gave an introduction to everyone regarding the theme of the play which was based on urban renovation and machine replacing men.

After the play, Mr. Ramendra asked every one about their understanding of theatre. Participants were very confident and said that theatre training raises awareness and allows them express their views fearlessly.

Workshop on Gender Sensitisation through Image Theatre, Uttarakhand, 2005

A common workshop was held from 26th to 30th May 2005 at Khari, Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand. 24 participants from all the Sangathans and 3 people from SRUTI participated in the workshop. Out of a total 27 participants, there were 9 women and 18 men.

The rationale -
Gender sensitisation is an issue that needs collaborative dialogues without hurting the sentiments of any of the parties. It also seeks non-defensive approach for a fruitful dialogue. For initiating a process for sensitising the team members of the struggle groups which SRUTI supports were looking for a methodology that serves the purpose without creating any rift among the participants.

Image Theatre is one of the most powerful tools for initiating dialogue on sensitive issues in a non-threatening manner. It is based on the philosophy that spectators/audience could be converted into spect-actors and they could find the solution for any problem under discussion. We asked Sanjoy Ganguly to facilitate a five-day workshop for our group members. Ishteyaque Ahmed from SRUTI was asked to co-facilitate the workshop.

The workshop -
On the first day of the workshop the stress was on introduction of the participants, facilitators, the topic of the workshop and its methodology. The first session was used for individual introductions and ice-breaking exercises. Later, participants were asked about their expectations from the workshop. The expectations ranged from being able to make plays to how to use theatre for initiating dialogue among community.

After a long spell of interactive games, Sanjoy shared the fundamentals of Theatre of the Oppressed. He shared four separate stories to elaborate the reasons behind developing a new theatre form. During the discussions he stressed on the democratic values as the prerequisite for any dialogue or communication. He shared that theatre is intrinsically a medium of democratisation of societies. It was started in the era of early commune where there was no hierarchy or discrimination against any kind of identity. There was no concept of subjugation or oppression. At that time theatre was a medium of expressions for all and there was no division of audience and actors. It was a play where anyone could share her or his experiences. Slowly the concept of capital arrived and struggles for superiority and wealth started. Theatre also became a tool for the oppressors and oppressed both. Slowly a distinction between actors and audience became part of the game. In this set-up there used to be a team of actors who were the players and could say what they had to say. Audience was there to listen only. Gradually theatre changed itself from being a medium of self-expression to a didactic tool. Due to all this theatre lost its democratic values. Theatre became a medium of communication not a medium of dialogue. Theatre of the Oppressed reasserts the essential value of theatre - its democracy.

The workshop mainly consisted of exercises for preparing an actor as a ‘joker’ (in TOO it stands for the facilitator or the ‘Difficultator’). Exercises such as the Glass Cobra, Mirror Image, Mirror Games, emotional memories, scene improvisations, image making, kaleidoscopic image, mud and the sculptor, power games, etc. were used during the sessions. Sessions on status of female population in the social construct were also interwoven in the design of the workshop.

Inference from the workshop -
On the last day a polarization debate was facilitated on the statement “women are the real enemies of women.” The statements generated a heated debate among the participants as two opposite groups were formed. The group, which thought the statement was correct, was interestingly larger and their arguments were also more deep rooted. At this point of time the definition of gender was shared. The facilitators also made the distinctions between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. During the discussions it was observed that all the participants were of the view that women and men are two different species and men are the oppressors. The role of patriarchy was shared and the institutionalisation of gender-based discriminations was further elaborated. The facilitators tried to explain the links between the systemic exploitation and suppression of weaker sections of the societies.

At the end of the workshop it was concluded that exploitative social, political and economic system that is based on profits and accumulation of resources, in its spree to grab all the resources tends to divide the working class into different identities. It poses one identity against another saying that the interests of different identity groups are in conflict with each other and each has to struggle for its survival. It presents competition as the basis of all developments. Patriarchy is one of the most used contrivances of the oppressive system.

It was also observed that gender per se is not an issue in itself but it is a perspective that should be kept in mind before taking any organisational programme. It should be ascertained that the programme is not gender biased or it promotes/creates any gender discrimination. It was concluded that oppressions couldn’t be finished if half of the population is oppressed. Any struggle, which is aimed to end the oppressive systems, should ensure that theatre programmes are also aimed at liberating the most oppressed section of the society the females.

Future Plan -
Based on the findings and the interest shown by the participants in usage of forum as an IEC (Information Education and Communication) tool, a need for holding intensive workshops on gender sensitisation was identified. The sangathans are keen to use Forum Theatre as a powerful medium of communication and to mobilise people in their work area. Two separate workshops will be organised to deal with the language barrier. Both the workshops are proposed to be held in the month of October this year. The workshop at Delhi will cover the Fellows/Activists from Hindi speaking belt whereas the other workshop at Orissa will cover Fellows/Activists from Orissa.

Last Updated: 24/07/2011 09:25 AM