Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference was held in Austin, Texas, June 3-6. TAP was in involved in many ways, through participation, organization, volunteering, as well as leading a couple workshops highlighting our programming and philosophy.
Much of the work TAP creates is rooted in the basic theories of educator and theorist Paulo Freire. For the purposes of our after-school work, it is helpful to recognize how Freire’s concepts of problem-posing education informs both the style of our dialogue based theatre work, and the manner in which we hope to engage with students “co-intentionally.” Whether TAP is out in the community, or in the class room we are always encouraging our students to “become masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world.” All of our programming focuses on social issues that pertain to the age groups we work with.
TAP also uses much from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Using Freire’s ideas, Boal created and promoted a new paradigm of theatre-one in which the audience members actively become part of the performance; he described this as moving them from spectators to “spect-actors” in the process of motivating them to become “protagonists in their own lives.” TO techniques and the myriad of games and exercise Boal created are frequently used by Theatre Action Project in the devising process of a program, in rehearsal, and in programs themselves.
It was our good fortune that the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference was held in Austin this year, so that TAP could be involved in multiple ways. Karen LaShelle, with Lynn Hoare, led a conference-wide building session, TAP Programming Staff offered a post-conference workshop on Engaging Young People in Social Change through the Arts, and we also had the opportunity to present some moments from our TAP in the Classroom programs which utilize adaptations of TO techniques – Image and Forum Theatre. We shared a song from “The Heroes/Los Heroes” that uses adapted Image Theatre, and Day Two of “Courage in Action,” an adapted Forum.
“Courage in Action” is one of TAP’s newest TAP in the Classroom programs, still in development. The program teaches young people grades 4-6 how to become “courageous leaders” in their communities, how to identify problems and bring people together to help solve them. It’s a super fun, space, secret-agent-themed adventure! On Day One, they explore the concepts of courage and leadership, develop their own definition of “courageous leader,” and learn about a variety of courageous leaders from throughout history and throughout the world (i.e. Mahatma Gandhi, Wangari Maathai, Emma Tenayuca, and many more). On Day Two, they go back in time to learn the four steps of courageous leadership (Recognize a Problem, Make a Plan, Take Action, Evaluate your Success) by simulating the life of courageous leader Cesar Chavez. On Days Three and Four, they apply the steps they’ve learned to scenarios from their own lives.
During the course of Day Two, the program participants, using the power of the imagination, experience many of the same things that Cesar Chavez did – picking grapes in the field, being mistreated by the boss, deciding to take a stand, and organizing with other farm workers. It was a particular honor to present this portion of the program for our audience at PTO 2010, because we happened to have members of El Teatro Campesino in attendance. El Teatro Campesino was the theatrical arm of the United Farm Workers’ mobilization in California in the 1960s; we were performing their history! It was an even greater honor that the Teatro Campesino familia was profoundly moved by, and admired our work! “You transported us; it was truly magical!” they said. One member, Javier Hurtado, told us there were moments in which he had to hold back, to not speak, because the performance brought up such a strong emotional response. “It was very powerful to see Cesar Chavez’ story told for youth in this very direct and accessible way.”
Thank you, PTO 2010 for the opportunity to share our work! And thank you, El Teatro Campesino, for your great generosity!
Natalie Goodnow, TAP Artistic Associate