Imagining New Narratives Using Theatre of the Oppressed
BY ALEXANDRA ESPINOZA
This lesson was facilitated as part of the 2018 Artistic Team Retreat—a day-long professional development session for Philadelphia Young Playwrights' teachers and teaching artists. Resident Teaching Artist Alexandra Espinoza has shared the lesson—"Where's The Power?"—from her keynote session below.
Theatre of the Oppressed has been a part of my work as a teaching artist since… well, since I became a teaching artist.
My first job in this field was as an ESL (English as a Second Language) and Drama teacher in Hong Kong. In an effort to find ways to physicalize both the language of theatre and English itself, I stumbled upon some exercises called “Image Theatre,” which I later learned was just one subset of Theatre of the Oppressed, or TO.
The practice of TO began in 1970s Brazil, where theatre maker Augusto Boal was looking for ways to combine theatre and the urgent political imperative of mobilizing members of marginalized groups in Brazil, a country that was ruled by dictatorship at the time. Boal was inspired by the work of educational philosopher Paulo Freire, whose book Pedagogy of the Oppressed was the intellectual and political framework upon which Boal based his work in the theatre.
So, what does TO mean in practice? It means taking the traditional structures of theatre and upending them so that we hear the voices of the audience, the politically disempowered and silenced, and the marginalized. TO is a potent mix of the precision and bravery of political activism combined with the joy and exploration of theatre at its best.
Why bring this work into our classrooms?
We are living in a time where our students experience power structures that exclude them everyday, be it the behavior of our political leaders, educational policy decisions, or quite simply the social hierarchies that they experience everyday as young people. We all need a language that allows us to address power without losing our capacity for fun, play, and collective excitement.
The Where’s the Power lesson plan is an attempt to introduce TO principles to students, giving them permission to speak truth to power and to imagine new kinds of narratives.