Welcome to blog series, “Theatre as…”. In this series, I will demonstrate the multiple ways theatre can be used as a tool for education, restorative practice, and simply, life. Throughout my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to experience theatre for entertainment and enjoyment, but also beyond the stage, as a means for change; those experiences are the ones I will be reflecting upon in my series.
So far, these blog posts have discussed how theatre can be utilized to foster education, build community, and advance life skills. Applying all of these tools, theater can be used to create change and peace. In this blog, I will be discussing how I have witnessed theatre utilized for people to reconcile with themselves, promote justice, and start a dialogue.
Shakespeare behind bars: While taking my Shakespearean Adaptations course my first year of college, our class watched a documentary entitled, Shakespeare Behind Bars. Shakespeare behind bars is a program which takes place in prisons for incarcerated individuals. The inmates are given the opportunity to read and perform Shakespeare for their friends and family. At first glance, this idea may seem abstract. However, what the documentary showed us is that the inmates participating were able to develop a passion for learning, redefine their purpose, and connect these age-old plays to their own lives. The official website describes how Shakespeare Behind Bars “offers theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society” (https://www.shakespearebehindbars.org). The documentary showed how theatre can be a tool for people to rediscover themselves. The inmates discussed how the felt they had a greater purpose, they were able to create something meaningful.
Theatre for the oppressed: Theatre for the oppressed was first created by a Brazilian theatre practitioner- Augusto Boal in the 1970’s. I first encountered theatre for the oppressed at my home University, where students who had studied the technique in Guatemala performed for us. Theatre for the oppressed is a kind of forum theatre where the audience witnesses the play once, then are prompted to add their own discussions about how the issues discussed in the play can be improved. Most of the topics discussed in the plays are focused around peace and promoting social justice issues. Theatre for the oppressed is a jumping point to begin difficult conversations about racial tensions (in America) and encourages the audience to engage in offering solutions.
Reflective action dialogue: The same students who I saw perform theatre for the oppressed created a club on my college campus called, Reflective action dialogue. Reflective action dialogue (or RAD) has the same kind of premises as theatre for the oppressed, but its done in much shorter scenes and addresses problems specific to our campus and community. Both theatre for the oppressed and RAD are tools which allow theatre to be a safe space to hold difficult discussions and promote a more equitable future. Both times I have seen theatre for the oppressed and RAD in action, I have noticed the audience has walked away with something new learned, which is the first step in finding solutions to these inequities and promoting a more peaceful future.