About T.O. Philly

Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed (T.O. Philly) is a network of people using the tools of theatre and popular education to dismantle oppression. Much of the work we do is based on the writings and teachings of the late Augusto Boal, who developed the Theatre of the Oppressed in Brazil over 40 years ago. We also draw upon other theatre games and movement traditions, as well as models of popular education like those put forth by Paolo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

T.O. Philly offers classes, workshops and trainings for groups in Philadelphia and elsewhere. To book a workshop, get in touch with us by calling 267-282-1057 or email "tophilly@gmail.com"

Blind Games: What We Played

For three days in January, 2015, theatre artists Mason Rosenthal and Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews led a series of experiential Blind Games at a community arts space in West Philadelphia. 32 people came out on a chilly Friday night, and smaller numbers returned the next two afternoons to stumble and bump into each other with eyes closed, usually with some sort of performative goal in (and out of) sight.

Blind Games often serve as icebreakers and trust-builders by organizations that work with kids and teens. Theatrical, dance and movement artists use them to build group cohesion and get performers to use more of their non-visual senses. In the Theatre of the Oppressed tradition, we use Blind Games to build skills for perceiving unseen elements of power and oppression in society. Our workshop brought all of these things together, with the base understanding that we would all be working with our eyes closed. Mason and Morgan also used these sessions for research toward a new theatrical work about vision loss and partial blindness, while offering everyone else a fully embodied experience, as well as a full list of the games and their rules. And here they are:

On Friday night we warmed up with three quick ones to get us used to working with missing information:
  • Pick Up The Cup: Mark an "X" on the floor and place a cup on it. Players line up several meters from the cup and take turns closing eyes, walking forward, and stooping down to pick up the cup once they think they've reached it. Others watch and respond: "Ooh!" for a miss, a roar of applause for a win. Everyone goes twice. No feeling around for the cup—just reach straight down and pick it up (or don't!)
  • Alpha Order Names: A name game with three simple rules: 1) Everyone must hold at least one other's hand at all times. 2) Each person is allowed to say their own name and nothing else. 3) Get into alphabetical order. Easier played with eyes open.
  • Line Up By Height: With eyes closed, without talking.
The following games we played in pairs:
  • Blind Car: One person is the Blind Car, the other its Sighted Driver who controls the Car by tapping its back to go forward, top of head for reverse, and each shoulder to turn right or left. Because this is a cooperative game, we share everything freely, so Cars occasionally get new Drivers, sight unseen.
  • Fingertips: Players ouch fingertips together, one person with eyes open, the other closed, and all dance. Pairs can switch roles (sighted/blind, leader/follower), merge into bigger groups, or have the blind lead the blind. What's most essential is some good disco music:
  • Stopping and Falling: Here the blind player leads the sighted by walking, stopping, and then and falling backward to be caught and uprighted by their sighted partner. The falls then become less predictable: sideways, diagonally, forward and at varying tempos. 
  • Bling Hug: Pairs embrace, close their eyes, and back away from each other, keeping pace to a count upwards. A countdown brings them back and hopefully into the same embrace.
  • Blind Chair: Person A ("Chair") drops to one knee, and Person B ("Sitter") sits sideways on Chair's horizontal thigh. Both close their eyes, stand up, and begin walking to a count: Sitter paces forwards, Chair backwards. A countdown brings both back to sit—Chair back down to one knee,  and Sitter back on Chair's leg, possibly even that of their original Chair…
  • Blind Tracker: A sighted player makes an Animal sound for their blind Tracker to follow around the space. Animal keeps Tracker from bumping into things purely by sound, and Tracker simply heads in the direction of that specific sound (though these dark woods may be populated by impostors who mimic certain animal sounds to lead trusting trackers astray).
These paired explorations dynamized the senses of touch, hearing, spatial awareness, proprioception and even teleception, giving us the skills to delve into more intricate blind scenarios:
  • Blind Scenes: A pair of pairs, one Sighted the other Blind. The Sighted Pair comes up with a scenario for the Blind Pair to perform, and Blind Pair is in the dark both visually and circumstantially in that they have no idea what they are about to do. The Sighted Pair announces their scene's title and manipulates the Blind Pair (using the tools from the games above) to get their Blind Pair to perform. Memorable scenes included "A Trip to the Dentist", "Survivor", and "Blind Date in the School Cafeteria". Sighted Pair announces "the end!" when it's over.
  • Magical Journey: In pairs, a sighted actor takes their blind companion on a 5-minute journey through space, telling a story using all other senses. After each takes the other on a Magical Journey, this pair can then conspire to take the larger group on a Grand Magical Journey.
  • Find Hands: Everybody forms a circle, holds hands, closes their eyes and notices what is unique about the people to either side, just by touching hands and arms no higher than the elbow. After a minute, all release, walk around with eyes closed, and then find their original partners. A great game for 7-10 people that becomes increasingly more epic in bigger groups.
After two days of working primarily with eyes closed, we opened our eyes and used some source material to explore archetypes of literal and figurative "blindness" in media. We listened to "blind songs" by Thomas Dolby, Morrissey, Manfred Mann, Run DMC, Kenny Starr, and The Who, and then made short scenes inspired by them. When also performed some classical and contemporary drama featuring blind characters with the intent of using the Theatre of the Oppressed techniques of Simultaneous Dramaturgy and Forum Theatre, but only had time for our closing games:

  • Blind Clap Together: In a circle, all close eyes and clap simultaneously.
  • Venus Flytrap: In a circle, all point left index fingers down into the center of their neighbors' upturned right palm. The object is to catch your neighbor's finger and simultaneously not get caught. After a few turns, switch hands.
  • Italian Rain: Sitting in a circle with eyes closed, all begin to tap a finger against their opposite palm, then two, then three, then four, then all five before working back down to zero. Then back up, and back down twice more until all is silent.
For more information about Mason and Morgan's theatrical projects, visit the website of the Medium Theatre Company: www.themediums.org

Blind Games: a free workshop

• Friday January 9 • 7:30-9:30 PM
• Saturday January 10 • 3:00-6:00 PM
• Sunday January 11 • 3:00-6:00 PM
(Come to the first part on Friday, return 
on Saturday and/or Sunday if you like)
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut Street
Free Workshop • Click here to RSVP
or email "tophilly@gmail.com

Blind Games are just what their name implies: games where some or all of the players cannot see. For one evening and two afternoons, we will explore these theatrical games and what they reveal about sightedness and blindness, ability and disability, power and privilege, as well as the nature of games and playfulness. We'll also look at cultural depictions of blindness and dis/ability with a critical eye as to how that ripples out in society and within ourselves.

This fully experiential workshop will also serve as a launching point for a new theatrical work about vision loss made by two visually impaired artists. Anyone attending the first part on Friday evening  can return for either or both of the other parts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Look forward to:
  • Friday, 7:30-9:30 PM: We play several blind games that dynamize the other senses and prepare ourselves for the theatrical work on the following days.
  • Saturday, 3:00-6:00 PM: We examine depictions of blindness in film, theatre, art, mythology and elsewhere through re-enactment and re-imagination.
  • Sunday, 3:00-6:00 PM: We delve into disability within our own lives, how it affects us and our relationships to each other.
Come and see what this is all about—Click here to RSVP or email "tophilly@gmail.com

About the facilitators:

Morgan Andrews has been making activist art and theatre in Philadelphia since 1998. He started with woodcuts and shadow puppets as a method for visual rehabilitation, and then branched out into other forms of performance, working with the Bread & Puppet Theater and other affiliated artists for over a decade. Morgan discovered and trained in Theatre of the Oppressed in Brazil, New York and India, and then founded T.O. Philly in 2008 as way to make this work accessible and affordable in his home city. He also teaches yoga and theatre around town, and creates plays with the Medium Theatre Company.

Mason Rosenthal is an actor, creator, dancer, director, and teacher from Skokie, Illinois. He holds a BFA in drama from NYU where he studied embodied voice with Katie Bull and community-based performance with Jan Cohen-Cruz. In 2007 Mason joined the faculty at NYU's Atlantic Theater Company Acting School before moving to Philadelphia to work for The Headlong Performance Institute. Mason has since collaborated with many Philly artists—see his website for the ever-growing list!

Free Workshop Series

Playing with Power: An Image Theatre Intensive

DATE CHANGE—3 Mondays: Nov 3, 10 and 17 • 7 to 9 p.m.
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut Street • West Philly
—series closed to new participants—

Like iconic photographs from history, Theatre of the Oppressed uses still images to highlight systems of power and ignite dialogues around contentious issues. In this three-part series we will play “The Great Game of Power”, a technique for sculpting images out of everyday objects to illustrate conflicts and struggles faced by those around us. When we add ourselves as actors into the picture, scenes spring to life as debates between people and politicians, friends and neighbors, and family members who can’t quite see eye-to-eye. We’ll enrich this work with some readings and discussions and create opportunities to carry our scenarios not just to the stage, but to the actual people and places embroiled in conflict.

More events soon to come. Call or email 267-282-1057 / "tophilly@gmail.com" for more info.

Free Workshop: Intro to Theatre of the Oppressed

Monday, October 6, 2014
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut Street

Theatre of the Oppressed (or “T.O.” for short) is a practice made up of images, sounds, movements, words and ideas taken from our collective experience in the world. Utilized by teachers, organizers, actors, activists and ordinary people in over 70 countries, Theatre of the Oppressed breaks down the dividing line between spectator and performer by inviting everyone to play theatrical games that hone our skills and spark conversations. These skills and conversations are the building blocks for more in-depth techniques that address power, privilege and oppression in our society and ourselves.

Here in Philly we kick off our 2014-2015 season with a free workshop that touches on some of the key practices of T.O. and the ways we can use it for personal and social transformation. Anyone of any experience and background is welcome to attend, just let us know that you’re coming by calling 267-282-1057, or email “tophilly@gmail.com”.

More events soon to come. Call or email 267-282-1057 / "tophilly@gmail.com" for more info.

T.O. Philly News: Summer 2014

It's been a spectacular spring! Several amazing facilitators officially joined the T.O. Philly team and led a variety of workshops in April and May at the Rotunda. Having so many Jokers* on deck, we were for the first time able to be practicing Theatre of the Oppressed in multiple places at once. Here's a synopsis of where we've been and who we've been with in the past couple months:

We were invited facilitators at the Zami conference for LGBTQ+ people of color, for the Ethical Humanist Society's Building an Ethical Future conference (which is where the photos on the right were taken), and at the Young Adult Friends Conference at Pendle Hill.

At local institutions, we did Image Theatre with Temple University's Institute on Disabilities, made quick Forum Theatre pieces with student art teachers through Tyler College's Arts Education Program, and brought Theatre of the Oppressed to UPenn to highlight the importance of improvisation as a tool for social change.

We also led games and anti-oppression group work with people from all over the world at the Girls Rock Camp Alliance's conference in New Jersey and for Action Service Reconciliation for Peace's seminar in D.C.

This summer we resume work with transgender and gender-variant youth at Camp Aranu'tiq on the East and West Coasts, with students and faculty at Goddard College in Vermont, with Mariposa Co-op's Food Justice and Anti-Racism group in West Philly, with South Philly's Burmese and Bhutanese refugee community at Growing Home Gardens, and with LGBT teens at The Attic Youth Center in central Philadelphia.

What else will 2014 bring? You tell us! Leave us a message on our new voicemail at 267-282-1057, or drop us a line at ye olde email: tophilly@gmail.com.

Hope to see you soon!

—The T.O. Philly Team

*Joker is a Theatre of the Oppressed term for "facilitator" and also "difficultator". For more insight in to that, see our glossary of T.O. jargon.

Dram•Attic: Teen Forum Theatre with LGBT Youth and Allies

Performing at the Attic Youth Center's 2014 Summer Expo
Thursday, August 7th • 5:00-8:00 PM
at the William Way Community Center 
1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia

T.O. Philly has teamed up with the Attic Youth Center this summer to present DramAttic, a Forum Theatre project with LGBTQ teens and their allies. Each week DramAttic creates a set of 5-minute mini-plays and then performs them for their wider community. After each scene, we have a Forum where audience members can step onto the stage and alter the outcome of the story.

DramAttic has been holding Thursday Morning Forums throughout July at the Attic Youth, highlights from which will be part of the Attic's Summer Expo on the evening of Thursday, August 7th at the William Way Center at 13th and Spruce Streets. Other groups at the Attic have been engaged in online social media, writing Twitter poetry, creating Vine and YouTube videos, and rethinking the way we engage on Facebook and Instagram. The Expo is open to the public—Come see what these teens are doing!