T.O. Philly News: Fall 2011

2011 was an active year for Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed, full of games, workshops, performances, travels and actions that brought this work into the wider world. On the local front, we rounded out two years of work at the Attic Youth Center with a 6-week service learning project that brought LGBTQ teens and allies together to address the issue of bullying. T.O. Philly facilitators also did some work with the Occupy Movement, as well as two dozen German volunteers who are in the U.S. for a year through Action Reconciliation Service for Peace. We'll have a post up soon with more info about our collaborations with these organizations, and look for info about our upcoming workshops on Tuesday evenings at the Rotunda.

Analytical Image from the Rainbow of Desire
Beyond Philadelphia, T.O. Philly represented at the annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Chicago with a workshop called "Making Mistakes" about what we can do when this work does not work. In the summer we led a day-long Image Theatre workshop at Camp Onas with Quaker youth from all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and this fall a trip to Providence brought us to lead a training with English for Action, an ESL organization that uses the pedagogy of language education to enact social change.

Besides announcing our classes and events (of which there were many this past year) we're now using this blog as a general resource for all things Theatre of the Oppressed, including:
  • Games: Rules for playing games and how the games can be applied to the work we do.
  • Graphics: For public use by anyone who does Theatre of the Oppressed and wants an image for a flyer or the web.
  • Glossary: In case someone's uses a T.O. term that others don't understand, now there's an online resource to ease up the jargon.
All of these resources are open source—please use them and attach a link to our blog if you do. And please contribute: if you have questions, variations on games, graphics or definitions for terms, leave us a comment or drop us a line and we'll add you in!

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you in 2012!

Love and Anger and Animals

We are starting to post rules for games and techniques! If you've used this game, have variations to add, or have questions about how this and other games are played, leave us a comment.

This is a rhythm game that can be played in pairs or in teams with many variations. It's a great warm-up for the body and voice, for being creative and receptive, and makes a good transition between ice-breakers and more involved theatrical work.

In his book Games for Actors and Non-Actors (London: Routledge, 1992), T.O. founder Augusto Boal briefly describes a game called "Crossing the Room" (p. 100) where "two actors cross the room from opposite sides, with a particular movement, rhythm and sound." In more recent workshops with Boal and his students, the game has taken on many different and more specific forms, two of which I'll give here:

Crossing the Room as Animals (two actors at a time with the rest of the group watching):
  1. Divide the group in two and have them line up facing each other on opposite sides of the space. The front of each line is diagonally across from the front of the other.
  2. The person at the front of each line thinks of an animal and then begins to act, move, and emit a noise like that animal. These two animals enter the space, moving slowly toward each other.
  3. When the two animals meet in the middle, these actions, movements and noises become an interaction—an interspecies conversation. Each animal notices the actions/movements/sounds of the other.
  4. The two animals each begin to "evolve" into the other, gradually giving up their own animal's characteristics and replacing them with those of the other animal. As they do this, the two animals physically switch places in the space as well.
  5. These animals then finish crossing the room, arriving at the end of the line opposite from where they started, and the next pair of animals emerge from the fronts of the two lines.
Exchange of Love and Anger (in teams, with everyone going at once):
  1. Actors form two lines with each person directly facing someone on the other side. (In case of an odd number of people, a facilitator can step in or out to make it even.)
  2. All turn to face away from each other. One team forms images of "Love" and the other of "Anger."
  3. All turn around once again to face each other. At the signal, actors dynamize their images, adding a movement and a sound, forming a rhythm. With these rhythms, the two teams gradually move toward each other.
  4. Once they meet, each pair creates a dialogue of Love and Anger, and then exchanges rhythms gradually by giving up aspects of their original image and rhythm to take on those of their component, eventually transitioning completely. As this transition happens, Love and Anger switch places, as well as roles, and back away from each other to arrive in lines opposite from where they started.
  5. Repeat this game a second time with each team taking on the opposite role. Partners then debrief, then the whole group discusses their experience.
Variations: The rules for these games are interchangeable and flexible: Love and Anger could be done in isolated pairs with the rest of the group watching, and Animals could be done as teams moving all at once. Other emotions can be swapped in, or try human professions instead of animals. As an alternative to exchanging roles, the rhythms could be morphed into a unified rhythm, ending up with a pair of identical hybrid creatures and/or emotions as the result—What is the synthesis of Love and Anger? Of a snake and a bumblebee? A goose and a lion? A bloodsucking leech and a hungry Wall Street broker? If you have any other variations or ideas, let us know!

Workshop photo taken in West Bengal by Luc Opdebeeck from Formaat, a Theatre of the Oppressed organization in Rottendam, Netherlands.

Colombian Hypnosis, Indian Hypnosis

We are starting to post rules for games and techniques! If you've used this game, have variations to add, or have questions about how this and other games are played, leave us a comment.

Games are at the foundation of Theatre of the Oppressed, and no game characterizes TO better than Colombian Hypnosis. The game's name comes from its point of origin: While in exile from his native Brazil, TO founder Augusto Boal developed many wordless techniques with indigenous Latin Americans. It was with a group of non-Spanish-speaking Colombians that Colombian Hypnosis was first realized.

Here I give the basic technique, as taught by Boal and many people in the U.S. and Europe. In a workshop, the game is often used as a transition point out of ice-breakers and into deeper conversations about power and oppression. Jana Sanskriti—the Indian Theatre of the Oppressed movement founded in West Bengal—uses Colombian hypnosis as a segue into working with still images, as well as a surrealistic theatre technique in their Forum plays. Their techniques are given below.

Colombian Hypnosis in pairs:
  1. Participants pair off and choose who's Ⓐ and who's Ⓑ. Ⓐ puts a hand—fingers pointed up, palm facing out—about 8" (20cm) from Ⓑ's face. Ⓐ is the hyponotist. Ⓑ is hypnotized.
  2. Moving very slowly and in total silence, Ⓐ leads Ⓑ around the space, playing with height, angle, position and rhythm, yet always keeping the movements very slow. Ⓑ must follow Ⓐ's hand, keeping the same distance and perspective at all times, as if hypnotized by it. Ⓐ's job is to challenge Ⓑ while remaining within the range of possibility as far as what Ⓑ can do.
  3. After several minutes (as few as 5, as many as 30) Ⓐ and Ⓑ switch roles. Now Ⓑ hypnotizes Ⓐ for the same length of time that Ⓐ hypnotized Ⓑ.
  4. After each has had a turn playing both hypnotist and hypnotized, both Ⓐ and Ⓑ put a hand in front of each other's faces, both hypnotizing and being hypnotized simulataneously.
  5. Debrief, first in Ⓐ/Ⓑ pairs, then as an entire group—this part is very important. For most groups the facilitator need do very little to get an insightful dialogue going!
Variation in threes:
Same as Colombian Hypnosis in pairs, but now with Ⓐ, Ⓑ and Ⓒ. Each takes a turn using two hands to hypnotize the other two.

Variation in fives:
A single hypnotist hypnotizes four others, one on each hand, one on each foot.

Variation in groups:
A chosen hypnotist stands in the middle with all others choosing to be hypnotized by different body parts at different distances. The hypnotist must move very slowly in this variation, as the smallest movement can send certain people flying across the space at great speeds!

Chain Reaction:
Endless Hypnosis combinations are possible: a single hypnotsist can manipulate long chains or large mobs of hypnotized masses with each hand, or group members can randomly select to be hypnotized by body parts of unknowing participants—be creative!

Colombian Hypnosis in India: a gateway to Image Theatre

I learned this method in workshops with Sanjoy Ganguly, one the founders of Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed in Badu, West Bengal. It begins with any game of Colombian Hypnosis given above—usually the 2-person or 3-person versions—with the following steps added:
  1. All participants freeze or resume moving at a signal from the facilitator. These freezes can be rapid intervals, or long (sometimes uncomfortable) holds.
  2. During a freeze, the facilitator can select one pair or group to remain frozen while all others come and look at the image and voice their observations. These first observations are objective, meaning that they are factual, physical characteristics of the image, not speculations as to what's going on.
  3. After several objective observations, people can offer subjective observations: Who are these people? What are they doing, thinking, and feeling? What is their relationship? What happened before this? What will happen next?
  4. After a number of observations, people resume the game until another freeze and another image is chosen for analysis.
This technique can go in many directions, and it tends to move the surreal narrative of Colombian Hypnosis into something more concrete. The facilitator may ask for participants to modify the image, or to dynamize it with movements, sounds or words. Jana Sanskriti also uses Colombian Hypnosis in their plays (pictured here) to illustrate power dynamics in a symbolic fashion. If you're rehearsing a play, try using Colombian Hypnosis as a rehearsal technique by having one character hypnotize one or two others while they say their lines. Or use Colombian Hypnosis as a "Mini Forum" by instructing the hypnotized to creatively break out from under the control of their hypnotist—again, the possibilities are endless!

Rainbow of Desire Workshop Series

This is a notice about past events. For information on upcoming events, click here.

7 Mondays • November 7-December 19 • 7:30-9:30 p.m.
at Studio 34 • 4522 Baltimore Ave • West Philadelphia
New workshop series coming in 2012—stay tuned...

THE RAINBOW OF DESIRE is a family of theatrical techniques developed by Augusto Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed. Called "the Boal method of theatre and therapy," the Rainbow of Desire replays situations from our everyday lives and reveals invisible elements of our relationships, such as emotions, mental obstacles (a.k.a. "Cops in the Head") and desires that may be of hindrance or of help. Each session begins with theatrical games that develop a theatrical vocabulary and build group dynamics, then we move into sharing stories and choosing one to be acted out. From here, the Rainbow of Desire goes beyond the goal of helping us "get over" our past experiences; as in all branches of Theatre of the Oppressed, these workshops strive to vanquish ongoing oppressions, transforming individuals, relationships and society as a whole.

Below is a list of what we've focused on each week. For a guide to terminology used in these descriptions check out the Theatre of the Oppressed Glossary.
  1. Games, Hopes, Fears, Images: For our group's first encounter, 20 people played icebreaker games and then shared hopes and fears for this series using a variation on Paolo Friere's "Problem Tree" popular education tool. We also worked with Colombian Hypnosis, the quintessential Theatre of the Oppressed game, as a method for developing the language of Image Theatre.
  2. The Screen Image: A basic Rainbow of Desire technique with rotating cast that shows us their Images of the Antagonist, then trumps then with Counter-Images of the Protagonist.
  3. Rashomon: Inspired by the Akira Kurosawa film of the same name, the characters in a story give their version of how things are from their own varied perspectives.
  4. The Analytical Image: We expose an array of emotions contained in two characters, then match them up on a series of theatrical blind dates to see what works and what doesn't.
  5. The Mask of the Oppressor and The Circuit of Rituals and Masks: Two techniques focusing on the concept of "mask"—a static way of presenting ourselves in specific relationships and situations. In the first technique, everyone has the opportunity to wear the mask of their own oppressor, as well as someone else's mask of the oppressed. In the second technique, one person wears the mask normally worn in one situation and applies it to other situations to see what the results are. 
  6. The Rainbow of Desires: When we're in a relationship where we want something, but we're not sure what it is, this technique separates the muddled entanglement of desires into distinct "stripes" for us to figure out which desires are useful and which ones can be done without.
  7. The Carrousel  of Oppressions: We all deal with oppressive circumstances that have similarities to and differences from one another. This technique puts people in each others shoes to witness and be witnessed how they fare. 
For information on the Rainbow of Desire, or any of our other workshops, get in touch: "tophilly@gmail.com" or 215-730-0982.