Theatre of the Oppressed offers us the space and skills to unravel the oppressions that we face in our world, our relationships, and our selves. This work can be profound, especially when shared with a group of people who can dedicate some time together. Over the course of one weekend, T.O. Philly brought 16 people to just that atFellowship Farm, a retreat center dedicated to peace and conflict resolution. We shared meals, played games, and went deeper into the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed while taking time out from the city and enjoying nature, quiet and fun.
About the Retreat: The group made use of Fellowship Farm's 120 acres of meadows and woods, along with indoor spaces, for workshops and recreational activities. Workshop time was divided into 6 chunks or 2 to 3 hours each, that started with games, get-to-know-each-other exercises and general conversations about power, and then moved into deeper, more personal work. Some debriefing happened during workshop time, and a lot also happened around the dinner table or campfire. Many people at the retreat had experience with Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) and many did not. The Workshops: Here's a brief synopsis of what we did: 1. Friday Evening—Colombian Hypnosis: After learning each other's names and coming to some agreements about how we would carry ourselves through the weekend, we played many versions of the quintessential TO game Colombian Hypnosis as a way to begin conversations about power in different kinds of relationships. What does power look like between 2 people? Between 2 parents and 1 child? In a school system with a superintendent, principals, teachers and students? In a nation during a revolution? And how do we want that power to look? By changing the rules of the game, we can create proposals about how to change power.
2. Saturday Morning—Identities and Isms: We played some games where we took on animal and other non-human identities, then played a version of 2 × 3 × Bradford where people made statements about who they are. We tested these "I Am" statements with the group to generate some topics—gender and sexuality, dis/ability and mental health, race, ethnicity and spirituality—to creat some short skits about some of the "isms" in our lives.
3. Saturday Afternoon—T.O. Olympics, Funhouse and Museum: Dividing into teams, we played a series of highly competitive (and also cooperative) games before heading into the woods to work with Image Theatre. We mirrored one another, and sculpted and witnessed each other as images of surprise, curiosity, guilt and denial, before putting some of these images together into animated scenes.
4. Saturday Evening—Images of Privilege: A theatrical meditation on what privilege looks like to each of us, and to all of us. 5. Sunday Morning—Reflections of Oppression: We walked in silence up to Fellowship Farm's Meditation Meadow, then walked to the pulses, breaths and energies of others before sharing very personal stories to be relected back through various techniques, including Holographic Listening, more Image Theatre, and some techniques borrowed from Playback Theatre.
6. Sunday Afternoon—Darkness and Discoveries: We closed the weekend with some experimental games using spatial awareness and working with closed eyes, interspersed with speaking and listening about what the weekend brought up for each of us. This culminated in Boal's Song of the Siren technique, followed by a blind scavenger hunt around the farm before saying our goodbyes.
Future Retreats and Ways to Participate: T.O. Philly's 2012 Summer was a success and we're eager to do more! Thanks to many people's generosity, we offered a sliding scale and scholarships, and plan to offer more in the future to enable more people to come. We welcome donations and fundraising ideas from the community—both here in Philadelphia, and internationally through the network that is Theatre of the Oppressed—Please get in touch!