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"

Two Free Workshops
March 18 and 24, 2017

BORDERLANDS: Boundaries & Migrations
Led by Paloma Irizarry and Hariprasad Kowtha
Saturday March 18 • 11:15 AM–1:00 PM
at the Screening Scholarship Media Festival
in the Annenberg School for Communication
3620 Walnut Street on UPenn's campus
Click here to register—it's free
See full festival schedule here

Based on Gloria Anzaldzúa's seminal work, Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, T.O. Philly explores the borderlands between nation-states, languages, neighborhoods, work and home. Using the tools of Image Theatre—movement and stillness, acting and witnessing, observing and storytelling—participants dive into a study on personal boundaries and the intersections that lie in between. 

RIFTS: What Divides Us & What Unites Us
Led by Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews
Friday March 24 • 9AM–Noon
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut Street
Email "tophilly@gmail.com" to register
Free workshop • Donations welcome

RIFTS is a workshop about social and political differences that cause schisms between people and groups. Whether it's ongoing dynamics within a relationship, heated talk with family around the dinner table, clashing opinions at work or school, or polarized viewpoints that divide a nation, the roots of these rifts have much in common. In this workshop we'll physicalize our experiences by using the language of theatre to dig up these roots in order to build the world we want.

To sign up for Borderlands, fill out this form. It will register you for the two-day festival of which the workshop is a part.

To sign up for Rifts, email "tophilly@gmail.com" or call 267-282-1057. Same email and phone number if you have questions.

Unpacking Race March 2017: Week 4

Throughout the month of March T.O. Philly is posting media to support our Unpacking Race workshop series. Workshop participants are watching videos, reading articles, listening to radio pieces, and writing in their journals in between sessions. Others are welcome to follow along.

After unpacking various systems of racism in last week's Unpacking Race workshop, we talked more about intersectionality and solidarity via these definitions: 
Intersectionality: “Various ways in which race and gender and other identity markers—such as language, age, class, national origin, sexual preference, ability—interact to shape people’s individual and collective experiences... The intersection of racism and sexism—and other structural oppressions—factor into people’s lives in a way that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those experiences separately.” — Kimberle Crenshaw 
Solidarity: “Meaningful resistance to dominator culture that demands in all of us a willingness to accurately identify the various systems that work together to promote injustice, exploitation and oppression... There can be no love where there is domination. And any time we do the work of ending domination, we are doing the work of love.” — bell hooks

Some exercises we used to explore intersectionality and solidarity included Person to Person, Gravity Statements, and The Three Wishes in which Images of Oppression can be modified toward becoming Images of Liberation. These techniques lead us into this week's journaling assignment.


1. WATCH this short animation about microaggressions:

2. LOOK AT this video "Stop Being An Ally" recently published by This Matters. What are ways that this video challenges you? What are ways that you rise to these challenges?

3. READ the articles about some spaces and communities to which people can bring anti-racist dialogue and organizing:

4. JOURNAL about race. Additionally, try following one or more of these prompts:
  • REFLECT on the Image Theatre we made. Which scenes or characters were familiar to you? How realistic or fantastic (fantastic meaning "in the realm of fantasy") were the edits that people tried? How could these dynamizations be applied to the real intersectionalities of race in the wider world?
  • INTERSECT race and another stratum. Write about each as it relates to you. How are these similar? How are these different?
  • GRAVITATE a statement or idea by writing it in the middle of the page, and then draw a circle around it. Where are you in relation to it? Where have you been in the past? Where would you like to be? Where do you see others? Plot these as points nearer or further from the initial idea and write about each. Do your words fall toward the idea? Away from it? Do they circle around it? Do they form new ideas that have their own gravity?

Unpacking Race March 2017: Week 3

Throughout the month of March T.O. Philly is posting media to support our Unpacking Race workshop series. Workshop participants are watching videos, reading articles, listening to radio pieces, and writing in their journals in between sessions. Others are welcome to follow along.

After defining race and ethnicity in last week's Unpacking Race workshop, we talked about racism and shared the following definitions:
Institutional Racism: A system of advantage based on race and supported by institutional structures, policies and practices that create and sustain advantages for the dominant white group while systematically subordinating members of targeted racial groups. This relative advantage for Whites and subordination for people of color is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms, and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.
Individual Racism: The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate institutional racism. Individual racism can occur at both unconscious and conscious levels, and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of Whites.  
Active Racism: Actions that have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of the advantaged group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of people of color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values. 
Passive Racism: Conscious and unconscious beliefs, attitudes, and actions that support the system of racism, racial prejudice, and racial dominance and contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence, discrimination, or an ideology of white supremacy. 
These terms are from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, (Routledge, 2007).

We posted these four definitions on each side of the room to create an intersectional map of racism, marked with an active-passive X-axis and an individual-institutional Y-axis. We then mapped examples of racism that we'd experienced in the media and our own lives, both currently and historically, by putting our bodies on the grid. Sometimes we walked or stood, other times we sat in chairs, and then used the chairs to add a Z-axis to show visible racism (standing high on the chair) to invisible racism (ducking underneath the chair) and everything in between. The question arose, "For whom is this passive and invisible? And for whom is this visible and active?" We then worked in small groups to create theatrical sculptures and human machines that illustrated these systems of racism.


Longtime activist Judy Vaughn has said, "You don’t think your way into a different way of acting; you act your way into a different way of thinking." This is the spirit of Theatre of the Oppressed, and the spirit of this week's media materials:

1. HEAR Ericka Hart's speech from the Philadelphia Women's March. GO Magazine describes Hart as, "a Black femme, breast cancer survivor and sex educator who spoke about who this march was for and how we can all learn to create more intersectionality in our feminist movements." Be sure to read the first paragraph of the transcript, as it didn't make it onto the audio here.

2. LOOK AT "The Problem with 'Privilege'" by activist scholar Andrea Smith. In this essay, Smith explores "the structuring logics of the politics of privilege. In particular, the logics of privilege rest on an individualized self that relies on the raw material of other beings to constitute itself." Read through the first section, and then journal about it before moving on.

3. READ Michelle Chen's article about race, disability, and public education, published by Al Jazeera. Chen's short editorial intersects these strata with those of age, class, family status, language, access to healthcare, eligibility for employment, and a cycle of disciplinary action that escalates from school suspensions to arrests and prison sentences.

4. GIVE A LISTEN to this first part of the "Who Is This Restaurant For?" radio series, in which journalists Kat Chow and Dan Pashman discuss race, food, and neighborhood socioeconomics with proprietors and customers at three Washington DC restaurants:

5. DRAW AN INTERSECTIONAL MAP in your race journal. When you notice something in your life that relates to race, plot it on the map, and then write about it. You can plot things as they occur and then write a little about each, or choose a few incidents to expand upon more extensively. What does placing a situation on this map reveal? What's left out? What would you add or change to the structure of this map? No matter how you do it or how often, add mapping to your race journal.

Unpacking Race March 2017: Week 2

Throughout the month of March T.O. Philly is posting media to support our Unpacking Race workshop series. Workshop participants are watching videos, reading articles, listening to radio pieces, and writing in their journals in between sessions. Others are welcome to follow along.

In Week One of our Fall 2016 Unpacking Race workshop series, we got to know each other, defined race and ethnicity and shared some of our experiences through movement and discussion. The definitions we used:
Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories.

Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical location. Members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or biologically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case. Examples of ethnic groups identified in the U.S. are: Cape Verdean, Haitian, African American; Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese; Cherokee, Mohawk, Navajo;
 Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican; Nepali, Indian, Pakistani; Polish, Irish, and French.

Racial and Ethnic Identity: An individual's awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe themselves based on such factors as genealogical or ancestral heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization, and personal experience. Puerto Ricans, for example, may be racially European, African, indigenous, or various blends, yet they refer to themselves collectively as Boricuas. Despite color differences, Puerto Ricans share a culture which shapes food, language, music and customs.
These are adapted from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, (Routledge, 2007).   

As we move the discussion of unpacking race into unpacking racism, here are a few things to watch, read, write, and reflect upon: 

1. WATCH this clip from comedian Aamer Rahman:

2. READ Audrey Smedley's short essay, "The History of the Idea of Race...and Why it Matters", detailing the history of race in the United States.

3. ALSO SEE this history of race in the U.S. as covered by the documentary, Race: The Power of an IllusionWatch the first part here. Seeing the first part may compel you to watch the rest, so here are links for Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4.

4. JOURNAL about race. When you notice something in your life that relates to race, write about it. While we can learn lots from reading, talking, performing, and engaging in workshops about race and racism, making time for self-reflection is also essential. Your journal could be a daily practice, or a few times a week, or maybe you've always got it with you, ready to jot down your thoughts about race as they occur. No matter how you do it or how often, keep a race journal. 

AND FINALLY, Here are the Four Agreements of Courageous Conversation that T.O. Philly uses when doing this work:
  1. Stay engaged:  Staying engaged means “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually, and socially involved in the dialogue.”
  2. Experience discomfort:  This norm acknowledges that discomfort is inevitable, especially, in dialogue about race, and that participants make a commitment to bring issues into the open.  It is not talking about these issues that create divisiveness.  The divisiveness already exists in the society and in our schools.  It is through dialogue, even when uncomfortable, the healing and change begin.
  3. Speak your truth:  This means being open about thoughts and feelings and not just saying what you think others want to hear.
  4. Expect and accept non-closure:  This agreement asks participants to “hang out in uncertainty” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing dialogue. 
Adapted from Glenn E. Singleton & Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools. 2006. pp.58-65. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Unpacking Race March 2017: Week 1

Throughout the month of March T.O. Philly is posting media to support our Unpacking Race workshop series. Workshop participants are watching videos, reading articles, listening to radio pieces, and writing in their journals in between sessions. Others are welcome to follow along.

Prior to our first session, watch Jay Smooth's short talk, "How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race". Jay is the host of Underground Railroad, New York's longest running hip-hop show, and also has a video blogger about race. This video sets the tone for how we'll be approaching our own process in Unpacking Race: