After seven years it was my honor and delight to return to Jana Sanskriti. This time, I came prepared to offer a workshop and I brought two of my American students.
The workshop was held in three languages – English, Hindi and Bengali. With the help of our willing participants communication was possible.
I had never offered this workshop before. I dreamed it and it felt like a good idea. BUILDING THE MASK OF YOUR OPPRESSOR.
Masks have been my specialty for over 30 years and I once worked for a mask maker who made face casts.I had also taken a workshop about your inner demons and this photo is the mask I made for that workshop.
In three days, we met and built the masks and on day four, the real work began. Pairs were encouraged to have a conversation with their masks on their phones in the selfie mode.
I think this exercise is a great building block to add to Boal’s Rainbow of Desire and Cop in the Head exercises.
I will be meeting with Katy Rubin in NYC next week to discuss possibilities for further development of this exercise.
Jana Sanskriti once again acts as glue joining like-minded individual together in the world.
I look forward to returning to Jana Sanskriti soon.
Our investigation of Aesthetics of the Oppressed – Sound/Rhythm began with a theatrical laboratory in Berlin in 2010. Based on this experience we created a structure for workshops as well as a way of creation of Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) productions in general, and Forum Theatre productions in particular. We tested and developed this structure in workshops in KURINGA Berlin (20011/12) as well as during Theatre of the Oppressed meetings and festivals such as the Pula Forum Festival in Croatia (2012/13) and the Second Latin American Theatre of the Oppressed Meeting in Guatemala (2012).
In 2013, we decided to share the Sound/Rhythm-process with the Centre of the Theatre of the Oppressed (CTO) in Rio de Janeiro, out of recognition and gratitude. CTO was our source of inspiration stimulating us to follow the research of Aesthetics of the Oppressed that Augusto Boal and his team had begun in 2001 in Brazil. After the workshop and street presentation in Rio, more workshops and presentations followed: at the Colombian Theatre of the Oppressed Festival (2013) and the Latin American Theatre of the Oppressed Meetings in Bolivia and Nicaragua (2014/16).
In 2015, Jana Sanskriti visited us in KURINGA, space for Theatre of the Oppressed in Berlin. The group presented their play “Shonar Meye” and watched Forum Theatre presentations from the KURINGA community groups Madalena-Berlin and KIKMA. At this occasion, we spoke about how to share the experience of Aesthetics of the Oppressed – Sound/Rhythm with Jana Sanskriti in Badu – a plan we were finally able to realize in June 2016.
Our connection with Jana Sanskriti, international reference for everybody who practices Theatre of the Oppressed, had been existing for a long time. Bárbara first met the group during the international Theatre of the Oppressed Festival in Rio de Janeiro in 1993 and then re-connected during the Muktadhara festivals in 2006 (with Augusto Boal) and 2010, when she conducted the first Madalena Laboratory in India. Till participated in the Muktadhara festivals 2010 and 2012, conducting plastic barrel percussion workshops with Jana Sanskriti and ATG Halle. As KURINGA was founded in 2011, the workshop Aesthetics of the Oppressed – Sound/Rhythm in Badu was the first collaboration between Jana Sanskriti and KURINGA.
From our perspective, the common grounds between KURINGA and Jana Sanskriti are our deep commitment to social transformation and a TO practice, where aesthetics stimulate the understanding of social structures that produce and nourish oppression. With Jana Sanskriti, we are convinced that Forum Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed need analytical dialogue and the search for alternatives through the construction of alliances between groups of oppressed.
From 13 to 19 June 2016, we were invited to Badu to develop an unforgettable aesthetic experience including sounds, rhythms, flavours, colours, aromas and stories. This week allowed us to reconnect with our friends and to return to a familiar environment. We were able to get to know the newly built Augusto Boal Auditorium and had the honour to work in this impressive space. We were very happy to share time with persons deeply experienced in the method and open for a process of collective sharing and learning.
As always, we met the challenge of the adaptation of a working method to local specifities. For example: the use of objects from recycled garbage as a resource for the Sound/Rhythm process. What would be our working material in a place where bottles, barrels, tins, cardboard boxes and almost every kind of container or wrapping are recycled for domestic use or sold in the streets? Finding discarded objects that can still be of use for sound production was a collective task that led us to a stimulating discussion about concepts of garbage, of consume and waste, and about different ways of life.
In our Aesthetics of the Oppressed – Sound/Rhythm workshops, the practical process is always connected to theoretical reflection. In Badu, it was the challenging language situation that invited us to focus on the most essential aspects. Reflections translated from English to Bengali and back from Bengali to English about concepts of oppression and transformation, about aesthetics and dramaturgy allowed a fascinating dialogue between all of us. Everybody’s openness for reflection and investigation facilitated the creation of a fertile environment for collective learning.
Telling the sonorous stories is a crucial moment of the Sound/Rhythm process. One part of the group tells their story, only by using Sound, the other part of the group listens with closed eyes and then responds with images, using their bodies. No words are used, neither during the production of the sonorous stories nor in the dialogue of Sound and Image. Maybe the sonorous story process in Badu was the easiest and most fluid so far. Despite the complexity of the methodology, the group reached concrete stories and the images proposed seemed to echo in all persons present. The choice of one story from a variety of proposals was based on the urgency of the topic and not much time was needed for the decision process. Once there was a concrete and specific oppression, recognized by everybody, the focus was on developing sounds and images that broaden the vision of the problem. We achieved a result that was at the same time aesthetic-metaphorical and absolutely palpable: a story of exploitation and miserable working conditions in factories, especially for women.
For the first time we also developed Word as aesthetic element during the Sound/Rhythm process. Even though we were in a context where we did not speak nor write the language common to the group (Bengali), it was possible to use the creation of poems as activity of common understanding of the wider social context related to the specific topic represented in the play. The group decided to produce a synthesis, using parts of all the poems produced during the aesthetic process. Word, Sound/Rhythm and Image were used to create a performance that introduced the social context of the presentation.
The audience for the Forum Theatre presentation were people from the neighbourhood, the Badu community. They seemed to be absolutely connected to the story that was presented, as the aesthetic representation was clear and the topic of work exploitation in factories is of high relevance in the region. This connection guaranteed for diverse interventions, many spect-actors came on stage and showed their proposals for transformation.
Badu in Badu
As we were in Badu, we wanted to share the path of one or our favourite exercises called „Badu“. Originally a kind of rhythmical opening ritual during the 2010 barrel percussion workshops involving the names of everybody, in our Sound/Rhythm workshops „Badu“ became a rhythm exercise with many variations. At the IV Latin American Theatre of the Oppressed Meeting, realized in January 2016 in Matagalpa/Nicaragua, one workshop participant, María Zikín, created a poem based on the exercise. From the „Badu“ rhythm and the text of the poem, we created a collective rhythmical performance that opened the Forum Theatre presentation, involving the whole audience in a „badú, badú, badú” chorus. During the workshop with Jana Sanskriti, we introduced rhythm and chorus and asked for proposals: what did the group want to express about Badu? What did they want to communicate at the beginning of the presentation to the Badu community? From the proposals („There are nice people in Badu”, „There are lots of trees in Badu”, „A lot of theatre happens here”, „Ghirish Bhavan is located in Badu” etc.) we created a rhythmical opening performance with sentences about Badu, singing and dancing for the Badu community that helped us in the chorus: „Badu, Badu, Badu”…
(María Zikín 2016, inspirada en el Taller Estética Ritmo y Sonido, Enero del
 Bárbara Santos, Badu-Kolkata, June 15th, 2016
 Coordinated by Bárbara Santos (Madalena-Berlin) and Christoph Leucht (KIKMA).
 An aesthetic investigation on oppression faced by women.
 see: Till Baumann: Noisy dialogues – some remarks on tablas and plastic barrels”, in: Dia Da Costa: Scripting Power. Jana Sanskriti On and Offstage, Kolkata 2010.
 see: Bárbara Santos: „Teatro do Oprimido, Raízes e Asas: uma teoria da práxis”, Rio de Janeiro 2016.
 A topic with high relevance in West Bengal. Similar topics were proposed during the Sound/Rhythm processes in Guatemala (2012) and Bolivia (2014). This tells a lot about global capitalism and its consequences.
 Exercise created by Till Baumann during the collaboration with Jana Sanskriti and ATG Halle at Muktadhara Festival in Badu (2010).
 „Badú“, poem by María Zikín (Nicaragua), inspired by the workshop Aesthetics of the Oppressed – Sound/Rhythm at the IV Latin American Theatre of the Oppressed Meeting, Matagalpa/Nicaragua, January 2016 (text see below).
April 3rd, a group of 15 gathered in the newly inaugurated Augusto Boal auditorium at the home of Jana Sanskriti at Badu,Kolkata to spend 6 days learning how to create Cantastoria— a form of picture story performance— and how to build giant puppets and bring them to life through dynamic image theatre.
The workshop was facilitated by Tamara Lynne, visiting artist from Portland, Oregon (USA), Founder and Creative Director of the Theatre organization, Living Stages. Workshop participants included primary school teachers from the villages of South 24 Parganas as well as long-time members of Jana Sanskriti. This workshop is part of the first season of activities at JSSIRI, the Jana Sanskriti International Research and Resource Institute, which was inaugurated in November 2015.
During the workshop, participants engaged in community-building games to strengthen connection, focus and energy, developed lists of issues faced in the village communities, practiced theatre to understand connections between these issues, and designed long paper scrolls of pictures exploring topics of education, health and unemployment and the impact of these on village children.
Once the scrolls were painted, the groups developed songs and stories for each scroll and began to rehearse the presentations.
After this we began the Puppets! Using cardboard, newspaper and a flour and water paste, participants began to construct the giant puppet heads and design the face and features. Building up the face with paper mache, layering strips of newspaper dipped in paste over cardboard, they created eyebrows, nose, eyes and lips; each puppet had a unique shape and personality and represented familiar roles: The Politician, The Capitalist and The Common Man.
After letting the paper mache dry overnight, the puppets were painted in vibrant colors, and puppet heads and hands attached to bamboo poles. Clothes were added using tape and needle and thread, and the puppets were finally up on their feet!
Puppet head drying after paint
Painting the Capitalist
The Common Man
The final day, the team took one of the giant puppets out into the neighborhood to invite the community to the presentation, and children as well as adults of Badu joined Jana Sanskriti for an event performance of Puppets and Cantastoria. Owing to the on-going West Bengal elections, the group could not travel to the villages to perform.
Outreach with Puppets
During the performance, Jana Sanskriti made an additional innovation in the Cantastoria, inviting neighborhood children onto the stage to identify the frames in the picture where something could be done and urging them to share their ideas of responses and possible solutions. Cantastoria-forum was born!
In this workshop, the participants engaged with Jana Sanskriti’s dramatic methods and Shadow Liberation’s highly visual approach to theatre dialogue in order to devise a dynamic piece that was performed for the public.
“Realisation of change sometime comes from within people and cannot be imposed upon them by others.”
The workshop started with a series of games to demechanize the senses and dialogue about patriarchy and misogyny. For example, the variation of Colombian Hypnosis with one person in the middle with extended hands being followed by two people, whose hands are being followed by two more people. This was played with the central character speaking a monologue from the point of view of patriarchy while leading the movements of the others with hand gestures. In addition to the leader/follower dynamic of Colombian Hypnosis, the debrief of this activity also got into the idea of ideological proximity. Some of us are closer to the core beliefs of patriarchy, while others distance ourselves, but make no mistake, we are all affected. In our Forum Plays, we can use this idea of ideological proximity when considering bystander characters or other potential allies in our scenes. To what extent do we, and do our characters, carry the oppressive ideology that we are struggling against?
The participants also went into sudden, uncomfortable silent zones while exploring the oppressed-oppressor relationships through Image Theatre. This gave raise to personal reflection and sharing that gave material for the development of the play.
“Issues considered a taboo in terms of thoughts, actions and/or conversations in the society have to be questioned and deconstructed.”
Leading up to the workshop, the participants traveled to Kochuberiya, a village tucked away in the Sunderbans, West Bengal, to watch Jana Sanskriti’s all-women team conduct a community Forum Theatre event.
A group of ten women entered the village in bright yellow and red sarees, walked on to the Manch (the stage), and huddled up for an energetic performance. They brought to light issues ranging from girls’ education to dowry deaths, through a vibrant display of characters.
The power of the play was palpable and the intimate setting was conducive to personal interactions between workshop participants and village residents.
The show was culturally rooted, integrating folk dance and mask forms, and the energy levels were high throughout the performance as they were singing, dancing and acting simultaneously.
“When the play ended and the forum began, the local men either maintained distance or left the forum space. This also goes to show that forum theatre in villages is intimate and requires courage because the participants are going to be facing the other villagers on an everyday basis.”
After the village the students went to Lok Indie Studio, a theatre group in Kolkata, to collaboratively devise and produce a two-minute short-film overnight.
The workshop in Badu continued with Theatre of the Oppressed based activities adapted to the Shadow stage with the aim of learning Shadow Theatre techniques while developing a more critical perspective. As everyone warmed up, the investigation of patriarchy, power structures and gender specific violence grew deeper.
“Women internalize the idea of being the weaker sex in their minds and patriarchy is further entrenched with women becoming partners in reinforcing the concept.”
The participants experimented with the shadows, lights and equipment to create a sequence of short acts depicting forms of gender violence. Shadows lend themselves to the representation of traumatic memories, dreams and the unspeakable. In front of the screen on-stage performers enact problematized social encounters to complicate the abstract Shadow representations and invite audience intervention into concrete situations.
The workshop cultivated a safe space for the participants to move through emotions, deal with differences within the group and function as a collective while holding ourselves accountable for the part we play in the system of patriarchy and rape culture.
“I took away lessons of feeling the moment and being present,” expressed a student.
Sanjoy Ganguly, author and director of Jana Sanskriti, graced the workshop with an exercise and dialogue about the journey from Being to Becoming. Sanjoy spoke about the importance of Love in this work and shared stories from his decades of experience practicing Theatre of the Oppressed in rural West Bengal, India.
On February 25, the original Forum play developed in the workshop met a live audience for the first time in the Augusto Boal auditorium at Girish Bhavan in Badu, Kolkata. The audience was full of women and children from the surrounding area, who were riveted by the visually lush performance.
During the Forum, spectators sprung to the stage offering interventions into scenes depicting sexual harassment on public transportation and work, as well as a scene depicting a woman facing lack of family support while attempting to leave her marriage because of marital rape.
The Jana Sanskriti team reflected on the session and one of them stated, “There was a powerplay even among the spectators, wherein some women came on to the stage and interacted while the other belonging to lower strata did not. But, the ideas echoed in their minds too, which is important.”
The workshop culminated in a public performance at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata. The lively auditorium roared with spectators ready to jump on the stage. The students and other public reacted to situations spontaneously, and when the 1.5 hour Forum concluded, the audience longed for more.
In a scene depicting sexual harassment at work, when the boss flicked the earring of a female employee, one of the spectactors, who replaced a co-employee, slapped the boss and threw a pad at him to protest his actions. The audience clapped and responded saying they would react similarly to such situations.
“It was interesting how we did not know until the last couple of days that we are putting up a full-fledged show. Whatever we created through our sessions pieced together beautifully in our final performance”
The workshop was filled with moments of humor, serious reflections, uncomfortable silences, creative expressions through shadows, art and dance, as people from different cultural contexts worked together to create truly meaningful theatre.
Click here to know more about upcoming 2016 activities.
We are a non-profit organization, with a strong basis in emancipator theatre (Theatre of the Oppressed), pedagogy and activism.
JSIRRI ‘s intention is to explore how Theatre of the Oppressed and related theatre and art forms can foster a culture of dialogue, strengthen participation and stimulate liberation by engaging with a wide range of disciplines and fields of work.
As a globally active arts hub JSIRRI connects artists and activists, practitioners and researchers both south to south and south to north, virtually and physically.
International connectivity, inclusion of all sections of society and interdisciplinary of approaches are fundamental to us.
JSIRRI inaugural celebrations held between 28 Oct – 13 Nov 2015 comprised of three workshops and two inaugural events:
Rainbow of Desire workshop led by Jean-François Martel,France.
Introduction to Theatre of the Oppressed led by Birgit Fritz(Austria), Jale Karabekir(Turkey) and members of the Jana Sanskriti core team
Introduction to Hula – by Ka `Imi Na`auao o Hawai`i Nei Institute, Hawaii
Inauguration of JSIRRI: November 7, 2015, ICCR Auditorium, Kolkata
Inauguration of the new Augusto Boal Auditorium: November 8, 2015, Girish Bhavan, Badu, Kolkata
and a short tour to the villages of Digambapur and Shrinarayanpur,South 24 Parganas.
Performances by Jana Sanskriti teams and the visiting Hawaaiian troupe Ka `Imi Na`auao o Hawai`i Nei Institute occurred on the latter two occasions, as a marker of the first trans-cultural exchange under the aegis of JSIRRI. At the Inauguration, short statements were made by Directors in 7 languages, and a recorded video message from Julian Boal was screened. Special guests for the evening were Mr. Stéphane AMALIR, Director, Alliance Française du Bengale and Mr. Gautam De, Regional Director,Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata. A visual documentation of the inauguration events and performances will follow soon.
Post these celebrations, on Nov. 12-13, 2015, seventeen people from four continents, 7 women and 10 men, gathered live at the first directors/volunteers meeting of the Jana Sanskriti International Research and Resource Institute (JSIRRI) in Badu, Kolkata, India. Another 10 joined during Skype interactions, adding important issues and offering their assistance. The main issue of the meeting was the potential added value of JSIRRI to the world of art/activism in general and Theatre of the Oppressed in particular.
Sanjoy Ganguly opened the meeting with a key address, pointing at the importance of shaping and reshaping of the work of theatre and other arts as ways of delivering internal and external activism. He also pointed to the need to work with complexity, instead of being satisfied with easy answers, and to avoid narrow or egocentric perspectives. He added that we should make use of the fact that knowledge builds on what has already been understood through experience by many. Knowledge does not consist of isolated facts and art has the power to do research by unveiling people’s experience and presenting it to a larger audience.
The meeting produced a whole range of ideas on art- and action-based research methods. It also emphasized the importance of dialogue with conventional researchers, artists from the entire range of the arts and activists who use the arts as a tool for liberation as well as research method. The eventual goal is to provide an alternative to research which only cements oppression and, by channeling experiences of the oppressed using art as a research tool, provide powerful images of a world without oppression. JSIRRI activities can take place anywhere in the world,if they are relevant to the cause. The directors have phrased a vision/mission statement which defines this relevance.
Both the directors/volunteers who were present and other affiliates each provided their personal contribution to the JSIRRI program by announcing workshops, offering voluntary work on several committees and other concrete actions. JSIRRI’s scopes of operations broadly are – Academic and performance Research, Workshops, Seminars, Artist residencies, Internships, Publications (books, newsletters & journals).
Please stay tuned for the JSIRRI Event Calendar 2016 for more details.
People present volunteered to be a part of committees/working groups (any further offers will be gratefully accepted). These committees are – Research, Fundraising, Events and activities, Communications- Translation-Media, Publications and Archiving. We welcome everyone to contribute their expertise in these areas. The outline of these committees will show the potential JSIRRI is going to develop in the next 2 years, especially regarding research projects, fundraising and the sharing of resources. The next global meeting, during which we hope to host directors/volunteers from all continents and many research and activist partners, will take place in Badu in 2017.
With JSIRRI we are hosting a space in which artists and non-artists can shape and reshape their world and work. An arena where learning is a process of exchange and sharing, where knowledge is achieved through action and where change is documented and made accessible to communities around the world.
JSIRRI’s vision to use the arts to recognize and bring together different ways of knowing and of knowledge identifies bodies, participants and their contexts as landscapes of investigation.
As that research grows it will chart, explore, activate and archive the human potential for self-creation, co-creation and transformation.
JSIRRI’s open space extends an invitation to all those who want to propose projects, research into practice and/or offer resources in line with these goals, creating interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange to frame new challenges and nurture embodied and productive knowledge.