Next, Mecca Burns offers a photo essay update on the “Journey Mercies Tour”— a theatre experiment in international village outreach–and how corruption brought it to a halt at the Uganda-Kenya border. The team of Ugandan women– health workers doubling as forum theatre activists– were forbidden to cross into Kenya. But the next day, the Kenyan women improvised a healing enactment of the heartbreaking scene at the frontier.
“Beyond the Bubble” In a letter from Greece, Sergio Kob reports the act of reaching out to audiences beyond the ‘bourgeois bubble’. In theatricalizing power relations between unions and companies, for example, the key is to pose honest questions, “no matter how cruel our story or our reality is.”
“A Free Flowing Stream”
Next we celebrate two enduring frameworks in India that carry the vitality of our work and art:
MUKTADHARA: “A Free Flowing Stream” The 8th Bi-Annual International Forum Theatre Festival will take place in December 2018 near Kolkata.
FOTO: A report on the most recent meeting of the Federation of Theatre of the Oppressed, India and describing a Theatre for Democracy workshop with forum pieces on caste, domestic violence and child abuse.
“Mach mit!Es geht um uns!” (Take part! It’s about us!) In our last article Armin Staffler gives a fascinating account of legislative theatre for and by people with disabilities in Tyrol, Austria. Through the forum theatre process, hundreds of suggestions were generated by the experts themselves—people living with disabilities of all types. As one participant put it, ”It wasn’t my plan to act on stage, but then I was fascinated.”
We welcome your contributions to upcoming versions of this newsletter or the growing JSIRRI global network (next deadline: 10 June 2018)
With love and solidarity linking all our continents,
your JSIRRI newsletter editing team:
Mecca, Alessio, Kelly, Pratyusha, Ralph and Joschka
And remember: Take part! It’s about us!
P.S.A Virtual Cultural Exchange between Sudan and the World.
We are seeking artists of all kinds who are willing to offer a free Skype lecture-demo for a group of art teachers and therapists in SUDAN who work with people with disabilities. They are eager to learn new arts approaches from other countries. Theatre, music, visual arts…
The Skype calls will take place for 1-2 hours on Saturdays- late afternoon Khartoum time. You may sign up for just one time or more.
Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2018 issue of the JSIRRI newsletter.
In this issue we put Jana Sanskriti‘s visit in Europe into focus. They visited Italy, France and Austria in the course of October and early November 2017. For all of them and for all of us who had the chance to host them it was a very important time that gave us the opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. Fabio Fussi, one of the main organizers of the visit gives an overview about the activities of Jana Sanskriti inItaly.
In Vienna, Jana Sanskriti has shown Where We Stand in a hot political context, an upcoming national election. The theatre group „Das ReflActiv“ who works within the host organisation of Jana Sanskriti in Austria, „TdU Wien“ watched the play and afterwards made a collective and instrumentalist critique of the amazing performance (because they wanted to adapt the play to their own context). Sharing these reflections with Sanjoy Ganguly from Jana Sanskriti and Ralph Yarrow (co-editor of this newsletter), a dialogue was started which you can read in this issue. Thanks to Ralph for compiling the separate texts into one readable format that stresses some of the important convictions of Jana Sanskriti‘s work but also gives a perspective on it from a European angle. It includes new questions generated by the play in European audiences and conflicts that the group was reminded of, theatrical critique and strong images from the play. Sanjoy Ganguly takes the reflections as inspiration for both content-wise discussion (Do we need to differentiate the bougeois class according to color?) but also stressing the importance that forum plays need to be produced by the oppressed themselves and thus are context-specific. He says that forum theatre performances in other contexts can be mere demonstrations and not a real forum. That also relates to the fact that oppressed groups already know their issues but through forum plays they can understand them and become SpectActivists. Read the full text here
Tell us if you like the style of the text because we might continue the dialogue in upcoming issues.
Another important thing that happened in Austria was an official meeting of Jana Sanskriti International Resource and Research Institute (JSIRRI) whose newsletter you are currently reading.
In this inspiring meeting, within others, the following points were discussed:
– The goal of JSIRRI is to be an international voice or network; in so doing it can also facilitate existing networks, it strives towards decentralization.
– People who are interested in JSIRRI and in collaborating are welcome to put the JSIRRI logo on their websites and publications, expressing their affiliation with JSIRRI.
– The Newsletter serves as the chief organ of communication and discussion of the possibility of events and collaborations.
JSIRRI is already facilitating networks of theatre activists globally (as the recent visit of Jana Sanskriti has shown). You and your organisation are welcome to become part of the growing network and be the network. Italian and Austrian organisations have already joined.
Furthermore, Mecca Burns (from the editing team), was so kind and started something we want to propose to you as the international Theatre of the Oppressed community. She sent us some detailed forum theatre scenarios she worked with in Kenya, Uganda and the US. We think it would be wonderful to be able to collect forum theatre scenarios from all over the world as a collective wisdom produced by us as an international TO community. Our suggestion is to classify all forthcoming contributions in the following way: title, date, locale, brief description of the group and the issues.
The contribution could include a short description of the scenes in your play, but if there are written scenes to the plays that might be even better. If you want to guarantee a broader understanding of your forum scenarios beyond languages maybe it is even a good idea to send strong images of the progression of the forum model. There are multiple ways of sharing your work!
Naturally we need to emphasize that every situation is unique and the play must come from the heart of the group and the culture. But a catalogue of scenes will bring color and zest and vividness. And specificity. Let us all celebrate our global movement diversity.
Mecca also contributed an image of Kenyan women experiencing the Colombian hypnosis in their first ever participatory theatre workshop. Read more here.
Kelly Howe is introducing the US-American PTO journal to the readers of this newsletter through an interview with its editors. It is a peer reviewed journal that offers exchange on issues of Pedagogy of the oppressed and Theatre of the oppressed. Contributions don‘t have to be scholarly but can also include photos, poems, personal narratives etc. Curious? Read more here.
Last but not least, Alessio Surian, who is another new member to the editing team has contributed a short piece on the upcoming World Social Forum in Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) from 13-17 March 2018 (http://fsm2018.org/en/). He cites some of Augusto Boal’s addresses to that global social movement forum. By commemorating the murder of a young black LGBT activist in the organisation committee, Alessio reminds us all that activism for global change can be a dangerous thing.Read here.
We are welcoming all of your contributions to upcoming versions this newsletter (next deadline: 28th February 2018) or the growing JSIRRI global network. With this newsletter all of us at JSIRRI and at Jana Sanskriti wish you a very happy new year 2018 and a good read!
Your editorial team
Ralph Yarrow, Mecca Burns, Pratyusha Ghosh, Alessio Surian, Kelly Howe and Joschka Kock
In this issue we happily present to you again very diverse contributions from the global community of TO and applied theatre.
Caleb Seda, the director of Kerith Brook School in Kenya describes an experiencehe had with educating students in forum theatre directed by Mecca Burns and Sanyu Lydia. It is yet another beautiful account of what can be achieved with Forum theatre in political turmoils even by young citizens from schools. And then the high school students themselves become present in our newsletter contributing their conflicts and opinions regarding political violence before elections in scenes of forum theatre in a video. Is it not amazing how this newsletter connects people from so very different strands of life from all continents?
Betsy Robertson has been at a placement at Badu and Jana Sanskriti in late 2016/beginning of 2017. She recalls her experiences with special regards to women empowerment within Jana Sanskriti. Ralph Yarrow then comments on this contribution by explaining the long-term engagement between Betsy‘s and Ralph‘s University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK and Jana Sanskriti. He opens more general questions like the equalness of exchange in the example of this very research institute JSIRRI. Also, he opens the term „research“ for a discussion. Theatre how Jana Sanskriti is doing it and many of us all over the world, earns the word research and challenges the power difference that universities create by monopolizing knowledge. This invited us all to think about what we can contribute to Jana Sasnkriti International Research and Resource Institute (JSIRRI).
After this very international contributions we also proudly present you a report of the work done by the Federation of Theater of the Oppressed in India (FOTO). Having been to Muktadhara last year, some of us in the editing team had the chance to meet some of their activists. Considering FOTO, it is not very widely known that Forum theatre in India extends to much more than what Jana Sanskriti is offering and all these activities stem from Jana Sanskriti‘s training efforts. To recognize Jana Sanskriti‘s close engagement and alliance with social movements which is unprecedented, this article is a must read.
Another contribution from India stems from Sambhaavna Institute of Public Policy & Politics. They are an alternative learning space to challenge hegemonic power structures. Jana Sanskriti has offered a workshop there and started a collaboration. They offer a wide range of very interesting workshops for you inside and outside India. The article reminds of us methodologies beyond TO that can challenge hierarchies in the world today and invites practitioners and organisation to widen their scope.
Relating his current projects to a very personal life account, Uri Noy Meir shows how important it is to link intentions and deeds very closely: He is working with Kaddu Yarrax in Senegal in an intense residency and started together with Amit Ron in Greece the project „Play4life“. Also he will use Wisdom Conferences to work on collective leadership and responsibility. Curious? Read his story as a facilitator and projects here .
Last but not least we want to say sorry for a mistake we made in our last issue which was pointed out by Sanjoy in a great and thankful letter to the editors: „In Budondo village the groups visited was ‘We are Walacuba’ . ‘We are Walacuba’ is a dedicated effort of Prof. Jane Plastow. They were trained by Jana Sanskriti. Sima Ganguly accompanied them. This needs to be clarified in the next issue“ The full letter and also a short statement on what Sanjoy and Jana Sanskriti envision for JSIRRI can be found here. You are always welcome to send us emails and letters to comment, criticize and love our work, we will post them in the newsletter, when feasible!
The next newsletter which we want to post in early December will give us all the possibility to look back at our year as TO practitioners and movements, as applied theatre practitioners. The end of the year is always a time of self-reflection for me which we can use to take new strengths for new projects.
Please send us your reflections, announcements, reports, political statements/comments and whatever else you want to contribute by 15th November.
Foreshadowing, there will be an overview of this year‘s Jana Sanskriti European tour. All of you who are somehow part of it are especially invited to share your thoughts on it.
We wish all of you the very best and all the power in strengthening your efforts to change the world to the better
your editorial team
Mecca Burns, Kelly Howe, Pratyusha Ghosh, Ralph Yarrow and Joschka Köck
Dear community of the Theatre of the Oppressed and all those interested in the JSIRRI project,
The function of JSIRRI is to place in context, geographically and methodologically, the significance of Jana Sanskriti’s work; and to suggest paths by which it can interact with, shed light on, inspire and be inspired by, and open up questions about its relationship to other kinds of similar work in many places. In the last few weeks, Jana Sanskriti core team members have themselves, as so often in the past, been furthering these kinds of connections in practice, both beyond India (in Uganda) and in states beyond West Bengal in India (in Maharashtra). Other activities have brought practitioners to Badu for workshops and in order to strengthen links. (We hope to have accounts of much of this in subsequent Newsletters.)
This is the kind of sharing that signals the ethos of connection which underpins JS’s work and was the motivation for JSIRRI. Sanjoy might call it a form of spirituality. It is a practice of love; not as sentiment, but as an activity of exchange. JS do it because they know it works.
It’s very appropriate then that the contributions we’ve received for this Newsletter reflect many of these dimensions, in particular with reference to the African continent. “Journey Mercies”: Forum Theatre Outreach in East Africa’ gives a glimpse of the context of work which Jana Sanskriti’s visit supported and makes it clear that there a large number of similar concerns which the work of both groups addresses. We are very pleased to welcome Mecca, who contributed this piece, to our Editorial team and look forward to exploring these further in future.
Act for Change from Accra, Ghana uses interactive, popular theatre and other participatory methods and are looking for links with others doing similar work. Their participatory structure and the issues they address also suggest strong parallels with aspects of JS’s work, though their methodologies show some difference; there’s lots of room here for interaction and discussion.
In the African context, there are also established and very active TO groups in Senegal (Kaddu Yaraax) and Mozambique (CTO Maputo – though beware, the acronym is also used by several other organisations including the telephone provider!); in South Africa the Drama for Life programme at Wits University trains practitioners to work in Southern Africa Development Consortium countries, and runs a variety of programmes at all levels on TO, Playback and other forms of community and applied theatre.
Susan Quick of Enabling Theatre will report in the next Newsletter on her workshop for disabled people at this year’s Kaddu Yaraax festival; space permitting, we will also include an account of an earlier visit by Mecca Burns.
Hjalmar Joffre-Eichhorn’s short definition of key aspects of TO (Theatre of the Oppressed: A methodological force in the struggle for a New Common Sense) sets out six theses which exemplify its advantages as a method of responding to the critical situations – political, social, economic, interpersonal – which most people in the world face. Although written for publication in Latin America, the points it makes are universally applicable. They very usefully identify influences, principles and methodologies and signal important ways in which the ‘arsenal’ of TO is well-placed to respond to the enormous challenges facing humanity. A more extensive treatment of all these areas, plus their embedding in Boal’s work in Latin America and his links with Freire, can be found in Birgit Fritz’s book:
Birgit Fritz, The Courage to Become: Augusto Boal’s Revolutionary Politics of the Body.
Hjalmar’s contribution is available in four languages: Español, Deutsch, English and Japanese: links to the non-English versions are provided. This is most welcome since we would like the Newsletter to be accessible to as many people as possible. Please send future contributions not only in English but also in any other language you feel comfortable with.
Barbara Polajnar has contributed a short account of the 5th ‘Non-Festival of TO’ in Slovenia– another inspiring event. We also include a notification of a forthcoming workshop in Italy.
Many thanks to all our contributors; we invite everyone to think about how this range of approaches to the practice of TO can be extended and supported. Are there collaborative ventures and projects which you would like to see building on this? We would very much welcome ideas and debates. And please contribute further material about methodology, goals, forms of practice and their effects for the next issue!
The next newsletter is planned to come out early October 2017. Send contributions (of all kinds, s.a.) by 15 September 2017 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear community of the Theatre of the Oppressed and all those interested in the JSIRRI project,
We want to welcome you to our new newsletter which has the objective of connecting the global TO community and others working in similar fields, through a quarterly short newsletter.
Jana Sanskriti has in the last years tried to give the global TO community a home in which it can flourish and with JSIRRI to give it a global platform to connect with each other. This newsletter extends that effort.
After the last Muktadhara festival of Jana Sanskriti in December 2016, we formed a small team to edit this newsletter. It consists of Pratyusha Ghosh (Jana Sanskriti, India), Kelly Howe (USA), Ralph Yarrow (University of East Anglia, UK) and Joschka Köck (TdU Wien, Austria).
The idea is that all of you who receive this newsletter can contribute to it: be it as contributors of texts, news (such as festivals, workshops etc.), reflections, presentations of TO groups (or other applied theatre practitioners/movements/companies), archive material, political statements/calls for actions or new methodologies of theatre you have developed etc. (that are roughly 1 to 2 pages long); be it as translators who undertake to translate this letter into other global languages so that it can reach more people; be it through forwarding it to friends of your own TO network; be it through giving active feedback to us as the editing team. Of course you are also very welcome to join our small team. In any case please write a message to email@example.com
In this first issue, Ralph Yarrow presents some theatre groups from South Africa which are not TO companies by name but who also engage in a Freirianic way of building functional political literacy among participants. Also he has written a short update on the Muktadhara festival 2016. Kelly Howe has written a summary of the events around Tamar Alon‘s brave struggle not to become a soldier in the Israeli army. Sanjoy Ganguly reflects how a spiritual activism with its sense of one-ness (as opposed to binaric capitalist thinking) can lead us to a nature-centric humanistic perception. He therefore invites us as the global TO community to be united under a common political struggle. Joschka Köck is posing some of his recent thoughts on the TO as a theatre movement and is trying to stimulate a discussion about whether we as TO practitioners care enough about aesthetic value (and in fact if TO is the only valid activist-political theatre form).
Lastly we want to welcome all your questions and opinions about JSIRRI and Jana Sanskriti as a whole. We are particularly interested in any proposals for collaboration, skills exchange, research projects etc.
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.
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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.
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