Using Theatre for Human Rights Education and Action

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Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Using Theatre for Human Rights Educa

Dear Friends


Please watch this short video about "theater of the oppressed project" we had in Iran. It was great and I really like to share it with you.




Kowsar Gowhari

Video showing use of Theater of the Oppressed techniques


Thank you so much for sharing this video with us!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Relevance of stories - can small be smarter?

Can small can be smarter and understandable? – depends? Hi everyone. Thank you very much for these inspiring thoughts being shared here. This comment is inspired by Max's point. I am however, sharing a subjective concern I have from the Southern part of Africa… I just thought I could throw in something relating to definition of terms, and I wondered to what extend do they enable or hinder our work or practice. Well I am writing this because I realize the topic is on theatre, and yet some of the processes would require us to clarify what kind. So noting some of the discussions here, I have sort of come to like applied drama and theatre (Well I am a Drama For Life scholar and if you check you will understand my bias), anyway… In applied, I think there is a lot of collective risk taking in that both the actors and audience or ‘spect-actors’ to borrow from Boal would be challenged to reflect on their plight. I think this approach is particularly relevant for Southern Africa, where clarity on the different genre is either collapsed or implemented without full understanding of the principles. I have an experience in Lesotho where stories would be ‘packaged’ for everyone, and my contention is that this does not really work. I turn to think that there needs to be a shift from wanting to cover so many hundred and what what people, but in enabling moments for people to reflect on their own plight. At the core of what I would really like to say is that if we can clearly understand the different roles and processes, there would be less demands on certain processes whose demands and approaches are inappropriate, knowing whether we are engaging in a process or product. What do people think about ensuring understanding of the principles of our work, before borrowing, collapsing models, so that we can be judged on the merits of what we intended to do in the first place? Sometimes I look at a project review and I think, if the objectives were these, then this project has achieved the quality and not so much the quantity needed. I do realize that there is pressure for reach, reach, reach, but I think we need to take a step back and lay the tapestry of diverse approaches clearly for those that we would like to work with. Especially those who may support our initiatives. Due to HIV/Aids, the pressure may be too much, and thus undermine the power of theatre processes or products. Depending on clarity?

Motho ke motho ka batho

Hi Selloane,   I think

Hi Selloane,

I think you are calling for a more robust scholarship of applied theatre, is that correct? What I read is that you're interested in having approaches and tools be well organized and recorded.  That's a good idea, especially since, as you say, sometimes we're asked to perform quickly and make things happen that frankly, we aren't really suited to.  There need be no illusions about what the theatre can do - this is also the point that was made about theatre in conflict situations.

Even though things may become standardized, we're also still required to respond and adapt to each and every new situation. So we have to be careful not to become to standard in our approach, as this can be a shackle. 

I also agree that there's some question of what terms are appropriate - applied theatre is one of many options.  There's a problem, though, with any terminology or understanding of the theatre that points to something outside of theatre itself.  Discussion, conscientisation, transformation - these are all things inherent in what good theatre is.  When we say theatre for something - theatre for peace, development... etc, we are suddenly at the mercy of something, and become restricted.  If theatre is about creating a safe space, all these things, peace, development, human rights, clutter up the space before we're even in it!

Of course we engage with all these issues because we think theatre can make a contribution.  But its best to keep our perspective - maybe that's what you mean about ensuring understanding of the principles of our work.  Thanks for your thoughts!

I hear you completely

Yes Max, and I think this can go a long way in substantiating our work win quality. Perhaps the notion that less is more, and also looking at the recent slogan of the AIDS mexico conference - go deeper, go longer. Time is so critical, time to reflect, engage, reflect engage, action, discuss etc.

Thank you for your engagement.

Motho ke motho ka batho

Watching some contemporary wayang kulit(shadow puppetry)

Hi all,

I'm currently in the midst of a great community arts festival in Salatiga Indonesia - Festival Mata Air , a festival that is using the arts to promote environmental awareness and change particularly in regards to water issues (and is the reason i haven't been able to get on this site so much this week, as i'm sure you can all understand!).  And i thought i would share with you all what last nights performance was, as it brought back to me exactly the power that performance/puppetry can do.

Last night, in the middle of rice fields, in a small urban kampung (neighbourhood) in the middle of salatiga, was a performance from Wayang Kampung Sebelah from Solo, central Java a fantastic contemporary  wayang kulit, shadow puppet group that mixes traditional wayang kulit with contemporary issues, characters, as well as dandut, a contemporary Indonesia popular pop music, that is a lot of fun.  The show was about a community were a corporation wants to privatize their natural spring, (a very common issue in this area), which in the end the community fights and decides not to allow.

So pretty typical story but the way that it was put across had people in stitches, a clever mix of wit, wicked music and hilarious puppet characters enable the story that was extremely close to the bone, and would in a normal situation be quite controversial, be very digestible!  But what was really amazing was the audience.  The show was long (luckily only 3 hours as opposed to the formal wayang kulit tradition of 12hours!) starting quite late, but the audience stayed right till the end, and this was not just your normal one 'type' of audience but was a mixture of the political leaders of the district, members of the community old and young, street punks that had come from all over the region for the next days punk concert as well as quite a lot of internationals.  And during this time we had the juxtaposition of the extremely elite political leaders in their VIP seats laughing whole heartily to the humor and wit (which was simultaneously, in many ways  making fun of and undermining their own roles in society) while the punk contingent were dancing crazily to the same storey and music and the community was watching with total enthusiasm, all enjoying each others company, identifying with the storey, enjoying the entertainment while also sensing the edge that the storey has.  Many people commented later on just how impressed they were with how such an entertaining show was able to get to the core of such a political issue, in a way that human performance could not have done.

So yes, last night was a lot of fun!

Wayang Kulit

Thanks Annie. What a wonderful example of people using their traditional artistic practices and blending them with contemporary forms and well as social commentary!

 It makes me think of an idea I had to blend Wayang Kulit with Theater of the Oppressed Techniques.  I was in an international Asian performing arts fellowship where one of the artists was a Wayang puppeteer.  We got to talking about creating a Wayang Kulit piece that would basically be like a forum theater show.  Where the puppeteers would show a scene/play about a local issue/oppression and after, the audience would discuss and those who wanted to could call out interventions that they would want the puppets to make ... then, they get to sit behind the screen or right near the screen and tell the puppeteers what to do as they were re-playing the show.  

We never got to do it, but hearing your story makes me think about that blend! I hope you are having a wonderful time.

working with Schizophrenia

I want to share a story of a small project that came to me recently.

I was visiting a centre for mental health patients in London, in connection  to some of my work with homeless people, and had the opportunity to meet a woman living there who is a voice hearer, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  She showed me some  writing that she'd been doing, and asked if I could help her  do something with it.

The writing was literally a record of what the  voices in her head were saying over a certain  period.  She did not act like an author, but rather as someone who'd just written down what she had heard.  The text was  chaotic and scary.  It was like white noise on the television, with every now and then a concrete image jumping out.  Much of it was about the Royal Family and Princess Diana, with whom the author feels a particular connection.

The first 'book' I was shown was roughly the length of eight monologues.  A week ago Sunday, we performed a rehearsed reading of this book, with six actors, at a venue in London called The  Foundry, with an invited audience.  The writer was there, and after the performance, she had a discussion with the  audience about her experiences with mental health and  breakdown, and where her writing came from.

I'm happy to say that people were really happy to have been present for this - it was a really good example of positive witnessing.  I'm also happy to say that the writer's confidence and health has soared since we started working with her, and in the last six months I've witnessed a real change in her confidence and ease.

Just telling your story, that's all it takes sometimes. 

Our Own Voice Theater Troupe: theater and mental health

I worked for a little while in Memphis, Tennessee with a wonderful theater group called Our Own Voice Theater Troupe. They dealt with issues relating to mental health and created their own shows. Their actors and playwrights were a combination of people with mental illnesses and people without. One of their most prolific playwrights is a severely schizophrenic  man who writes pretty wild but brilliant plays. Working with his words and creating visual narratives through them resulted in some of the most cutting edge theater I've ever seen. The process was very empowering  for all of us and not making any distinctions between those of us with mental illness and those without was a very powerful element of the troupe and made everyone feel equally valuable and made us all feel ownership of the work.

The troupe used their plays to raise issues around societal views of mental illness, around mainstream definitions of "reality" and the exclusion of those whose realities differ, around the dangers of corporate drug companies and television therapy shows, and around the pitfalls, benefits, effects, hard choices and pressures inherent in using prescribed drugs for mental illness.

The issues they deal with go far beyond personal healing and therapy and really critique the effect of capitalism on mental health, question whether people with mental illness are, in fact, "ill", and challenge audiences to look closely at the cultural mainstreams they live in and see how it affects their own mental health and their views of what is "health" and who are actually "healthy".

Their work is visionary and I wish more people knew of them. Their website is:



I am currently facilitating a process with people living with mental health issues and/or carers, - this was a brilliant offer, timely. Appreciated.

one last note

Bill, the artistic director of the troupe, was both a theater practitioner  and a therapist.  He used to do theater/therapy workshops at clinics and would insist that if he was doing a workshop with mental health consumers, that the clinicians/staff would have to participate, as well. He wouldn't allow any hierarchical separation between the two groups and talked about how he found what a profound difference that made for the experience of both parties. Most notably, it allowed staff to hear the issues of consumers on a peer level and allowed them to share themselves as well. It brought the whole group together and helped each group understand the other in a more holistic way.

I hope that is an accurate representation of what I remember Bill telling me!

Bridging the gap between mainstream and the margins


This is an incredibly powerful story illustrating how theater can be such a transformational tool for helping groups to better understand how those in the "mainstream" of societies keep others in the "margins" - whether out of fear, discrimination or misunderstanding. It is always interesting to note and be aware that the "mainstream" and the "margins" are constantly fluid. Theater provides a very unique tool for utilizing  those shifts in creative ways to open new possibilities. Thank you for sharing it and the stories of the others that followed.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Never-to-forget theatre experience

Such an inspiration I have gained form various experiences. Thanks. Would also like to share about...

Linking Lesotho (in Southern Africa, completely surrounded by South Africa - but independent state) through theatre...


I am also associated with the Winter/Summer Institute in Theatre for Development. Ok briefly - in 2006, the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s Faculty of Humanities hosted the first biennial, multi-national collaborative initiative, the Winter/Summer Institute (WSI) in Theatre for Development[1] - WSI’s primary collaborative creative work takes place in an intensive three week residency in June/July.  The project grew out of discussions between theatre practitioners and academics from the participating institutions, along with community development activists.  All initiators shared a commitment to collaborative, improvisational-driven work, with a focus on enhancing the theatre making capacity of students and staff while engaging in innovative ways of addressing issues of HIV/Aids through drama and theatre.  For the participating institutions, it is winter in the South and summer in the North; hence the name.  

In June/July this year a new play; Its Just You And Me, My Wife and Your Boyfriend/Ke ’Na le Uena, Mosali oa ka Le Mohlankana oa Hau Feela, was developed and performed at Roma, Maseru and Malealea Lesotho.. The play explored tensions associated with choices, chances and changes amidst power, denial, stigma and HIV/Aids. Having established a unique blend of theatre elements and tapping of participant’s talents and creativity, the WSI in Theatre for Development was able to allow audience to thread the story beyond the performance, thus shift the sometimes ephemeral theatre experience to challenge them to think beyond their own frame of what is and what could be. Exceptional about the play was its ability to present children’s milieu amidst the pandemic and an endeavor to explain the rapid spread of HIV in Southern Africa.

Sharp, succinct and sometimes poignant scenes evolved from the village that served as a backdrop to a theatre genre that transcends the divide likely to be created by conventional theatre forms. Actors took on multiple roles to capture a story of once a good quality of life but now distorted due to HIV/Aids. A story informed by recent research such as Helen Epstein’s concurrency theory and presentations by local practitioners such as Dr. Molotsi Monyamane and international partners such as Mèdicins San Frontières (MSF) as well as personal testimonies of living with Aids. A story comforting and discomforting, entwined by music richly endowed with the WSI’s cultural diversity under the directorship of Alta Van As of the university of Witwatersrand, South Africa

It is still astonishing however, how HIV/Aids still brings to the surface the misconception, taboos and dichotomy of ideologies despite massive campaigns of education that Lesotho and other countries has embarked on. In the play, the uncle scene was particularly found disturbing as the vulnerability of orphaned children was laid bare. “The laughter is of nervousness, we have girl children and the scene where the uncle rapes the child is just too close to reality”. Said one audience member during post performance facilitation. This for me is one never-to-forget experience about the power of theatre as a tool for social change.



[1] Participating universities were NUL, the University of Witwatersrand/School of Education (Republic of South Africa), the University of Sunderland (United Kingdom) and Empire State College, State University of New York (SUNY) [United States of America]. Due to practical restructuring issues in its theatre department, the University of Sunderland did not participate in 2008.  


Motho ke motho ka batho

when does the change happen?


this show sounds really amazing and like it touched people deeply.  I'm responding right now to a point you made, of how there have been massive campaigns to inform people of the dangers of HIV, but still the behaviors  of most people hasn't changed.  I am familiar with drama for life, and I know this is one of the big questions in your programme - how to really make change.   

I love the enlightened comments in this dialogue, many of which have to do with awareness and granting permission for anything to happen.  I wonder if you can talk about this from a drama for life perspective, and how you scholars are looking towards the future in your work in Southern Africa.


Just thought I would share

Just thought I would share this change cycle with everyone. I always find it useful in terms of appreciating what might be taking place as we do our work. Ourselves and those that we work with and for. If I knew how to make a link I would just do that so that everyone can visit the site and see the picture of the different stages.

The Change Cycle™ Model

Change has always been a necessary aspect of life and work, and our world is changing more rapidly than ever. It is likely that you will have to cope with a variety of changes in the near future. Your success and fulfillment - your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well-being - depend on how well you adapt to change.

People react, respond and adjust to change in a sequence of six predictable stages. The Change Cycle model identifies the thoughts, feelings and behaviors associated with each stage of change. There is no better map to assist you in navigating through the changes in your life.

Stage 1 – Loss to Safety
In Stage 1 you admit to yourself that regardless of whether or not you perceive the change to be good or 'bad" there will be a sense of loss of what "was."

Stage 2 – Doubt to Reality
In this stage, you doubt the facts, doubt your doubts and struggle to find information about the change that you believe is valid. Resentment, skepticism and blame cloud your thinking.

Stage 3 – Discomfort to Motivation
You will recognize Stage 3 by the discomfort it brings. The change and all it means has now become clear and starts to settle in. Frustration and lethargy rule until possibility takes over.

The Danger Zone
The Danger Zone represents the pivotal place where you make the choice either to move on to Stage 4 and discover the possibilities the change has presented or to choose fear and return to Stage 1.

Stage 4 – Discovery to Perspective
Stage 4 represents the "light at the end of the tunnel." Perspective, anticipation, and a willingness to make decisions give a new sense of control and hope. You are optimistic about a good outcome because you have choices.

Stage 5 - Understanding
In Stage 5, you understand the change and are more confident, think pragmatically, and your behavior is much more productive. Good thing.

Stage 6 - Integration
By this time, you have regained your ability and willingness to be flexible. You have insight into the ramifications, consequences and rewards of the change -- past, present, and future.


Copyright © 2008 CCMC, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Website Design and Hosting Provided by Lance D. Jenkinson & IT Consultants



Motho ke motho ka batho

Theatre for social change with activists

Hello all

I’m really enjoying the discussions that are unfolding. Thank you to everyone that’s contributing and to NT for all the work you do to create a space for such dialogues.

Along the theme of how theatre can be used as a powerful tool in human rights work one area (of many!) that I am interested in exploring and developing is facilitating workshops using Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) processes with people actively engaged in social change work. I’m wondering if people are more likely to stay engaged to social change work if they have an opportunity to reflect on the work they do, be heard, dialogue, learn with others who share their desire for social change in a creative environment.

Primarily I envisage it would create a space for people to debrief and reflect on the , social change work (ie campaigns) that they are engaged in, and to explore what they feel maximizes and minimizes their desire for work for and create social change. A space possibly to question and dream wildly about how their work in the world might look. In doing so the participants could be sharing their experiences and learnings to support each other and ‘rehearse’ how their future work could be. This may be a way to peer-educate and keep people motivated to continue with their action (social change work).

Do people know of any people that are using Theatre of the Oppressed processes to work with such communities to support their social change work?

If so it would be great to hear about them and/or any stories that people have.

Warmly. Pru


Heh Pru.. NOT sure where your based, but assume part time in NT. There is a list of National TO and TFL practitioners here in Australia, that I have collected through training's I have run or hosted. Am happy to pass on to you. some names etc; of those who have come to the work with strong activist leanings, as perhaps opposed to those who entered the work through a stronger interest in drama - though a fine line with TO.

Yes, as a person who came to TO/TFl through activism. I know the value in finding was to talk about "the work", differently, in fact I got into TO because I found some of the ways we were organizing here in Victoria as activists, for me were not embodied enough, if that makes sense - or perhaps I should say they did not seem to be inclusive enough, address privileges, move beyond the didactic culture of "warfare" . Anyway let me know if you want me to pass on your details to TO /TFL practitioners here. There are some strong indij leaders in the TO feild, also, some TO practitioners working in that maybe, interested in linking and having these conversations  with them?

Re tools: an offer - there is also a great tactic we used in Melbourne amongst  a groups of activist called: Wildest Dreams. I learnt this tool some years ago, was keen on it's use.  Then worked on getting a workshop together here. it looked at inclusion it was for social justice activists etc;  where we are, our dreams..the steps in between. If you want I am happy to talk more re this tool. just email..

working with activists

I just wanted to respond about the idea of doing theatre work with activists.  Of course, why not?  I think a TO process will work in these cases and can be very useful.  I am starting to get work as a facilitator from  organizations interested in looking at their internal workings, and TO tools come in very handily.

I would also recommend that you experience Playback theatre, if you haven't already.  There are good Playback companies in Sydney and I think Melbourne as well.  Playback is a great debriefing tool, as it involves audience members telling their stories and these being re-enacted by actors.

Xris, your point about moving into TO because your work as an activist didn't feel 'embodied' enough seems really interesting to me (I hope I understood correctly).  I mentioned a TO practitioner somewhere else in this dialogue, named Sanjoy Ganguli, who told me a similar story. He was a Communist activist who found problems with the party and its way of advocating, and so moved into pure grass-roots forum theatre work.  I think this speaks to a different kind of activism, really, than what is commonly envisaged.  Theatrical processes are inherently democratic, at least, TO is, as are some other forms.  I think this safeguards against power structures and egos that can become established in activist movements.   

Theater process tools

Xris, Pru and Max,

I'm really interested in the ideas and processes that you've raised here for assisting activists in exploring, debriefing, sharing, celebrating, and generally processing "the work". 

Is it possible for you to share the "Wildest Dreams" tool? I am really interested to learn more about it.

By the way - Xris and Pru, I hope you connect as you are both in Australia. It's a big country but perhaps you're not too far apart! 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


Thanks Nancy and to all at NTP, for getting this dialogue up and running. It was an invaluable opportunity to talk to, share and reflect on a vast wealth of expertise's. Will def share wildest dream, and also the future we are afraid off. One is a Boal tool the other I think??? devised by Headlines, and adapted. Not sure when the dialogue finishes - know I can spend time writing the steps over my weekend. Is this ok???  If the dialogue is closed maybe I can email them to you can you could decide if to post them??? And I am sure Pru and I will manage to connect. The change agency has been receiving training updates, and I never knew much about them so great to have this opp to connect with PRU through the project...

Adding information after the dialogue "closing date"


Yes, please add the information to the dialogue - thank you so much for your willingness to spend time to write up the steps for "Wildest Dream" and "The Future we are afraid of" tools. These sound really great! 

A Point of Clarification on the Dialogues:

Although each featured dialogue has a specific opening and closing date, the dialogues are always open for community members to add a comment, resource, etc., even after the "official" closing date.  We maintain a set time period for those of you who have generously offered your time to be "featured resource practitioners." New Tactics wants to honor
your commitment and setting aside the time to be available for the

You can continue to use this dialogue space to maintain communication for sharing updates on resources and ideas. You can easily do this by clicking on "Participate by e-mail" and you will be send any new comments added to the dialogue.

You can also form your own "group" as Kristin outlined in her comment "Online Dialogues" .

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Working with Activists

Hi Everyone -

Pru, I'm glad that you brought this up.  For the last 3 years, I and the Theater of the Oppressed Lab at the Brecht Forum in NYC have been trying to work with activists and community groups to teach them the techniques and how to use them in their situations.  

To be honest, the work has been extremely hard and slow going.  First, the practical considerations - time and money.  To ask people who are amazingly busy with community organizing to take time away from that work to immerse themselves in some theater (even if it is for a weekend a month or so) is hard.  People want to relax, or do what they think is "the work".  Many people have a hard time committing to theater and making room for it in their work in a substantial way because they find it intimidating, strange or even useless. 

What we have seen is that individual members, or maybe a pair of members may take a public workshop with us and use what they can in a small way, or not at all.  When we have gone to places and tried to create more formal, long lasting relationships it is difficult.  You really need a combination of factors - a few people who really believe in, and want to use theater. A person or people in a more higher level in the organization also behind the theater project agreeing to put the org's time resources behind it.  And finally, community members who are receptive.  After all, if theater fails to capture the interest of the population that activist groups are working with, then they are less likely to spend their time and energy to develop a program.

I would love to hear how your work has been going Pru.

Love K

Using Culture

I know we’re supposed to be talking about our own theater experiences, but I
feel that most of my work is building directly off of the work of others and I
just don’t find my own stuff nearly as interesting just yet as the work of
those I’m learning from. So here I’d like to highlight a couple of powerful
examples of theater that use cultural traditions as their foundation. Drawing
from their own cultural roots was effective and profound and I frequently look
to these two examples as models:

Domestic Workers Purimspiel

A Purimspiel happens on the Jewish holiday of Purim. It is the annual
retelling of the story of Esther, the Jewish wife of a king who intervened in
state business to foil a plot to kill the Jews in her kingdom.  An awesome
organization, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), organizes
progressive Jews around local social justice issues in New York City. When they were working with
Domestic Workers United to support their campaign to pass a Bill of Rights that
would protect domestic workers, they used the holiday Purim and the traditional
Purimspiel to raise awareness of the issue. They worked together with Domestic
Workers United to create an alternative Purimspiel that told the story of Purim
from the point of view of the workers in the castle. The play had music,
puppets, crazy costumes, and was created and performed by a coalition of JFREJ
members and domestic workers. It was a huge success, was performed many times
and was even toured to other cities.

WombWorks/Nu World Theater

Womb Works is amazing. I saw them perform in Baltimore (where they are based) and they
completely changed my view about my role in activism. They aim to “preserve and
re-empower families and communities through the creative arts, music, dance,
and theater expressions.” Their show had at least 50 African American youth of
all ages saying, through poetry and dance and chorus work, the fiercest, most
deeply true, most honest and direct things addressing racism and unbalance in
their lives and connecting it to institutional racism and the Iraq war and
other larger policy-level issues. Moving from a more contemporary style of
performance, they ended the show with totally energetic and intense African

They describe their work: “Our production helps the participants release
from the stress of an unbalanced society and creates for the audience a mirror
in which to view themselves, past present and future, to analyze their
conditions and make better choices that will enable them to rise to their
highest potential.... WombWorks brings art and spirit  together to create long
lasting healing of the cellular memory, our earliest DNA, the truth we know in
our inner core but believe we don’t remember. Once that memory is triggered,
the healing process begins. In traditional society, art forms such as dance,
music and theater were used as medicine to heal the community. WombWorks
restores the ancient tradition of the healing power of these art forms in order
to maintain the spiritual connection of all people.”

They are not joking around. That performance was among the top three most powerful theater experiences I've ever had in my life.

Aristotle, Plato , Socrates


Hi to All,

work in Human Rights Commission for Social Justice and Peace Quetta Balochistan. As it is obvious from the name of the organization, Human Rights, Social Justice and Peace" which are the fundamental issues of human being
fright from the start of the human history up till now, many great social reformers  like Aristotle, Plato  , Socrates and many more struggled to set human beings free from the bondage of exploitation caused by social injustice , unfair distribution of resources and destroying peace in the world just for
commercial reasons. I try to make familiar the community, students , teachers and youths about the issues of human rights , social , justice and peace through open street shows , open painting exhibition shows to make them realize
and feel what they think and perceive about 
the issues. As I am living in the most difficult and different part of Pakistan,
whereas going with the theater and painting and music are alien for people, as compared to the other provinces of Pakistan are comparatively more familiar with   theater and painting and music. The reasons for being alien with open theater and painting, since Balochistan is very backward,
tribal and fundamentally it has strong religious build. All these three points stopped people to understand and feel the issues of human rights, justice, peace and democracy.
I through theater and painting shows try to awaken the critical sense of the people to feel the bondages created by backwardness, tribal and wrong religious ideas and practices , unfortunately since the wave of the suicide bombing attacks we are no more able to go with the open street and painting shows, where were really the source of awakening people.   

Jamaica - Street Theatre to Address Gender Violence - Video

Sistren Theatre Collective - Jamaica (UN Trust Fund Grantee)
In Jamaica, women and girls face violence not only in private but also in the public sphere, where interpersonal conflicts often escalate into gang wars. The Sistren Theatre Collective uses participatory learning techniques that blend education, life skills building, community mobilization, and the arts to empower women, girls, and young men, and influence communities to take action against violence. Please watch this YouTube video to learn more about this project:


Main Theme 2:

  • Share theatre exercises and tools that have been useful for groups and communities looking to solve their problems.

Share practical information on how you implemented your theatre activity. Explain the steps you took to those of us that have never used this tactic. Share resources and tools that others can access to help them to use theatre in their work.

To add a new exercise, resource, or tool, please 'reply' to this comment.

Theater of the Oppressed - Complete the Image

Hi Everyone -

I am so glad to be able to start this dialogue off.  What I'll do is give step by step instructions for a foundational exercise of the Theater of the Oppressed called "Complete the Image".  I will then give my thoughts on why this is an important exercise to do with groups in preparing them to think about their futures and what they want to create for themselves and their communities.



Two volunteers come to the front of the classroom.  They face each other and shake hands and freeze.  While they are frozen they must stay in the same position as long as they can.


Facilitator draws an imaginary frame around the image they have created and asks the spectators to imagine what this image can be of.  For instance, they are meeting for the first time and one is a boss interviewing a job candidate, etc.  Be sure to get the participants to talk about how the characters are standing and how that effects what they see in the image.  EX: They look like they know each other because they are standing very close and smiling, etc. Move from the "objective" to the "subjective".


Then, one of the pair steps out of the image and the other is alone holding the same pose as before.  Spectators then analyze this image in the same way as above. 


Then, the partner who stepped out can come back into the image and “complete the image” in any way s/he wishes.  S.he can arrange her body in front, behind, below, etc. of their partner, but she can’t change her partner’s image in any way.  But she must step out of the image completely, look at the frozen image that remains and then come back in.


This new image is analyzed again by those watching.


Then the second partner (who remained frozen) can come out and “complete the image” in the same way that the first did.  This new image is analyzed by the spectators. Then, ask the first participant to step out again, but this time a spectator from the audience comes in to replace her and s/he can “complete the image” in her own way. Have a few spectators try this out. See what the group imagines.  Are they constrained in their imagination, are they saying the same themes over and over, what is the group "seeing" in the images?


After many repetitions, add a "theme" on to the image.  Ask people to make images of "resistance".  Have many people try different interventions, and discuss the types of resistance images that are being shown.  Are they all violent, does the group have a hard time showing resistance, etc. 


Discuss what they thought about the exercise in a large group discussion. Discuss the images of resistance and what the group thought about the process and the results.



In stories and attempts at resistance, we can see the embodiment of narrative, history, and hope.  Participants begin a synthesis of their lived experience, historical images of resistance, and what they want and can do in the future.  Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, provides a great pedagogical foundation for us to see how theater bring participants from anti-oppression discourse to practice.    

Many people think of art as a reflection of reality, that the artist replicates an aspect of what already is, what exists, with a fresh twist, a strange perspective, or some extra sensory perception.  However, this is a narrow view of the work of the artist and the power of the arts.  Augusto Boal has said that art is a mirror which reflects reality, but it is a magic mirror. One we can reach into to transform the image into what we want it to be.  This idea underlies all of the Theater of the Oppressed work; that the artist works from the real, transforming it.  And, that anyone can be an artist – it just takes a vision of the possible, of what can be.  This concept of his is grounded by Boal’s work with Paulo Freire and his inclusion of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy; to see, to analyze, and to act.  This is most clear in Boal’s exercise, “Complete the Image”.  Here the exercise moves students through an analytic process where they must contend with the image they see, the “real” image, and with change.  They must change themselves, change their position or action in order to make new meaning out of the image. I value this exercise as a way to bring participants into their own process of problem solving and liberation because it is the job of the facilitator to hand over the "wheel" to the participants.  This exercise primes the participants to take over. 


Using complete the image with the theme of resistance helps participants to envision the multiple possibilities of what resistance can look like; stimulating their senses and rehearsing for the future.  There is no right or wrong, there is the process of analyzing and creating, and re-creating.  What we see in this exercise is what we see in life: images of solidarity, violence, mutual support, or nonviolent actions.  But while we are asking participants to “complete the image”, they are never making a complete image.  They are always struggling with change, with perception.  They practice being inside the image, being analyzed by others, and outside them image, analyzing it.  They are embodying being a subject of their own life, and the oppression of how the dominant society sees them.  In order to gain a sense of comfort with this complex relationship between oneself and society – one needs practice.  Instead of throwing participants into creating action plans or concrete resolutions, we are having them explore their relationship to the larger community of resisters by embodying the act over and over again through many exercises and examples.

Resistance is imagination, creativity, creation, regeneration, and love.  Using theater to understand and explore resistance is a more powerful force for transformation because of the regenerative properties, the subjunctive action, imagination, the visioning process for creating the future. Through this process, we are looking at today’s struggle, but are not bogged down – rather we create links for continuing to move out of that struggle.  The coupling of the analytical and transformative aspects of art making is an important way to move from resistance to future action. This is the power of the work, and it is how participants can see themselves as resisters in charge of the shape of their future.


a bit more on images

The description of image work above is really good and clear, I hope it is useful to people who are newcomers to the concept and idea of making images.

A wonderful thing about these exercises is that they can be adapted to suit your needs and desires. I here offer a development that involves moving images.

If two actors (spectators? participants? humans?) are making an image together, it is possible to dynamise them by allowing them to move into a sequence of images.  

Here's how it goes:

One actor takes a position, and then another takes a position that is relative to, or in dialogue with, the original actor's position.   They hold this  image for a moment.

Then, the first actor takes a new position, in dialogue with or relative  to, the last position taken by her partner.  Then the partner takes a new position. They go on like this, taking turns to assume a position in relation to the partner. 

What occurs is a fluid sequence of images, where the actors are responding to each others' positions and making a series of images. 

The benefits of this exercise:  lots of fun, finding a mode of dialogue with your partner, becoming more physically engaged with the work, feeling creative.

You can also have three people doing this, which is also great fun.

I would encourage actors to stay close to each other, engaging with  each other's spaces insofar as this is comfortable.  

If you like, you can give a theme or a principle that they can work with.  This changes the tone a lot.  Give them a word... say, 'danger', and watch the  sequence of images that comes out.  Give them something more complicated, a phrase like 'I wasn't there', and then see.  If the group already trusts itself/each other well enough, put in themes that are personal to those present.  Importantly, I think the actors shouldn't worry about  how well they reflect the theme or  principle that is given.  Tell them to  just hold it in their minds and then perform the exercise as it is described - if you are thinking of the  principle, the correct images will  emerge.

It usually feels good to discuss the exercises afterwards - what story came out?  Discuss the dynamics of the exercise, the  challenges it poses, the realities it unhinges (physical restrictions, communicative  barriers...).




The Death of Augusto Boal

We here at New Tactics were saddened to hear that Brazilian playright Augusto Boal passed away on Saturday at the age of 78.

Augusto Boal was known for his work as the founder of the "Theater of the Oppressed", and has influenced many involved in the arts and in human rights work.  Even within this dialogue, practitioners have mentioned the influence of his work. 

Boal studied theatre arts at Columbia University in New York City, and created the Theater of the Oppressed in the 1960's as a way to establish a dialogue between the audience, the playwright, the actors, and the directors as a way to encourage political activism.  In Boal's view, oppression is when one person is dominated by the dialogue of another, and has no chance to reply. (Harvard University Gazette) Through the Theater of the Oppressed, Boal was able to create a space for dialogue and activism in theater.

Because of his work in the Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal was seen as a threat by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985, and was jailed and tortured before being exiled to Argentina.  He returned to Brazil following the fall of the military dictatorship, and continued to work in the Theater of the Oppressed for years to come.

He has been an inspiration for many, and gave voices to people who lived in poor communities so that they could express, through drama, the problems that affected their everyday lives. Boal will leave a lasting impact on the use of theatre for political action.

The Death of Augusto Boal

We here at New Tactics were saddened to hear that Brazilian playright Augusto Boal passed away on Saturday at the age of 78.

Augusto Boal was known for his work as the founder of the "Theater of the Oppressed", and has influenced many involved in the arts and in human rights work.  Even within this dialogue, practitioners have mentioned the influence of his work. 

Boal studied theatre arts at Columbia University in New York City, and created the Theater of the Oppressed in the 1960's as a way to establish a dialogue between the audience, the playwright, the actors, and the directors as a way to encourage political activism.  In Boal's view, oppression is when one person is dominated by the dialogue of another, and has no chance to reply. (Harvard University Gazette) Through the Theater of the Oppressed, Boal was able to create a space for dialogue and activism in theater.

Because of his work in the Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal was seen as a threat by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985, and was jailed and tortured before being exiled to Argentina.  He returned to Brazil following the fall of the military dictatorship, and continued to work in the Theater of the Oppressed for years to come..

He has been an inspiration for many, and gave voices to people who lived in poor communities so that they could express, through drama, the problems that affected their everyday lives. 

Organizing a Neighborhood-Based Puppet Parade

An effective model that I am pursuing for neighborhood-based
community puppet parades has been created (and is still being developed) by
Spiral Q Puppet Theater in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. Spiral Q’s
neighborhood parades and pageants are a collaboration of community members,
local organizations and municipal leaders. It's an effective process because it's designed and driven by community members, it raises up local issues/visions, it can bring together people across race/class lines, and involves different sectors of a neighborhood and encourages neighborhood unity.


I’m going to share the general process to create such a
parade, but for more details on how Spiral Q does it, visit their website or
contact them:


(This process could take weeks... this is just a general


1. A strong neighborhood parade begins with strong
neighborhood participation and ties. Collaborate with a local group or
community-based organization that is committed to the success of the parade.


2. Through collective brainstorming exercises/games, draw
out the themes, visions and or concerns about the neighborhood from
participants and collectively choose which people would like to raise up in their


3. Through more brainstorming exercises, draw out visuals
around the chosen themes and collectively choose what visuals people would like
to make.


4. Work with participants to design each puppet (you could
break into groups, each group taking on one puppet if that makes sense in
context): how should it move? how big should it be? how should it be operated and
how many people should that take? (Numbers 4 - 9 here aren’t necessarily in
order and will probably need to be somewhat simultaneous).


5. Collectively decide on and implement the parade
logistics, making sure participants take leadership and responsibility for
achieving the different elements: where should it start and end, what permits
will you need, how many parade volunteers will you need, who else do you want
to include in the parade*, where do you want to advertise, etc...

*As part of
a neighborhood parade, it’s important to include other community organizations,
businesses, schools, drill teams, choirs... contact them and see how they’d
like to support or participate in the event whether it’s by helping build the
puppets, by marching in the parade in their own specific way, or by donating


6. Build the puppets with participants!


7. As part of the parade-planning process, you could plan
neighborhood events with the different organizations, businesses, and community
members involved as a way for them to socialize with each other/see what each
other does in the neighborhood/generate excitement over the upcoming parade


8. Advertise, advertise, advertise!


9. With participants, make sure logistics are in order, make
sure each participating group has what it needs for the parade, make sure you
have enough volunteers (and prep time) for the puppets, etc...


10. Parade!


11. Celebrate the success of the parade with a party or
something and make sure you get an evaluation of the process from participants
so you can reflect on how the process was experienced by them.

Re: Organizing a Neighborhood-Based Puppet Parade

Thanks for describing this general process for 'organizing a neighborhood-based puppet parade', Janelle! It sounds like a wonderful community-building exercise (and fun!).

I wonder if you could expand on #3

Through more brainstorming exercises, draw out visuals
around the chosen themes and collectively choose what visuals people would like
to make.

What kinds of exercises for brainstorming these themes have you used? From other comments in this dialogue, it seems like this brainstorming process and having the group is a very important part of this process. Is this the time that they decide the issue that they want to focus on? I can imagine this would take quite a bit of time. What has been your experience?

Also, I really like #11 - Celebrate success! This is so important and often overlooked by human rights practitioners. I'm so glad that you included this as a step in the process. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Exercises to draw out images on a theme

Here are three exercises I have used to elicit images on a theme:

1) Mind’s Eye: Instruct the group to close it’s eyes. Tell them “I’m going to say a word or a phrase and I want to know: what is the first thing that pops into your head? What do you see?” I usually start with abstract words that they can easily identify with like “happy” or “beautiful” before I introduce more complicated concepts. Then you can give them words/phrases that were general themes they identified that they want to include in the parade or give them words that the participants used in the discussion around the themes... for example: “safe housing” or “less crime” or “community” or “police brutality” or “city council”). If they seem to be having trouble making clear images, you can give them the word/phrase and then ask them to focus in on the image and if it’s a moving image to freeze it and look at it clearly. Ask follow-up questions to help them: What colors do you see? Is your image big or small? Does it have texture? Are there people in it? What are their expressions? Etc.

Record the images people describe on something they can all see (like on butcher paper).

2) Individual Drawing:  I approach this two different ways. I’ll either ask a question and ask them to draw their answer (“What do safe streets look like?” or “Why are safe streets important?” or “What do safe streets mean to you?”)...

Or I’ll offer a theme/phrase and ask them to draw it. (“Choose a few markers and draw ‘Safe Streets’.)

When they’ve drawn their images, have them hang them up in one area, gather around them and ask them: “What do you see?”

Record their responses on something they can all see.

3) Group mural: I use the same process for Individual Drawing, but I ask the group to draw a mural together in answer to the question or in response to the theme instead of individually.

After you’ve gathered responses, go over them with the group and notice if there are any strong images that came out of the exercise, or images they particularly respond to. Pointing out that they will be parading and that people who were not in the theme discussion will be watching, ask them which images might be good representations of the themes. After some discussion, take a vote or get consensus on which images they might like to turn into puppets.

(If there aren’t strong images that come out of this that might be good for puppets, you can more directly lead a follow-up discussion of “What other images do you think would represent this theme?”)

My Favorite Resources!

Below are my favorite and most-used resources. I begin with books and end with websites. They run the gamut from puppetry to theater in development to direct action. But they have all been incredibly helpful in my theater work, whether for tools they offer or for models to follow. Enjoy!:


“Wise Fool Basics: A
handbook of our core techniques” by K. Ruby

This is a GREAT resource for making puppets, masks, stilts
and other visuals. It also has sections on designing a workshop to elicit
visuals for an action, the consensus process, and other awesome stuff. As far
as activist puppetry goes, I haven’t found any better resource.

"Enacting Participatory Development: Theatre-Based Techniques" by Julie McCarthy
This is a completely brilliant book for people working in NGO's, non-profits, grassroots organizations, social justice campaigns... anyone who is interested in using theater techniques for workshops, project planning, evaluation, decision-making, research and more. It was developed through participatory research and training processes and has great exercises that borrow from a range of techniques. It is GREAT.

"Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority" edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland
This is an amazing collection of articles that look at many artistic mediums. The part that I have found incredibly valuable is the article titled "When Magic Confronts Authority: The Rise of Protest Puppetry in North America" by Morgan Andrews. It is the only history of recent radical puppetry in the USA that I've found. It looks at puppetry from worker rallies in the 1930's to the anti-globalization movement in this decade and has inspired me and given me many useful ideas.


“The Activist
Cookbook: Creative Actions for a Fair Economy”
by Andrew Boyd

Andrew Boyd is a real genius for creative direct actions--he was one of the inventors of Billionaires for Bush and most of the actions he dreams up are inherently theatrical. I take a lot from the framework he uses when thinking about designing an issue-based street theatre or puppet piece.


Participatory Performance Practices (PPP) in Theater for Development:

I really responded to the principles laid out in this website and have referred to them when about to work in communities that are not my own. Very basically,  PPP combines Participatory Research with Theater in Development to empower communities, facilitate cultural understanding and accountability between communities and theater practitioners, in the process of executing a community-based initiative. The website is a little complicated--I think they were trying to be technologically poetic and imaginative--but it's worth the time it takes to figure it out.


The Hemispheric Institute:

Another incredible online resource, the Hemispheric Institute documents, studies and reports on the intersection between politics and performance in the Americas (North, South and Central). It puts out an online journal and highlights some of the most cutting edge and visionary work that is being done (in my opinion). They also have an Encuentro (a conference) once a year and bring together people from all over the Hemisphere to share their work. Awesome.



The Center for Civic Participation: Arts and Democracy Project:

This project "builds the momentum of a cultural movement that
draws on a rich history of arts activism, social justice organizing,
and grassroots engagement. We are engaging the following questions: How do arts and culture play an active role in our democracy? What forms of cultural expression move people to participate in decision-making? What forms of activism and organizing are best linked to arts and cultural work? How can this work become more strategic, effective and sustainable?

project catalyzes and supports cross-pollination between
sectors, cultures, and generations and the linking of practitioners,
policymakers, educators, and activists."

Theatre as a tool for a rehearsal for change

I wanted to highlight a great post that had been made under the "Training for Nonviolent Action" dialogue regarding the benefits of using Theatre as a tool for a rehearsal for change...Augusto Boal

The post includes some useful history regarding the emergence of theater in social change movements as well as great definitions of the various "players" used in the Theatre of the Oppressed model.  I hope people find this cross reference helpful!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

New article on participatory theatre for international dev't

I am very happy to share a new article written by our own Annie Sloman on participatory theatre in the journal 'Community Development Journal'!  Congratulations, Annie!!


Full Text:


The full citation for the article is:
Using participatory theatre in international community development
Annie Sloman
Community Development Journal 2011; doi: 10.1093/cdj/bsq059

Enabling children through the theatre



She raised her hand up and asked: ‘what would I have to do to be like abuti Neo[1]?’ The other students laughed at the 15 year old girl. I admired her inquisitiveness, her courage.

Neo had been nominated to represent Basotho children in preparatory consultative processes leading to the 2002 historic United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children (UNGASSoC)[2].  She subsequently became part of the Junior Committee of the CLRP (Child Law Reform Project))[3]; which was led by the LLRC (Lesotho Law Reform Commission)[4].


LLRC set out to create an enabling environment for children’s views to be taken into consideration during the review process. In the case of the CLRP there was a visible blend of stages 5 (consulted and informed) and 6 (adult initiated) of Roger Hart’s Ladder of participation[5] in that although the project was initiated by adults, children’s advise was sought and they were informed about the ultimate benefit of their input. However, during the project, Itumeleng Kimane, CLRP chairperson noted the general negativity of adults; ‘many adults are negative about children’s rights, often due to ignorance[6].’


According to the Africa Child Policy Forum, the legislation review process was done by especially creative and unusual means. While this may be true, perhaps the argument would be that the creative benefits of theatre and drama should be mainstreamed in all processes that affect children. The experience of the use of drama and theatre approaches employed in inputting in the reviewed 2004 Child Protection and Welfare Bill justifies my point. To this end, the report compiled  by African Child Policy Forum on  Good Practice for Eastern and southern Africa assertsthe Bill goes further than any other legislation in Africa in providing for children’s duties and responsibilities devolving authority as far as possible to the community level; a suitable and appropriate approach in the African context’.

[1] Pseudonym.

[2] Initially set for 2001, but was postponed due to the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America.

[3] A committee of young people below the age of 18 from different districts of Lesotho who contributed to legislation review process – project had legislation review and capacity building component. It was funded by Save the Children Sweden, Save the Children UK and UNICEF.

[4] Statutory body established in 1993 by Parliament to review all legislation given the context of international and regional protocols that Lesotho commits to. 

[5] - accessed 15 August 2008

[6] - accessed 14 August 2008


Motho ke motho ka batho

How i got into theatre

I thought I'd just start my contribution to this dialogue by sharing my own story of how I got into theatre, and the impact that it had on my life.

As a teenager I was overweight, unconfident, caught up in community at school that were doing the typical teenage in/out club thing.  Life wasn't the most fun.  One day a woman came to my school from a group called Westside Circus, a community youth circus for young women .  I decided i would take the plunge and join.  It was scary at first, I wasn't strong, I wasn't flexible,  but none of this mattered, it was a safe supportive space were i could myself.   I could work at my own pace and there would be a community that believed in me and would support me.  I remember on the first day it being my turn to get up on a trapeze, I was shaking with fear, and embarrassed that i couldn't lift myself up, but this didn't matter, as a group everybody helped me till i managed to get up, with a huge cheer, what a feeling!   Within 6 months we were performing, and i was one of the main performers, we were sharing our stories, our thoughts, we were showing the power of strong young women of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds. 

It sounds cliché  but 'running away to the circus' really did change my life.  I became proud of my body (how can you not when your holding up 12 people above you in a pyramid),  i found a supportive trusting community (that must be created to truly be able to create theatre or performance for change), a space that was always safe and a way for myself and my community to express ourselves. 

Within a few years i was using theater and circus in my own work for social change.   Understanding from my own experience  the transforming ability that theatre and circus can have on individuals, the community that trains and performs together, and the wider community, whether that being a place where the naughty or fat kid can find there place, a place for people to do positive risk taking, a way for the grass-roots people to tell the big people what they think or  a way for a community to think about ways to build peace in their own community.   Theatre is truly an amazing transforming tool.



Annie I was totally captivated to hear you started out with Westside. I know the Circus well, my son was involved in Westside. Currently, the young woman who I provide foster care for is also training with Westside.  She has just finished her second show. She loves it. So much so she is talking about becoming a circus trainer.  I remembering working hard to encourage her to give circus ago, to get her into circus. I felt she would find community there, safety, pride, and a relationship with her body, and it's capacity, beauty beyond the sexualized understanding so often imposed on young women in particular.

I am sharing this story because I want to echo your sentiments about the positive value of physical theatre as another form of theatre. Though I don't work in circus what I saw in my son case and in this young girls case was a transformation that is understandable, yet hard to articulate. They physically felt more confident, capable, open. It has something to do with breaking down imposed understandings,  breaking down self perceptions, limitations, instead learning to fly (sometimes literally).  Also, from what I hear in their accounts and witness in my own work, physical theatre as in other types, a unique space is created where you learn to work with others despite differences, to find a way to mount a show. The show in itself a dare. It takes courage, and courage - risk, is an excellent capacity to foster in our work for change.. Thanks for sharing. I valued your personal account.

Re: How i got into theatre

Thank you for sharing your story, Annie. It is amazing how powerful theatre can be. It has been really inspiring to read about all the stories of how theatre has been used to provide a safe place to carry out this 'positive risk taking' and move to action - and reading your own person experience confirms this even more.

I look forward to learning more about your work through this dialogue in the next week! 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

How I got into theatre?

Hi Annie

Your beautiful story of how theatre is great for social change and find the beauty within us is something that I do share with you completely.

Myself, I was in love with painting, photography and theatre. In theatre mostly as actor and writer. But of course, at that time, when I finished high school, studying arts was not a choice in the sense that it doesn't feed you. So my family said do something to earn your living first and then do whatever you want. I finished a PhD in Biological and Medical Engineering in France, where I stayed 9 years. But in all these years, I didn't stop painting, and joined a theatre class and created with friends a theatre group. At certain moment, I was about to leave my PhD for theatre, and of course, great panic in the family... but I did finish my PhD finally, and I earned my living with it, and earned my spirit and soul with theatre.

I was very shy, and theatre helped me deeply to express more myself, since on stage I wasn't shy at all. I guess this is the greatness of theatre as tool for change and social change, help find the peace within us, and gets out of us the most beautiful and positive energy that we have hiding in us. It is also away that I use with children and youth in Palestine to allow all the stress and violence to dissipate and be expressed on stage rather than in real life... it is away where the beneficiaries find a balance somehow.

I do agree completely with you that it is truly an amazing transforming tool, and a constructive way of making beautiful and non-violent resistance to injustice and oppression..

AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

my beginning with theatre


  I'd like to  hear share a bit about how I came to theatre. When I was ten, my sister volunteered me for a part in a school play.  I had never even considered it, and suddenly there I was.  Acting gave me a big boost of self confidence and I had a great time being an actor through my teenage years.  

  Similarly to AbdelFattah, I didn't study theatre when I went to university.  I somehow felt like it wasn't serious enough, and so I tried to concentrate on a course in Linguistics.  Boy, was that difficult!  It is hard to concentrate on something when it doesn't give you joy.  Something was missing from my life for a long time until I went to teach English in Sudan in 2003.  There, I set up a drama club to use acting as a way for my students to practice their English.  This went very well, and within a few years, I was running the peace-building theatre project I mentioned already.

  I often feel, in the work that I do, that I am an outsider.  Obviously, in Sudan, I didn't know or understand well enough to avoid some of the mistakes which happened.  Nowadays, working with homeless people and migrants in  London, I am also often seen as somebody who isn't native to the  problems faced by the community.  This is frustrating for me, because I am one of those people with a blurry identity - having grown up in five different countries and holding two nationalities, I occasionally wonder where to actually belong.  

   The process of theatre-making, however, solves this problem for me quite frequently.  Going through a sharing time, where participants and facilitator share who they are, a new community is created and somehow, a feeling is created that is like home.  So, maybe that's why I like this work, its like a home-making experience.

   How did others begin?


Theatre and social change

I just read the interview with Janelle Treibitz and it really made a light come on in my head - yes, my head - I tend to intellectualize! I have never been involved in theater, just in social change. But what makes my 12 year old daughter light up is theater and making videos. Her favorite day of the week is Wednesday at the moment because she has drama during the school day AND rehearsal for the fall musical after school. Reading Janelle's interview helped me to understand her passion in a way that I was never able to before. I thought she should spend more time on the soccer field and less in the performing arts area. I was readily able to identify with NT tactics that referred to using the power of youth sports to reach disaffected youth and build a sense of community because that is my comfort zone. But now I am riveted by the accounts of our facilitators  and their experience with street theater and social change. I cannot wait to share this dialogue with my daughter (well the social change angle is not that well developed with her yet......)! But if she wants to continue down this path, I have a strong feeling that, given her upbringing, that will follow.

In my other role, as educator rather than mother - the difference being that I get paid for the latter - the undergraduates in my Leadership for Global Citizenship class are carrying out a country leadership development project. One group is looking at tactics to reach Palestinian youth - I  have shared the posting about Palestinian street theater with them as a potential tactic.

Many thanks to NT and the facilitators for hosting this dialogue and for so vividly highlighting the power of culture to reach across boundaries in a way that intellectualizing alone can rarely do. Now I need to sign off and immediately sign up for my season pass to the Mixed Blood theater in the Twin Cities.

Susan Atwood

On Witnessing, Beautiful Resistance, and Creative Transformation

Dear All, 

So happy to join in this conversation from the US West Coast, and congratulations to all who put this forum together and participate in it.

 First of all, in introducing myself (I guess you can check my bio & links) I want to also mention that I am also representing  a  team of performance artists and peacebuilders who are busy developing an anthology of meaningful examples of the use of ritual and performance in conflict settings, with a working title of "Performance and Peacebuilding in Global Perspective." Alrowad from Palestine is one of the groups written about, and their concept of "beautiful resistance" resonates deeply with us. On the subject of witnessing, I want to mention the amazing work of the Peruvian theater company "Yuyachkani." This group, who was the recipient of the Peruvian congress medal for human rights in the year 2000, has a series of works where it engages on the notion of the survivor's role in the aftermath of great violence. The ability to "tell the tale" which has informed the work of artists from Argentina to Rwanda is central to their work "Antigona" where one woman play all the traditional roles, rewritten by Peruvian poet Jose Watanabe. At the end of the play, it is revealed that it is Ismene, Antigone's sister, who is "telling the tale." These stories aid the community of survivors in the difficult task of putting the pieces back together after war, occupation or other forms of violence that deeply disrupt the social narratives that bond our communities and give meaning to our lives.

Re: On Witnessing, Beautiful Resistance, and Creative Transforma

Thanks for joining the conversation, Roberto. I like the idea of using theatre as a 'transformative' tool for communities of survivors. Theatre can be a powerful method strengthen communities after violent atrocities. Has anyone else had experience using theatre in this context?  

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Theatre as transformation for communities

I've been involved with International Play Ground (IPG) for about 5 years now - IPG is a performing arts group for refugee and immigrant teenagers in St. Louis, which has a large and diverse population of refugees/immigrants from just about everywhere - Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cuba, Haiti, Bosnia, Vietnam, Tanzania, and many more.  We take between 8-16 high school age kids, provide transportation to a once a week rehearsal, and they are paid an hourly wage to create an original theatre piece to be shared with the audience.  We rehearse all year round, culminating with a show in May, and each time I am amazed at what happens for both the young performers and the audience.  This is theatre for social justice at its best:  the performers become agents for change within their own community, sharing their unique perspective as refugee teenagers living in St. Louis , which inevitably changes the perspective of the audience member, while the youth themselves benefit from the healing powers of creating art.  Topics for past shows include their stories of leaving their countries, their stories of arriving here, the domestic abuse so prevalent in their households, bullying, fables written around maxims they felt were important, and also a show about the cycle of oppression - how the oppressor inevitably becomes the oppressed, and back around again.  This year, the youth requested that the group become open to their friends who were American citizens.  I asked what it was that brought that request about, and they simply said that it was time - that this group no longer needed to be just refugees and immigrants.  I found that really interesting....and we did open it up, and it has worked out really nicely.  

Using theater to fight injustice and restore lives

Greetings!  Thank you all for sharing your experiences and ideas within this dialogue.  It is moving to learn about the ways in which healing and resistance to oppression are enacted.  It seems art exposes the dark reality of our world in ways statistic cannot.  It creates beauty out of catastrophe and challenges us to reflect on our own connection to humanity. 

How great would it be if we could organize a specific day in which theater is used to educate the public and stand against injustice?  If we unified worldwide in these efforts and received some publicity, perhaps we could share these stories with many people.  Is this dream to big?

World-Wide Unified Theater Events: two examples

I don't think that dream is too big, partly because I've seen it done before and it's been beautiful and effective! There are two examples of world-wide unified theater events to
further social justice that I’d like to share. I find them powerful not only
because so many people participated, but especially because they are connected to larger
organizing efforts that do ongoing work around the issues:

The Vagina Monologues

Millions of people are now familiar with this show which is performed
around the world in February near the USA's Valentine's Day. The show is
a series of monologues that talk about womens' relationships to their vaginas.
It deals with abuse, internalized oppression, body image, rape, liberation,
love... Many years ago when I first participated in the play, it completely
changed my view of myself and helped me to deal with deep issues I had with my
body image and sexuality. 

Eve Ensler, the author and original performer of the monologues,
founded V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls. Her
organization helps raise awareness around violence not only by promoting the
performance of the Vagina Monologues, but by encouraging performances to
connect to organizations and campaigns world wide that are working to end
violence against women. 

V-Day organizes events, benefits, and gatherings to support
the movement. They provide opportunities for people to be involved year-round
though the V Monologues happen only once a year.  In 9 years they have raised over $50 million
and have been active in 120 countries. (Their website is: )

The Lysistrata

Two New York
actors, Kathryn Blume and Sharon Bower organized this event; world-wide readings
and full productions of Aristophanes' Lysistrata as a peace action. In their
own words: “A funny, bawdy romp of a play with a strong anti-war message, it
seemed an ideal vehicle for theatrical protest. The title character,
Lysistrata, organizes women from warring Greek city-states to band together and
deny sex to their husbands until they stop the Peloponnesian War. Unable to
bear their intense...longings, the men finally agree to lay
down their swords and call a permanent truce.

“This all came together in two months.... We wanted to tell the world that
[President] Bush doesn't speak for all Americans, and to provide a megaphone for voices of

In the midst of a major anti-war movement, activists, organizers and artists
came together to use this play as a vehicle for dissent. (Attracting more press
coverage than many other anti-war events happening at the time...)

human rights theatre festival

I'm looking at the two projects given as examples: Vagina Monologues and Lysistrata Project, one as a part of the women's movement and the latter the anti-war movement.  If we were to do a one-day festival of this sort highlighting human rights issues (of which the women's and anti-war movement could certainly be included)- what would ours look like? what could a common project between the organizations represented on this forum  consist of?  Does anyone know of something like this that already exists on the international level?

theatre can help cultivate human rights culture

In essence, theatre really can have heavy impact on social culture, so theatre should provide one platform for human rights culture to develop and grow.


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