Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Theatre for Social Change makes strong case for inclusivity

Sunday night, the Theatre for Social Change drama class staged its first production of Theatre of the Oppressed, a series of three short plays centered around audience participation. The plays were based on the concept of Forum Theatre, which was developed in the 1960s by Brazilian director Augusto Boal as a way to mobilize audience members to become agents of positive social change in their communities. In each play, the actors first perform the scene straight through. Then, after the audience members have had a minute to process what they have seen, the actors perform the play a second time. During the second performance, the audience members are encouraged to yell “stop” when they feel a connection to one of the characters’ actions and feel they could make a different choice. The audience member then takes the place of the actor and acts out the rest of the scene, improvising the solution.

Boal’s original Theatre of the Oppressed events were aimed toward motivating the audience members to take action against political repression and censorship in Brazil. However, professor Annamaria Pileggi’s Theatre for Social Change class re-worked the model to focus on the various forms of oppression and social injustice that take place within our own campus community.

We as a campus community have talked a lot recently about opening up space for dialogues about social justice, and this is a perfect way to do it. The short plays, which highlight various issues Wash. U. students face, went a step further than simply presenting a message about social justice—they actively encouraged the audience members to both participate and then to go out and apply the lessons they learned in their daily interactions. Theatre for Social Change created exactly the kind of dialogue we need to be having about the ways we interact with our peers and construct our campus community.

The performances took place at an ideal location and time for students to attend—Ursa’s on the night before reading week—but turnout was still not particularly high. This was not necessarily a bad thing because the audience participation aspect worked very well with a small group. However, it would be great to present this message to a wider campus audience. We encourage all members of the University community to attend the second performance of Theatre of the Oppressed, Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. in Mallinckrodt 101.

There have been several proposals to add a social justice and diversity activity into freshman orientation, possibly in place of the “Choices” play. We think staging something similar to Theatre of the Oppressed would be perfect for this. It would be more interactive and engaging than simply putting on a play about social justice and would set a strong precedent for the incoming freshman class about the inclusive community Wash. U. wants to create. Logistically, staging an interactive play for 1,500 first-year students may be difficult, so the model may have to be slightly revised. But an activity similar to Theatre of the Oppressed would be the perfect way to start the kind of dialogue that we want incoming students and even existing community members to have.

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878