Theatre of the Oppressed in Education

On these pages, we will explore issues relating to the main area of training and research of our organisation,  namely-The role of Theatre of the Oppressed in mainstream education.

Visitors are encouraged to leave their opinion in the "Comments Box" at the end of this page.

The following is a version of a speech delivered by our founder, Radha Ramaswamy, during a public discussion on the subject 'Theatre and Democracy'.

Theatre of the Oppressed as a democratizing agent in Education:

The journey that brought me to Theatre of the Oppressed originated in the classroom - traditionally a space that hegemonises the teacher. Teachers try innovative classroom strategies, new techniques of teaching etc, but are restricted by several factors, such as  the structure of the traditional classroom, the requirements of the educational system that places so much importance on ‘completing the syllabus’, on exams and marks etc.

I found that my own attempts at democratizing the teaching-learning process were more successful outside of the classroom- and outside of the syllabus- than inside. Outreach projects with the NGO APSA, the play on the Narmada Bachao Andolan created from stories narrated to us by activists, and  campaign against domestic violencethe Campaign Against Domestic Violence – projects such as these, which I designed while I was a full time English teacher at Mount Carmel College, helped me recognise some fundamental problems in the formal education system.

The sense of liberation, for both my students and me, that came from simply shifting the teaching-learning site outside the classroom was linked to the fact that (i) we were in a context where I was not necessarily the expert, and (ii) we were problem-solving.

My authority as the English teacher was irrelevant when we were discussing strategies for real life:  how to sneak a workshopped, student-scripted play into a ‘classic plays from Broadway/ West End’ culture or how to negotiate our own power and privilege while talking to a street child. Trying to solve problems such as these, we were all bringing our real world experiences to the situation, and using our critical thinking abilities- all of which led to exciting learning.

Clearly I needed to change something if my best teaching/learning moments were outside of the classroom, but I spent most of my working day inside the classroom!  

Theatre of the Oppressed deepened and further refined my insights from the classroom. 

And now that I’m a full time practitioner of TO, I realize how this work truly democratises spaces. The concept of dialogue in TO, derived from Freire, needs to be understood for what it truly is. That two people talking does not constitute dialogue. That sometimes it can be non verbal, that it is about active listening and moving towards ‘the other’. And that it is also a dialogue within you. Here is where a lot of new and really profound learning happened for me, and I understood why it is such a challenge to practice TO.

In the games and exercises in a typical TO workshop, we get into our bodies, and through the body into our minds. Our own previous privileging of the mind over body gets shaken up, as we awaken to new sensations, and the new insights that come with these new sensations. Strange and unfamiliar feelings accompany this realization, sometimes heady, sometimes disturbing.

This is dialogue within oneself, this process of realization, of reflecting, and deciding to move towards change.When you start truly dialoguing, and things start shifting inside you, the process is sometimes very unsettling. But that's necessary for growth, and that is a true democratic process- in the sense that you are moving of your own will, as a result of your own newly acquired insights. What comes to mind is the metaphor of the ground breaking after a long hard winter, and a little sapling trying to break its way through to the surface. A beautiful, natural and necessary­­­­­­­ process, but also painful, when deeply buried feelings emotions fight their way to the surface, claiming their rightful place within us.

*Image has been sourced from the Hindu Newspaper.