If you’re not breaking or bending the rules, then you’ve finally submitted to following them. And it may not be a bad idea. After all, getting ahead is all about playing the game. Learning the rules and fitting in are sometimes the most challenging aspects of life. Wouldn’t adhering to them be easier if you could do it on your own terms?
That’s where the Theatre of the Oppressed comes into play. Held at Studio 34, the monthly event explores societal rules through mind-stimulating and physically exciting games. Social dynamics are also examined in order to help people develop a broader understanding of their own lives.
I attended this eye-opening experience on Oct. 4. As I approached the front door of Studio 34, my curiosity was peaked. The rural feel of University City lulled me into a relaxed state, and I was ready for anything.
Among the 30 individuals who attended were children, men, women and people of different ethnicities. The majority of those in attendance were college students. A Temple professor was also there.
Our first activity was an ice-breaker. We were asked to go into a room where we found a brown piece of paper hanging on the wall with markers to draw a picture and write three things about ourselves.
Practitioners Morgan Andrews and Kate Ward guided us with a quick summary of Theatre of the Oppressed and its objectives.
An event titled, “The Great Game of Power,” was used to start conversation by highlighting social situations that emphasize the dynamics of power. Some people “take away deep personal insights” from the game, Ward said.
Though there wasn’t a concrete definition of the game, each person brought his or her own personal experience and insight to help feed the comprehension of issues.
This “rehearsal for reality,” as they described it, was reminiscent of my youth. The series of games proved to be a needed release. The games were like a great kindergarten class for a college kid.
In the game “Stop/Walk,” the meaning of words changed drastically. Orders were shouted out to “walk” when you should stop. “Stop” meant walk, “jump” meant yell your name.
Not only was my heart pumping from the most physical activity I’ve had in years, but the base of my brain was tingling like a muscle rarely used. In another activity called “Hunter/Protector,” we anonymously chose two partners, one who was our hunter and the other who was our protector. The objective was to keep your protector in between yourself and your hunter.
My protector chose me as her hunter and spent the remainder of the game frantically running from me, as I ran toward her. It may sound odd, but it was really was fun. Sometimes, when you think you’re in control, you’re really not.
It really seemed to put things in perspective, and when was the last time you ran around? From here, the games segued into techniques used to explore the themes of oppression.
One in particular dealt with self identification. With our eyes closed, the coordinators placed a sticker on each person’s head. Each sticker was a different size, shape and color and was used to examine how and why we label ourselves and each other.
In between activities, the group sat and commented on what it took from the game.
They brought the concept of theater games to those who want to examine the dynamic of society and hope to learn more about themselves in the process.
This collection of theater games was broad and useful for actors and non-actors alike. The phrase “theater games” is actually a “mega-title for a bunch of different techniques,” Ward said.
During the workshop, they used the games as a jumping-off point, sometimes discussing larger issues such as gentrification, sexism, racism and the stigma of mental illness. Exploring these themes is a very personal experience shaped by the views of the group and one’s own interpretation of the activities.
Gentrification is a big part of life in West Philadelphia neighborhoods and throughout the city. Theatre of the Oppressed workshops can help students explore their influences on each other as well as their surroundings.
Marilyn D’Angelo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.