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Open Access Capstone

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Promoting social equity and justice, I think, are not just important but essential qualities in a good educator. My experience as a graduate student at University of Massachusetts helped me understand and practice different ways in which this could be done. For instance, I learnt how I could promote social justice through changes in curriculum, co-operative learning, inter-group dialogues or multicultural education. However, my search was for a method that did not require literacy as a pre-requisite and that went beyond mere conversations about social justice. One of the key elements of the power structures which lead to oppression, I felt, was the ability to read and write. Hence, fighting oppression with a tool which required proficiency in reading and writing, to me, was still buying into the oppression. Secondly, although engaging in dialogues about ethnic or racial differences was crucial, I felt it needed a more action-oriented element to complement it. What could this method be? It had to transcend the barriers of literacy and also have a strong action component.

As I reflected upon my experience in India, there was one art form which seemed to have both these qualities. Theatre. I had seen it performed across villages and cities alike in India. It had a universal appeal. Although, most of what I had seen seemed to serve a primarily entertainment purpose, there were a few plays which highlighted oppression. Plays like “Ismat Aapa ke Naam” [In the honor of Ismat] dealt with issues like society’s reaction to homosexuality. Others like “Zahareeli Hawa”[Poisonous Air] chronicled the Bhopal gas tragedy. In all these plays, though, the audience was a silent spectator and the purpose was to inform. Hence, when I came across a form of theatre which could lead to social equity by involving the audience actively, I wanted to learn it, to master it. It was a form of theatre attributed to the noted Brazilian activist Augusto Boal and was appropriately called the “Theatre of the Oppressed” (TO).

So, in January 2010, I spent almost a month in intense workshops with other participants and a teacher who had worked with Augusto Boal himself! It was a powerful experience of doing theatre and I searched for ways in which I could bring it to schools. I looked for books, articles videos, podcasts - anything that could send to my colleagues and educators. But I soon realized that I had been fortunate in finding a workshop on TO. It was the only way to learn this unique and intense form of theatre. I could find TO activities and theatre games but I could not find find anything on how one could proceed with these games and activities. A step-by-step approach to doing Theatre of the Oppressed was simply not available. It was then that the idea of writing a Manual on Theatre of the Oppressed took shape. As I thought more about it and talked to my colleagues in theatre, I felt that a manual that could serve as a “how-to” guide for those who would like to bring TO into a classroom/workshop environment was much needed. My colleagues encouraged me on this endeavor and I am deeply grateful for all their comments and help which went towards making this manual a reality.