I’m a theater artist. I write, direct, and often act. I use theater as a tool for personal and social transformation. I work with theater professionals and the inexperienced to make plays about people’s struggles from their own words. At presentations, I activate audiences to brainstorm solutions to struggles they’ve identified. It is popular theater, theater for liberation or theater for social justice. I use techniques developed as a form called Theater of the Oppressed.
I’ve been doing a version of this since I was a child successfully enlisting other youth in my working-class community to engage in theatrical play. I wrote my first play in the 3rd grade and honed my craft conceiving and directing shows on the front lawn of our small row house or at school during recess. It should have been clear to anyone taking notice that I was an emerging cultural organizer. It would take me several decades to figure it out.
From my early experiences, I consider theater as an everyday activity—necessary and accessible as water. Fortune afforded me a world class education and work with respected artists but my work in mainstream theater lacked a sense of play and didn’t reflect or engage people or the stories I found most compelling. The everyday theater that was essential to me had become ensconced in privilege. I decided to shift my focus, returning to my roots, doing theater in a community context.
I went to work in a low-income neighborhood doing theater with youth. I was directing teens in a Shakespeare play and took them on retreat for a Theater of the Oppressed workshop at a college. After one day witnessing those teens using Theater of the Oppressed techniques to play games, create tableaus, and offer analysis, I was convinced that this was the tool I wanted to use going forward. It gave the participants the agency required for true collaboration.
I use Theater of the Oppressed to collaborate with youth, minorities and other marginalized communities, developing tools to craft their own stories and amplify their voices. Participants build skills and confidence in the process of transforming themselves and society—my Detroit colleagues call it “growing our souls”. The work captures issues, recounts histories and presents realities neglected by the mainstream—it is work of, by and for the marginalized that stands on its own merit.
January 6, 2018 at 5:50 am | news & musings« Cooperatives as a Social Movement Building Tool