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Day 2, Session 2: Looking at Class Consciousness, Class Struggle and Self-Organizing Using Image Theater
Fri, July 15, 2016 @ 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM$15.00 – $25.00
Presented by The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB)
Facilitated by Janet Gerson and Marie-Claire Picher
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point is to change it.” —Karl Marx
In capitalist society, class is the hub from which other forms of oppression emanate; class is the foundation that gives rise to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and other modes of injustice, cruelty and systemic brutality. These various -isms function as bulwarks of hierarchical class society—they are necessities for perpetuating class division and the domination and control of society, social structures and people by capitalism and its ruling elites. Such bigotry divides people; instead of acting in a unified manner to defend their collective self-interests, sizable sectors of the populace fall prey to capital’s cynical use of prejudice, bias and hatred as mechanisms to separate people from each other and compromise societal cohesion and solidarity—and always based on superficial qualities and characteristics such as skin color, place of familial origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, etc. This dynamic maintains and enables class division, and allows the elites to continue to assert and legitimize their proprietary claims to social wealth and their control over society. Oppression, in the many forms it takes, causes people vs. people strife to keep going, unfettered, and gives the rulers of society potent tools to extract and claim for themselves unfathomable profits through the exploitation of people, the natural world and the social commons. Never before, in the history of the United States, have class divisions and polarity been as pronounced or extreme as they are today, in these first decades of the twenty-first century. This country is on a precipice. The ruling class is moving rightward at an accelerated pace, yet society is moving to the left. Class awareness is becoming increasingly heightened and socialism, once a dreaded bugaboo, is now a credible part of national political discourse, with more and more people seriously embracing socialism as a critically needed antidote to the systemic and ongoing crisis that has negatively impacted so much of the population.
This three-hour Theater of the Oppressed (TO) workshop is a shortened version of a full-day workshop on the same topic, which will be presented on Saturday, July 30 (for more details or registration information write to firstname.lastname@example.org). This workshop will use Image Theater—a basic TO technique—to look at class, how it affects us collectively, and how awareness and consciousness of one’s place and role in class society can be used as a tool for mobilizing and organizing people and communities to fight for social justice, economic equality and a world where wealth is shared by all, for the benefit of all, and not owned by a small clique of capitalists who have appropriated it for their own use.
Drawing on the theories of popular education developed by his friend and colleague, Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal (1931-2009), who created and founded the methodology called Theater of the Oppressed, appropriated theater games and exercises for use as organizing tools by communities in struggle. These tools are designed to develop individual skills of observation and self-reflection, and cooperative group interactions. Image Theater is the ideal starting point for training in Theater of the Oppressed techniques. In Image Theater, leadership- and consensus-building games and techniques are used to explore relations of power and group solutions to concrete problems of oppression through “living body imagery”. Discussions begin to take place through the language of images, offering a fresh approach to power analysis and new opportunities for the exchange of ideas.
Suggested reading for this workshop: The Retreat from Class: A New “True” Socialism, by Ellen Meiksins Wood. London and New York: Verso, 1986, revised 1998, 202 pp. ISBN: 978-1-85984-270-6.
This three-hour workshop is open to people participating in the MEP’s Summer Marxist Intensive and there will be no extra tuition fee. People not enrolled in the Intensive are also invited to attend this workshop. The tuition is on a sliding scale, from $15 to $25. No prior theater experience is necessary to participate.
“I believe that all the truly revolutionary theatrical groups should transfer to the people the means of production in the theater so that the people themselves may utilize them. The theater is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield it. —Augusto Boal
Janet Gerson, has been a TOPLAB facilitator since 1997, and studied with Augusto Boal and TOPLAB facilitator Marie-Claire Picher. She is the Education Director of the International Institute on Peace Education. She won the Peace and Justice Studies Association 2014 Award for Public Deliberation on Global Justice for her work on the World Tribunal on Iraq. She was the Co-Director of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College in New York from 2001 to 2010, and was the Founder-Director of Dance Stream, a community-based organization that produced professional and children’s dance, outdoor arts festivals, and community television throughout New York City from 1981 to 2000.
Marie-Claire Picher, Ph.D, is a co-founder (1990) of the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), the oldest group in the United States offering facilitation training in the techniques and methodology of the Theater of the Oppressed (TO). She has worked and collaborated closely with TO founder and creator Augusto Boal until his death in 2009. One of the most experienced Theater of the Oppressed practitioners in North America, she has presented thousands of hours of training workshops in New York and throughout the United States. She has worked in Cuba; in Quiche, Guatemala on several projects involving community rebuilding and healing following the 36-year-long civil war that resulted in the near-genocide of the Mayan people and the murders of more than 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans; in Mexico City with street children, and also with peace and social justice groups; in Tabasco, Mexico with a youth community; and in the Mexican state of Chiapas with the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas in the cities of Comitan and San Cristobal, and in autonomous Zapatista communities elsewhere in the state.
“We must emphasize: What Brecht does not want is that the spectators continue to leave their brains with their hats upon entering the theater, as do bourgeois spectators.” —Augusto Boal
The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), is an all-women facilitation-training collective. It was founded in 1990 and is the oldest group in the United States offering training in the techniques and methodology of the Theater of the Oppressed (TO). We have enjoyed a warm relationship with Augusto Boal, the founder of TO, and our facilitators have collaborated closely with him from our start until his death in 2009. TOPLAB offers monthly training workshops, open to the general public, and also creates and facilitates workshops for specific communities, organizations and constituencies designed to meet the needs of the people involved. Since our beginning, TOPLAB has been committed to making TO accessible to as many people as possible by keeping our fees and tuition rates low. We do not seek funding from foundations or government agencies, and we certainly do not seek money from corporations and for-profit enterprises—and we never will. Most of all, we are committed to being active players seeking to change the world by abolishing the unjust, exploitative capitalist economic system and transforming the world into a place where wealth is owned, shared and controlled by society as a whole, for the benefit of all.