Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Theater of the Oppressed

on 2011 November 4

When I’m near people who are inspired and compassionate, I become more inspired and compassionate. Loose ends get completed; I see beyond immediate setbacks and tend towards health. But when I’m near people who are vain and wandering at a great distance from their souls, I become vain and wander too. This leads me to believe that we are not made to ground ourselves to withstand this world of vanity, and that we need each other to have the strength to do it.

The winds of vanity have carried the autism world (the industry, that is) to such remote realms that I can’t find common vocabulary to even discuss it. When I’m in a classroom, and asked what we should do with an autistic child who is having a tantrum, I’m at a loss for words; I’ve lost my ground. Somewhere inside, I know that I know a good answer, but it is blocked. I suggest consoling him or giving him time alone (or whatever trite thing that comes to mind), but what I really mean is the situation is absurd: why is controlling this child so urgent in the first place? I find myself so unglued from home, and so lonely when I’m surrounded by people churning up this hurricane of “help”. I’m pretty sure that it is the energy of vanity that drives the idea that We Must Do Something. Yet I’m caught like Dorothy and as I said in a poem once, my guideposts have all blown over in a storm. When I have no ally in the sea of vanity, I make no sense; I am ineffective, disabled.

I always liked theater – the unbounded space for creativity, the games, and the way it creates equality. So I’m naturally attracted to the idea of autism theater, which is a Big New Thing (try a web search if you like). However, I was immediately lost in it, just like in the classrooms – both in reading about it and in participating in a some programs. I couldn’t identify the inspiration, direction or reason for it, other than as a form of Behavior Therapy, may god save us from that. Then I read from Augusto Boal (author of Theater of the Oppressed), how theater is the grounding for turning awareness of ones own oppression into action. In his work, theater is the initiating action that leads to action outside the theater.

The games that Boal explains (he has hundreds of them) have seeped into many other people’s repertoire of games, but they can be twisted to suit any other agenda. In the extreme, a game whose original reason for being was to connect people together to empower them to take autonomous control of their lives could be twisted into a game of controlling the behavior of a disabled class! The irony of that had been festering without my conscious awareness. Now I at least have Boal as an inspirational ally, to help me find vocabulary when I’m swept into those distant realms.

Interestingly, the person who lent me the book volunteered that he could find no connection between the concepts of Theater of the Oppressed and working with autistic actors! Privilege dulls our minds.

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