Monday, 20 July 2009

Forum Theatre in Berlin

At the recent Gender is Happening one-week extravaganza by the Gunda Werner Institute in Berlin (Heinrich Böll Foundation - German blog here), Aki Krishnamurty facilitated three workshops which culminated in a public performance. For those who don't know Forum Theatre: it is a method for awareness-raising and social transformation developed by Augusto Boal as the Theatre of the Oppressed: click here for a page by the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation; there's also a comprehensive entry on Wikipedia. In a nutshell: professional or amateur actors perform a rehearsed play or a short sketch which demonstrates aspects of oppression relevant to the audience. In our Berlin example, Aki Krishnamurty and her workshop participants had agreed that sexual harrassment in public spaces was a good example for oppression linked to gender inequality.
They have performed a sketch in which a woman who walks her dog is being bothered by unknown people in different ways: the first one silently exchanges flirtatuous glances with her; the second one follows her around with verbal sexual advances. Eventually our heroine walks off, helpless and upset. Aki Krishnamurty comes on stage to ask the audience: "What happened?" And, "how could she react differently so that she can continue walking her dog without being bothered?" Members of the audience are asked to come on stage and show how they would act differently; the actors react as they judge fit.

The result was overwhelming. Each person who came on stage had something radically different to offer; from friendly dialogue to fistfight. Every re-enactment of the scene prompted new reactions. Hot debate arose between the participants - is it OK to counter violence with violence? Are older women better equipped to deal with harrassment than younger ones? Does age matter? Are we being racist in our portrayal of the aggressors? The discussion continued beyond the session; even on my way home, hours later, I continued to mull over the different options and opinions. I had not expected this approach to work this powerfully among seasoned "gender experts". Which proves again how important it is to immerse oneself personally and deeply into the methods we develop for "others", who in reality aren't that "other" at all...

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