Theatre of the Oppressed: Image Theatre
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To invite students to use their bodies to represent, collaboratively, an image of something that is worth discussing, and then use the resulting “tableau” combined as a source of critical reflection, and then invite participants to make changes to make the image different (e.g. if it is an oppressive situation, how can we make small modifications to make it more liberating?)
Creative expression, multiple perspectives, collaboration, critical discussion/reflection and imagining a different way of viewing and doing things.
Image theater or Tableau can be done with “frozen” images or with “repeated actions”. Let students know which you’re asking them to do. You may try it first with a simple prompt that’s easy to embody/dramatize, to practice, and then move onto more complex concepts.
- Ask everyone to turn their cameras off.
- Give students a prompt or a theme or a topic.
- Ask each student to turn on their camera when they have an idea of an action or gesture to make. Everyone is a spect-actor (in this case - a spectator until they turn on their camera and become an actor and contribute to the image).
- Keep going until a sufficient number of students have offered a gesture or pose (so this might mean you have 6 people with cameras on an everyone else remains a spectator).
- Discuss what the tableau (combination of all the images) represents, how people are feeling who are in the tableau as well as how it feels/looks to people outside who are just watching. Sometimes this will bring up a certain feeling that is e.g. negative or oppressive, or such.
- Invite participants to make small modifications to their poses/gestures to build towards e.g. a more positive feeling.
- Discuss again.
This can be a really quick 10-15 minute activity or can take up longer, depending on the topic, theme, and how the dialogue goes.
Adaptations and examples
- You can play music to go with the repetitive gesture.
- You can invite students to make a sound/noise along with their gesture, making “machine” sounds.
- If you have students who cannot turn their camera on, or you have to be asynchronous, you can invite students to draw things and put them on a shared Google doc, or bring photos that are metaphors for something and put them in a shared space - and make a literal collage/tableau that way.
Any video conferencing tool that allows cameras on/off (even better if it is allows you to hide non-video participants).
For opportunities to attend workshops on these activities, see Theresa Ronquillo’s Embody Change: https://www.embody-change.com/
Augusto Boal’s book: Games for Actors and Non-Actors