Friday, April 6, 2012

Work to Welfare

Last night I performed Work to Welfare with Living Stages theatre troupe. The show, a composite of experiences from the troupe was presented to the community as a forum play based on Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.

The rehearsal process was a bit grueling- emotionally speaking. We started by sharing stories about ourselves, our families, our loved ones. Each story about unemployment, the lack of work, food stamps, homelessness and more fueled our work into creating this play. The piece examined the oppression that can happen with families and relationships while people are struggling to find work.

The characters were so real, yet they were not rooted firmly in our stories. In an age when the recession has impacted everyone in some way, we were looking for ways to create characters that were relevant to struggles that might be particularly salient.

Breadwinner mothers, long term unemployed father, younger generation saddled with debt, unable to escape the trap or fulfill childhood dreams, grandma who can't afford to live alone on social security, the sister who IS successful and thus should be point of comparison for other failures, friends with privilege and parental help who don't have to worry about paying rent and working.

These characters created the play. The play was about the shame, humiliation, depression, loneliness and all the gamut of emotions that come with struggling to find work. We live in a culture where work is tied into our identities. We ask, "what do you do?" not who are you. Work defines us and can control our life, creating a hierarchical system of haves and have nots.

The play hit very close to home. Sometimes too much for my liking, but like any strong art, it should. I knew that I could not be feeling alone in this. Of course, after months of sharing with the troupe, I knew that I was not alone. That others had similar stories. The same themes kept coming up, again and again.

Performing last night reminded me of the power and beauty of Theatre of the Oppressed. The audience was not only a receptive audience but a willing participant in creating a dialogue. Many interventions happened in the play that were interesting, touching and alternative. Theatre of the oppressed proposes new realities and alternatives to situations--it gives the audience and the performers a chance to "rehearse for real life". Within the living, breathing form of theatre, we are able to comprise these experiences and thoughts and create a new, living, breathing thing.

TO reminds me that Reality is not static. It's malleable, just like people, just like our thoughts. Though the world and many of us are stubborn, sometimes it is only because of our ignorance or lack of foresight that we think otherwise.

Performing last night made me feel engaged and alive--and most of all, inspired!

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