Raising questions for a change: Theatre of the Oppressed NYC

por: Diana Ramos Gutiérrez

New York city, historically a meeting point for cultural diversity, has been challenged lately with movements like Occupy Wall Street cohesion beyond differences. Several artistic collectives have joined the effort, through art giving ways to raise questions, to stop and think about usual discussions we don’t consider, from indifference and violence to apathy and injustice. After facilitating projects in Calcutta, India and in Leon, Nicaragua and train with Augusto Boal at the Center for Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro, Katy Rubin founds the Theatre of the Oppressed NYC in 2010. Since then, the organization has been working with communities and starting dialogues trough theater and art.



Why theater for change?

I can’t answer that very rationally–only from my own gut feeling that there is much to change in the world, and beyond even that, change is true and natural and dramatic. Theatre in itself is about change and so it would be a lie, to me, to deny that those changes extend beyond the walls of the theatre. It’s so much more fun for me to work with hundreds of actors every week than to be the actor myself, the only actor!

What has been your experience working with communities in NYC?

Through Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, the organization I founded in 2010, I and my colleagues have created popular theatre troupes with homeless adults, undocumented immigrants, people living with HIV/AIDS, homeless LGBT teens, African refugees, public high school students and other groups. With these groups we have created original forum theatre plays, incorporating documentary film footage, spoken word, break-dancing, music, and clowning, all to help us tell real stories of oppression facing the communities making the plays. Every play is followed by an interactive forum in which we engage the audiences in solidarity-building and creative, collective problem-solving.  This has been an incredible journey so far; we have reached over 2000 “spect-actors,” or audience members who participate in the forums. We have also branched out into other media; for instance, the homeless artists’ collective, Concrete Justice, is also publishing a poetry book from the streets. We have found that there is a hunger for this work in the city, and we are struggling to keep up with the demand to start new popular troupes! The wonderful thing is that we are not actually needed.  We are facilitating the first time, but we are giving all the art-making and decision-making power to the communities, so that we can make ourselves redundant.

How can art, in this case theater, can back and support a movement like Occupy Wall Street?

TONYC has been able to support OWS in several ways, and i believe that the movement is similarly supporting our efforts to start dialogues around injustice. So much attention on the huge inequalities in our country can only help focus attention similarly on the homeless, people living with HIV/AIDS, undocumented immigrants, and other groups with which we create theatre. In return, we’ve gone to visit OWS with several troupes, including Concrete Justice (the homeless artsts’ collective), and the immigration troupe.  The homeless LGBT youth troupe will take part of its play, PGP, to OWS too. I believe that the occupation is increasing dialogue and activity among activists and artists, and engaging the whole city in that dialogue, which can only be a wonderful thing.

What are the next projects for Theatre of the Oppressed NYC?

Well this very week, three new troupes are performing their plays for the first time, after which they will embark on tours of NYC. These troupes are the Uptown Action Troupe addressing immigration and deportation issues in Spanish and English (The Immigration Circus); the Ali Forney Theatrical Society, made up of LGBT homeless youth, in Performing Gender Pronouns; and the Housing Works Troupe, made up of actors living with HIV/AIDS, in A Worm in the Big Apple. Also, Concrete Justice is working hard on its first book, entitled Concrete Justice: Street Poetry, and continues to tour its multimedia play Hellter Shelter around NYC. In addition, I am embarking on an international collaboration project through a Theatre Communications Group grant in one week, to exchange practices with a homeless theatre co in London and a learning-disabled theatre co in Theatre Communications Group, England. Our work will proceed while the Artistic Director is away, however!

For more information, events and workshops visit www.theatreoftheoppressednyc.org

 

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