Fotos by Tasha Bassingthwaighte
Amber: I’m here with Tasha Bassingthwaighte, the Executive Director of the West Kootenay Women’s Association to talk about the GAP Project, the next Theatre of the Oppressed (also known as Forum Theatre) project here in Nelson, coming up in January 2012, this time working with youth through a partnership with SelfDesign High.
Good morning Tasha!
Tasha: Good Morning.
Amber: It was really great to attend your last project, “Hooked Theatre – 10 Women. 2 Plays. 1 Subject: Addiction” which was the first time I had heard of any Forum Theatre taking place in Nelson.
Tasha: So, Chloe Sage from Ankors, Krista Lynch and myself facilitated “Hooked”. Chloe had done some day workshops with Theatre of the Oppressed but hadn’t done anything as big as this and hadn’t been doing public performances. It was an amazing experience for all of the participants but it was also amazing to see the audience participation and the community support for it. It was incredible for them and for us as facilitators.
Amber: The turn-out was amazing! And people were so exited to get in there to propose solutions and do interventions
Tasha: Yes! I’ve done about fifteen public performances like that and I have never seen such amazing audience ideas and interventions – we could have gone on all day!
Amber: Truly! We could have been there until midnight! I appreciated the diversity of participants as well – male and female of different ages. It made me think that there are many community issues that we could talk about in that format. Sometimes we can think of a certain issue and think we might know of a solution, but then to actually provide a space to play those solutions out.
Tasha: Yes, we can blame government policies or say that the solution is outside of ourselves. But then when you are in it, you try to find solutions with who you are, or who the characters in the play. You can see how every single person in that scene can try to make a difference. It gives us rehearsal for our our lives and in lessening oppression that we see in society.
Amber: Can you talk about how this experience was transformative and empowering for the participants?
Tasha: Sure. As facilitators, we tried to not lead them in any direction. We wanted the issues to come from them. We were interested in their life experiences, not ours. And we treated them as experts in their lives, because they are. And I think that they hadn’t had that space to be the experts in their lives, to articulate the experiences of their lives and that alone was empowering. But then to share that with the public and have the public be so receptive, well that’s an incredibly empowering experience.
I’d say another level of empowerment for the women who participated was simply having space to connect with each other and develop friendships with each other. We provided childcare and lunch for them, as well as the space to do long check-ins each day. Many of the women said that to reconnect with the group over and over during that time was their touchstone. To have the space to step outside of their lives and look at their lives. For many of the women they are facing real day-to-day issues of poverty, addictions, evictions and being seen negatively by many in our society. So to be seen in a positive way, to be listened to, and to develop friendships was amazing.
Amber: I thought that it was really well-facilitated and that as facilitators you took on strong roles in directing it. You let a lot happen but also put up limitations so that it could move forward.
Tasha: And we were blown away! We didn’t even get the first word out in the scene, and then someone said “stop” and I had never experienced that. I always had to nurture the audience and make them feel safe and that was NOT a problem with this audience. (laughs)
Amber: (laughs) You must be excited to go forward with more Theatre of the Oppressed projects! What’s next?
Tasha: The Womens’ Centre and SelfDesign High are collaborating on a project called GAP Theatre that will start in January 2012. It will look at gender-based issues with youth. This will be a longer project, 10 weeks of workshop time and then we will have five or more public performances. The participants will decide what those look like, where they will be and who they want in the audience. The focus for “Hooked” was women and addictions..the focus for “Gap Theatre” will be youth and gender-based issues, which can mean really anything – how we see ourselves, stereotypes imposed on us, the stereotypes we impose on others, our relationships with males, with females. Its for any youth age 14-19, male or female.
Amber: That’s exciting! And youth can do this as a course?
Tasha: Yes, they will get high school drama credit for it. And also they can choose whether or not they want to perform. In “Hooked” many participants chose not to perform which is why I took over acting in the second scene. And the same goes for this, there is no pressure to be anyone you are not. That is really foundational in Theatre of the Oppressed. So they will get course credit for coming to the workshops and then they will decide if they want to do performances of not. They’ll be educating the public about youth issues that they think are important. If they choose to do the performances, we want to acknowledge the time they are taking to do that so there is an honorarium attached.
Amber: Nelson has such a rich theatre community for a small town, it’s really exciting that there is this whole other opportunity for the transformative use of theatre to talk about things that can be taboo.
Tasha: Yes, this form of theatre has been used to talk about taboo topics all over the world. Its acting that is used for non-actors or who don’t have a theatre background. Most people who do theatre of the oppressed don’t have a theatre background. The ultimate goal is not to create amazing theatre, the ultimate goal is to create a dialogue about topics.
Amber: Why the Kootenays for this particular project?
Tasha: There are a lot of gender-based issues in the Kootenays. In the star last week there was an article talking about four young men who have been charged for sexual assault of under-aged girls. There has been a fair amount of media attention on “LG or little girl parties” and the facebook manual on how to convince young girls to sleep with older boys. That becomes normalized to youth in the area because it is so common and there isn’t the space to talk about gender issues among youth. There isn’t a lot of education, or if there is, it is top-down and this kind of theatre is bottom-up, wanting the youth to educate the adults and not the other way around, we want to hear what it looks like from a youth perspective. So it feels like an important issue at this time.
Amber: It’s important to have a dialogue because we consume so much information from the media, but then what do we do with what we know?
Tasha: Yes, how do we work collectively on solutions. And If we are dealing with youth issues, then youth need to lead, and the youth need to tell us what works for them, what possible solutions are, and to be able to say, well that is a great idea if you are forty, but it really doesn’t work if you are fourteen, no fourteen year-old would really act like that. We need to hear from them. This is a forum that we can do that with.
Amber: Have you worked with youth before in Forum Theatre?
Tasha: Yes I have. I worked with youth in Vancouver for four years. In fact, “Hooked” was the first Forum Theatre that I did with adults. And I was a bit nervous to work with grown-ups and to get them to play games. During the workshops there are a lot of games its a lot of fun and a lot of laughter. There is a lot of physical stuff, running and games that involve your body. A lot of the process is getting back into your body and getting back into your senses because we are encouraged to be in our brains and looking outside of ourselves.
I did work with youth in Vancouver for four years and they were immigrants and refugees so none of them had english as a first language and had varying levels of English and were from about 30 different countries. So that was a great tool for a diverse group of people, whether that is diverse life experiences, diverse languages – its really a great tool in bridging differences and being able to understand each other when we have very different backgrounds.
Amber: And how did you become interested in Theatre of the Oppressed?
Tasha: I came to it through my work with refugees. It was very helpful for my work, and then I just fell in love with it, and found it useful for many things. And now I am the Executive Director of the Women’s Center and love my work there and love facilitating and want to keep on doing that and see that there is a need for it in this community
Amber: Thank you for bringing it here! Can you tell us a little about the roots of Theatre of the Oppressed
Tasha: It was developed in Brazil in the 1970s through the popular education movement and Paulo Freire. He had a student called Agosto Boal, who has recently passed away, who created Theatre of the Oppressed. A lot of the tools were already there, and he brought these tools together. He wanted it to be participatory, he actually came to it it through a type of theatre called Agitation and Propaganda Theatre where actors would take social issues and show people what to do. And it was much more telling people rather than asking people. So he realized the negatives from that. One story from his life is that he was doing Agitation and Propaganda Theatre about pheasants taking over land from landowners because at the time, and I believe still, there were very few people who owned most of the landowners
Amber: Right, the The Landless Workers Movement.
Tasha: Yes. There hadn’t been large land reforms in Brazil. So to change that situation they were pushing for land reforms, even through armed resistance against landowners. So a group of pheasants were watching this theatre where they were pretty much telling the pheasants that they should take up arms to take the land from the landowners. At the end of the play the pheasants said, “okay, we are convinced, we are into it, lets all go together.” And the actors, who were from the city and not peasants, said, “Ummmm actually we are just acting we can’t do this. These aren’t real guns, these are wooden.” And the peasants said, “we have guns for you , come with us.” And the actors said, “No, we are actors, we might get hurt.” So that was one incident where Agosto Boal saw, hey there is something wrong with this. We don’t have experience to tell others what to do. We are telling them what to do when we are not actually will to do what we are telling them. So there were a few other turning points for him but he developed this kind of theatre to listen to people and to find out what they wanted and to use non-actors to create community dialogue about issues. It’s been used on every inhabited continent on earth. Its been used to talk about incest, gender oppression, fairytales and how they affect adults, used in refugee communities, in looking at class issues, all different issues that are really difficult to talk about, and its worked incredibly well.
Amber: Tasha, that you so much for your insight on Theatre of the Oppressed and the stories of yours and others’ experiences. Anything else you’d like to tell us about the new series of workshops that are starting up for GAP Theatre?
Tasha: Well, the workshops start in January, they will go for ten weeks, every Friday evening. They will take place here at SelfDesign High, starting late January and going into March. And then from April until May, we will will do public performances and like I said it will be however and where ever the youth want to do the performances. It might be advertised public performances, it might be going into different schools and taking over a class for an hour and it might me a with youth groups, in Castlegar, Trail or Kaslo, or where ever we want to go with them.
What the workshops will actually look like, well, in the first workshops we are going to show a short film and focus on particular topics for the first four or five weeks. Some of those will be looking at how men are portrayed in the media and how women are portrayed in the medial and gender identity and homophobia; looking at how those issues manifest in the world and in our community and in the participants lives. Then we’ll develop scenes out of the collaborative experiences of the participants. It’s not a script, it’s not Romeo and Juliet and deciding who will be Romeo and who will be Juliet. It is completely unscripted, we create really short scenes coming from peoples’ lives. And then we will rehearse those scenes until they are ready to be showed to the public at the end of the ten weeks. And then what the performance looks like this: we show a really short scene, three to five minutes long. But instead of having a Hollywood ending, like most movies or theatre we see where things start out nice, then there is this conflict and then the conflict is resolved and then there is a ‘happily ever after,” we end with a peek of difficulty. Then we turn it over to the audience and ask them how we can change and how we can lesson the oppression, or make the situation better, or how ever it is framed. Then the audience can replace characters in the scenes and redo the scenes with the new characters trying out different ideas. Then we will talk about it with the participants, the actors, and the audience. We talk about what they have learned and how this will impact their lives.
Amber: Sounds like a super opportunity for our youth and our whole community. I will definitely be in the audience! Thank-you so much Tasha and congratulations on the work.
Tasha: Thanks, I’m excited about this collaboration between the Womens’ Centre and SDH and I’m excited to do more youth-focused work in the Womens’ Centre.
Workshops will run from January to March, 2012 and performances will happen in April and May.
This course has an application process. To apply please contact Marya at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Gender Action Project Theatre, or by phone at 352.9949