Chen Alon & The Polarised Theatre of the Oppressed
Posted on: 25 January 2014
Written by: Volunteer
The perspective of two of our Volunteers following from Chen Alon's remarkable Masterclass at Cardboard Citizens at the end of January.
Before attending Chen Alon’s workshop at Cardboard Citizens, I had no knowledge or experience of Polarized Theatre of the Oppressed at all.
His opening talk on Friday evening was hugely informative and contextualised the weekend of workshops, introducing to me for the first time the appreciation of theatre’s potential for creating unity in a conflict zone.
We spent the first day of the 2-day workshop exploring and revealing polarities within our group – a group that on the surface was made up similar-minded individuals with a common interest in Theatre of the Oppressed. We found that the polarity we were most engaged with was a psychological one :those with low self-esteem vs those with no self-esteem issues. Chen split the group into these two halves, and we spent the afternoon discussing and dissecting the other group’s perceptions of themselves and of us; this resulted in both groups presenting enlightening forum theatre pieces at the end of the day.
Day 2 focussed on exposing our multiple identities. Through games, physical exercises, group presentations, and poetry writing, we explored the many different identities that we carry with us through life. I found this work particularly revealing. I was especially interested in the presentation of short plays that featured our individual identities linked together. The vastly contrasting pieces, and the varying group responses that this produced, made for a fascinating culmination to the weekend.
Those two days spent in the overwhelming presence of Chen Alon seem to be always more distant as the weeks go by, yet I cannot seem to get them off my mind – why? The Israeli practitioners’ model of the Theatre of the Oppressed is indeed an innovative one. Hour after hour, as the significance and potential application of each exercise unfolded, the participants were always more visibly enthralled by his ground-breaking methods.
Polarities can be found anywhere. What struck me the most was the ease with which they surfaced in our group. It was revealing and somewhat frustrating to have to deal with the physicalisation of the proposed ensemble’s divides. Especially when the classification of ‘white male heterosexuals’ was suggested as a splitting force, I was angry with myself for being part of it. I didn’t really have a choice, because that is how society labels me, but the way it was imposed upon us didn’t feel right.
In the end we democratically decided to use self-esteem issues as the separating measure. Although I voted in favour of using this (probably because it felt like tackling on safe grounds), I found myself regretting this choice soon after because of its weak nature. Just as we went on to discuss, contrarily to something like the ‘white male heterosexual’ (another example offered was ‘immigrants’), low self-esteem issues can never be a net divide, because of their subjective internal nature. We nevertheless managed to pinpoint a vast range of diversities in the activity which found us writing what each group thought about the other and what we would never dare ask them, as well as other questions which I won’t disclose. This reflective task was ever so illuminating in effectively exposing our ‘deeper, darker nature’ and this was a disturbing feature to come to terms with.
I can safely say that the effectiveness of the Polarised Theatre of the Oppressed in its application to communities in conflict was crystal clear to all of us participants. Our short lived self-esteem experiment was a sort of miniature model of what Chen Alon strives to achieve between Israelis and Palestinians. His awe-inspiring Combatants For Peace is a marvellously daring movement which has no equal in the world.
With thanks to