Have you ever watched a Shakespeare play and wanted to stand up and yell at the characters? “Just talk to Hero, Claudio!” or “Make a decision, Hamlet!” or “She’s not dead, Romeo! Don’t drink that poison!!” We probably all have at some point. Of course, doing so would ruin the moment for everyone else, but it would make us personally feel better. Phew…glad I got that off my chest. The suspense was killing me! Then again, the plays would be much shorter and less engaging if everyone always did exactly what we know they should.
Recently, during our Topical SHXCademy for Othello (centered around anti-racism), our participants did just that, but with a twist. The entire three-day intensive focused on how we might use plays like Othello, i.e. plays with obvious racism scripted into them, to facilitate productive conversations about race and anti-racist action. Drawing on exercises meant for Forum Theatre, a branch of Theatre of the Oppressed invented by Augusto Boal, we chose scenes from Othello that displayed different kinds of racism that BIPOC experience in real life. We worked through multiple ways to intervene in those moments, effectively using the people and moments of the play as a rehearsal for real-life situations.
While we definitely do not condone interrupting an actual performance of Othello or any other play in order to work through moments collectively deemed “problematic,” doing so in a workshop setting was invigorating and eye-opening for everyone involved. Participants analyzed the nuances not only of the text, but of the situations themselves, separate from text and character, and discovered strategies to confront oppression in real life. Of the many tools we used to design and facilitate this particular SHXCademy, these were the most helpful:
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, whose guidelines for difficult discussions about race and privilege were our touchstones throughout the SHXCademy;
- These notes from a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop compiled by Susie MacDonald and Daniel Rachel; they give a wonderful overview of the ideological underpinnings of TO, as well as instructions for how to lead Forum exercises;
- Scenes from Othello that we made into a handout. Whereas true Forum Theatre exercises draw from scenes written by participants, we substituted Shakespeare’s words for our own. The results were largely the same.
Use wisely. Get out there and make some Good Trouble.