Tag Archives: eroles project

Theatre of the Oppressed In Cataluyna … part 1

The following report is from Gaynor, a co-facilitator on our recent week-long residential forum theatre and image theatre training course, held in Cataluyna in March 2018. Many thanks Gaynor!

As a self-confessed forum theatre addict, who has been fascinated by Theatre of the Oppressed for years, being offered the chance to be a support facilitator on the residential training by Reboot the Root at Ulex, was a real privilege and gift; A whole week to collaborate with others, as keen as me to find ways to apply this approach in the exploration of the multiple oppressions facing human beings in an increasingly oppressive world.

Having been a facilitator for over a decade, delivering workshops has been my job but at the same time, attending them has been my hobby; in my spare time I seek out any opportunity I can to see the ways that other facilitators lead groups and ‘hold space’ – from cacao ceremonies, to tantra workshops, and storytelling, every workshop and approach has something to offer, even if it means discovering facilitation styles that I don’t enjoy! Experiencing workshops as a participant, and observing other facilitators enriches my own practice and I gather the lessons and games as I go.

Facilitating a residential course at Ulex is at the extreme end of facilitation and it requires patience, courage and stamina. Firstly, there are participants there from all over the world, with different levels of experience and knowledge of Theatre of the Oppressed, and varying levels of English. In addition, topics emerging generate high emotions, as participants bring stories of the oppressions facing themselves and others to the work. Forum Theatre incorporates a playfulness, but at the same time it can reveal our collective frustrations and pain as we wrestle with the oppressions ‘on stage’ that are all too present for us in the real world. And all of this work would be taking place in a residential community environment where personalities had the potential to rub, and facilitators and participants were sharing the same space; equally immersed in the experience and ‘always on’. As such, it would be a lot to hold, inside and outside the planned sessions. I would be learning from George Wielgus, someone who had ridden the waves of this process before, and who has many years of experience with Theatre of the Oppressed in challenging settings. Before I met him, someone on another T. O. course had said to me, ’And have you met George yet? He trains Theatre of the Oppressed, but he really ‘lives it’ too , you know?’… I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I smiled and nodded anyway, hoping that I would one day have the chance to find out. Certainly, on meeting George, I could feel the calm confidence and strength that a leader needs to hold this type of experience, but he also had compassion and openness with a good sense of humour. I was looking forward to what the week would bring.

I arrived at Ulex after a period of ill mental health, with the prospect of being away from my ordinary life, an added bonus. My mind had been working over the typical stresses of surviving in the city; where to live, how to make money, how to keep on keeping on through the illness, while maintaining the facade that everything was okay. I had the impression that many participants were arriving in a similar state of exhaustion, and we were reassured that the course would be a gentle pace that would include much time to restore ourselves in nature. Being in a house on a mountain in Catalunya was a chance to ‘drop’ things that were weighing us down, and relax and heal on the inside. It’s amazing how after a few days in this rural environment, the external world becomes distant, and all that matters is this present moment; the people here, the laughter, the tears, the games, the songs. And like using a magnifying glass, once the background noise of daily stress goes away, your inner world comes sharply into focus, and that’s where the lessons really begin.

We started each day with a ‘check-in’ where we would share in groups how we were feeling, ‘from the heart’, and they would listen actively with their hearts open but without comment. This practice was like ‘coming up for air’; how often did I wish to be listened to without fearing the listener’s reaction or receiving unsolicited advice? People’s masks were falling away, including my own, and a way of relating was established which set the tone for the whole week.

As the week progressed, and we explored the many games that Boal had devised to build trust and agility in actors, I was reminded that TO was never about a separation between drama and ‘real life’; we are actors in our own lives, on and off the stage. We bring to the work our own lived experiences, we project our own interpretations onto blank images, and we bring our learned coping strategies to the scenes in an attempt to ‘break’ oppressions that we are familiar with. As such, Theatre of the Oppressed cannot help but be transformative on a personal level.
Phrases that I heard, games that I played and lessons I learned during my week at Ulex stay with me forever;
‘First answer, best answer’ – This phrase was used to remind us to go with our gut, and move us from thinking to action. It’s all too easy to second guess an idea, pull it apart and abandon it, without giving it a go. As someone who can over think, this phrase has become a helpful mantra to encourage me to trust my instincts.
Ensemble movement and trust– It was a liberating and affirming experience to be supported by the group, both figuratively and literally. Games where I could offer a repetitive movement and have people join me or mirror it back to me helped me to feel accepted; there was no move or gesture that wouldn’t be followed and not only did I feel the freedom to offer anything that my body felt to do, I was also reminded that there was no separation between bodies and people; We moved around the space as one. When I allowed myself to trust the group to lift me from my chair and up into the sky, I felt euphoric; A complete surrender of control and an embodiment of faith in people and process.

No one solution, only a multitude of options – Each time a new spect-actor took on the challenge of breaking the oppression in the scene before them, they were trying out an idea to see how it went. They didn’t know what would happen but they gave it a shot, and they sometimes made progress or hit on a way to get over an obstacle; each time the narrative played out differently. I’m a perfectionist who can get immobilized by decision making… ‘What if I make the wrong move?’ ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ and after the event ‘Maybe I should have done x or y?’ In Forum, there is no ‘right way’, but many ways. There are numerous possibilities but there is no telling if any one way would have been better than another, since the reactions to the intervention by the other players cannot be predicted. On stage, as in life, their reactions and actions are beyond our control. Nothing is a ‘wrong’ intervention, it’s just different choices; all that matters is to get on your feet and try and learn from whatever comes next.

Non participation is always an option – In contrast to many workshops and therapeutic approaches where participants are encouraged to ‘push through’ and ‘do what they find most difficult’, we were told from the start that we could opt out or observe at any time. This was a relief to hear for those who had come with limited experience of drama games and were feeling reticent, but it also became more relevant as the work became more emotionally intense. Knowing I could stop when it felt right to me made it safe for me to try.

Allow time and space for feelings – At the start of each day, and after activities, the invitation was there for us to share how we felt and what an exercise brought up for us. George held the space for everyone to speak their own truth without comment, and emotions of laughter, grief, confusion and joy were all as welcome as each other in the circle. No one was hurried or shamed. This is definitely a learning point for me as a facilitator; the importance of allowing time for people to process what is taking place. It was a beautiful and supportive group where we could be authentic, and the course was shaped with plenty of time outside of the held sessions for personal reflection.
The moments where I observed myself resisting any of the above revealed to me my long-held thought patterns that didn’t serve me; it was like a year’s worth of therapy condensed into a week!

As part of his practice, Boal would always invite the group he was working with to dedicate the day to a current issue or fight against oppression and George continued this tradition. As we listened to one another, the group of assembled activists shared the struggles that they had personal connections to; the threat of eviction to residents at the Sofia Solidarity Centre, Yarls Wood solidarity protests, activists against restricted access to abortion for women in Poland (“Black Friday” protests), and the arrest of ‘Stansted 15’ activists among others. Each dedication was a sobering reminder that Forum Theatre is actually a rehearsal for the revolution; it is a training ground, and the actual fight is ongoing, real and risky.

For Boal in Brazil in the ‘70s, producing theatre in favour of a population against a dictatorship was a risky move in itself and he was arrested for making ‘Newspaper Theatre’ with his troupe. This incident changed his view of theatre, and he realised he couldn’t advise others to take up a fight that he wasn’t prepared to enter into himself. Boal quoted Che Guevara in saying “To be in solidarity with others is to take the same risks.” It is not enough to simply feel empathy from the sidelines. Through the passion, conviction and energy shown by my fellow participants and facilitators, I was beginning to see what ‘living TO’ actually means, and I have returned to my life with a daring spirit, ready to stand up for myself and others.

An interview with the facilitators of the ‘Creating Resilience’ programme

An interview with the facilitators of the ‘Creating Resilience’ programme

This August, RtR partnered with the Eroles Project to present a two-week course on Creating Resilience … here’s an interview with 3 of the facilitators from that week …

Who are you and what have you been doing here?

L: My name is Lex I work with gardens, permaculture and theatre. I made a set of masks to bring to Eroles to look at deep ecology (connecting ourselves to nature) and Theatre of the Oppressed, in particular to work with refugees. I have been here for a week and it’s been amazing.

G: My name is George, I am a descendant of displaced people from Poland after World War II. I work with Theatre of the Oppressed and before I came here I was extremely burn out from other projects, but having been facilitating here this week I’m feeling fully charged and ready to go.

M: My name is Miranda, I came to Eroles Project last year to create a climate change action for COP21. I was invited to come back this year to work with George and Lex as a facilitator. This week I have really enjoyed working with resilience and sharing some of my work in this field from back home in Oxford. I am really inspired by how these collaboration will continue in the future.

Why do you think this work is important?

G: We live in a culture where the sense of urgency and crisis means that despite our best intentions and wanting to give as much as we can of our self to try to help other people, we neglect the self care that is essential to make resilience possible.

L: It is very important to come here to Eroles, in the beautiful Pyrenees mountains, with our busy lives, especially if we are working in any ‘crisis’ circumstances. It gives us a chance to step back and have a look at our patterns, to be effective with how we are with ourselves for long term sustainability within our actions and life as a whole.

M: And within that for me is flexibility. To be able to learn from our mistakes – to be able to keep shifting and changing, learning and adapting from our experiences. To design new ways of working and to keep developing as the situation around us changes.

What are you taking with you from this programme?

G: I am taking away the realisation that you can leave a residential programme, powered up, recharged, resilient and ready to face the world and its challenges; as opposed to thinking it was an ordeal.

L: I am taking away from this process a deeper sense of resilience, deeper understanding that the more I care for myself the more I can truly care for the planet. I’m deeply fired up with inspiration from connecting with people all over the world doing similar projects, it gives me an amazing sense of the future. This has been beyond words, just wow!

M: A deeper sense of trust in my intuition. Fire to continue to sense what is needed and to respond in a non urgent way, and to take this into my projects back home.

How can this type of experience inform people working in the refugee / humanitarian crisis?

L: I think this work hugely informs how to care for yourself and for the group your are working in. I think it is quite a profound thing to know how to look after yourself. I also think if you are going to work in a camp context it is best to go in full so that you do not need to get your energy from there. One of the ways we can do this is by connecting to the present without plans of where we might expect to get to; and to share this presence with others as fully as possible. When we are relaxed internally we become more aware of what’s happening externally, this enables us to focus on the things that connect rather than separate us.

M: The exploration I brought with me; “to turn judgement into curiosity” was something that has become more of a solid thing during the week, so I want to go everywhere with that intention. When we celebrate our differences and our gifts rather than arriving already with the answers, we can develop solutions from who is there and what is emerging in the moment from the collective intelligence of the group.

G: Figuratively and literally to shut up and listen. Not allowing the language differences to create more barriers between each other. We modeled this this week by focusing on nonverbal communication and the power of being physically together rather than verbalizing everything. Also listening deeply to what is needed in these spaces as opposed to coming with our own presuppositions to what we think ‘they’ need.

If you have to choose a moment that you really struck you from this week what would it be?

M: The collective ritual when we arrived at the cherry tree. Sometimes rituals can feel ingenuine, but this was a beautiful spontaneous expression of everyone’s individual gratitude for life, each one in their own style and tradition. It was very special.

L: Connecting with the birds. Working with the body. Being inspired. One moment in particular, a few of us were up in the open window playing music, but we were all discordant. I suggested we looked out at the sky, instantly we came into accordance through watching the birds as we played; watching their patterns, being inspired by the freedom that is in the skies. Another time at night in the moonshine, our cross cultural musical collaboration felt like beyond the mind, beyond the cords, beyond the planning – letting go so something beautiful can come though.

G: My favourite moment was when we all danced around in a circle connecting our past, our present and our future and it seemed like anything is possible.

The limitless untold stories in you

The limitless untold stories in you

We just finished working with a dozen peoples from the UK, Spain, Hungary and the Gambia in the beautiful mountains of Catalonia at the Eroles Project – Creating Resilience .. This is the first of several blogs produced in response to the experience . From Ruth Cross of the Eroles Project …

I started writing this blog in a sunny cafe in Oostende on the North coast of Belgium at the beginning of August 2016. I was about to show the premier of a new short film at Theater Aan Zee (TAZ), a dynamic city wide arts festival. The film’s title, Post Present Future, is named after the letter project I’ve been working on for the past seven years of my life. The project is centred around a simple task where people sit at a beautiful old bureau to write a letter to their future self. The instructions are simple too – ‘Take some time to reflect on the narrative of your life and what stories surround you? What are your hopes, concerns and dreams, now and for the future?’ My commitment to each of the people who write is to keep the letters for five years and then to post their letter back to them.

For TAZ 2016 we did a special edition of Post Present Future; we hand delivered the letters. For the first time this meant that I could experience people’s responses as they opened their letter and in their own handwriting read the advice, questions, doubts and promises they’d written as their younger selves. The film captures these tender and delicate moments.

Bearing witness to the fragility of daily life and the grief, the loss, the joys that mark the passing of time has provided an apt backdrop to be thinking about what resilience means in preparation for Creating Resilience, the next programme at Eroles Project, in the Catalan Pyrenees, Spain.

I hope to find a way to hold on to the sense of the strength that I witnessed arising from people’s vulnerability. Many of us have had challenging moments in our lives, many of us have overcome these challenges and moved forward, moved on, moved up. One of my reflections from witnessing people of all ages reading their letter is the self acknowledgement that emerges from hearing their own words from the past. Many of the readers spoke of how the insights had given them more confidence in their ability to live well. For why wait until your death bed to reflect on the way you’ve lived your life? This experience offered the perspective that life is constantly changing, and that all along we have the resources to adapt. Bringing consciousness to the ways we do that, for me, is the art of developing resilience.

The second part of this blog I wrote during the windows of time that facilitating on a residential programme allow, refining these words in my bedroom, looking out over the mountains, fired up after sessions. It has enabled within me a deeper reflection on the collective process and I’m glad to be able to share it with you.

Maria, Ally and myself are facilitating week one of Creating Resilience here at Eroles. Our shared background and connection stems from Schumacher College, a transformative learning centre for sustainable living based in Devon, UK. We bring different qualities and ways into this work but each hold an inquiry into the spaces inbetween, the process of self transformation and how to consciously move from self to collective. During the preparation sessions before the course begins we identify that we are more up for creating the container for a ‘live’ exploration of resilience than to be seen as slick professionals teaching the techniques.

We design the week using key principles of resilience: flexibility, fluidity and diversity, moving from order to the fertile space at edge of chaos where ecosystems thrive. This, along with some guiding values of acceptance, letting go, self responsibility, adaptability, compassion and authenticity shape the overarching exploration and form the main areas of practice.

Between the three of us there are tensions before and during the week as we model moving from order to the edge of chaos. Transitioning is a tricky business. The main points of friction occur as we balance tendencies to pre-define the shape and purpose of the week (through tried and tested methodologies) with courageously going off-script and trusting that by inviting magic, it will come.

On Monday participants from Spain, Hungary and the UK arrive. I am struck by how immediate the connection is, how trusting and warm the culture is that we co-create.

Before the first morning check-in we listen to John O’Donohue, the late Irish poet, who in his soft lyrical voice calls our attention to the distinction between our biography and our identity.

“There is a place in the soul — there is a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch… what it means is, that in — that your identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary. Time again I look at a pretty face telling me their well rehearsed story and I think that doesn’t even touch the surface of all that you are.”

Following on from this we sit in a circle and are invited to share our story of how we come to be here. Then comes the repeated question – if that is not your story what is? We answer until we begin to shake free of the habitual response, the story we have told so many times over the years that it has shaped our behaviour and thoughts, and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

If we can be attentive to the moments when we get caught in our habitual story whilst cultivating nourishing patterns, we can change our thoughts and behaviour. That in itself is powerful, and quite a revelation when put into practice.

Our actions in every moment, and our words in every conversation, change the story. By living our life by this principle we have the power to decide if we want to perpetuate a cultural pattern or not. How do we choose to respond when working in an organisation with time pressure and hierarchies, face injustice, experience police violence; when power is taken by another or urgency becomes the dominant narrative. By stepping into the shoes of another, we can feel how far have they walked.

Many times this week I have thought about how to put all of this into practice in the ‘real’ world. Maria reminds us that there is no separation between the world ‘in here’ and the world ‘out there’. This false dichotomy implies that change happens out there in some other moment or place rather than right now in the dynamics of this group, in Eroles, as in a Syrian village or in a refugee camp. Let’s not get caught in hierarchies, but know that positive change happens in the now with people making conscious choices.

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke



Reposted from http://www.erolesproject.org/#!The-limitless-untold-stories-in-you/c1zje/57b33fce0cf29e5ebbfd2d5a