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FROM THE OJEN BLOG

Using Theatre to Promote Legal Capability (and have a great time while you’re at it!)

When is the last time you played? I’m not talking about playing basketball or a board game or some game on your phone. I mean really played, and let go of everything! Like when you were a kid.

It seems like once we hit our teen years, we stop playing games and being silly. Games are seen as “childish”- we are either too embarrassed or too busy, or far too serious and mature to engage in these kinds of activities. But in my experience, games can be wonderful tools to generate very powerful conversations and breakthroughs.

For the last few years I have been using and experimenting with theatrical techniques to engage different audiences on various legal topics. Specifically, I have been learning about Theatre of the Oppressed, an approach largely attributed to Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal. Theatre of the Oppressed uses a range of theatrical techniques to promote and explore social and political change. It is often focused on embodied learning- that is, using our bodies (for example movement, touch, voice, laughter, eye contact or breath) to access our experiences and explore potential solutions to the challenges we face.

And it is so much fun!

These techniques fit very well into OJEN/ROEJ’s programming, and I have been using games and theatre with newcomer and immigrant youth and adults since I started working at OJEN last year. There are so many wonderful things about using this approach to foster critical learning and thinking about any legal issue.

For one, theatre and movement allows us to get out of our heads and connect with our physical selves. We have to move beyond our comfort zones, to get creative, and traverse into the long forgotten territory of responding based on how we actuallyfeel.

Embodied learning is flexible and universal. It allows us to connect with each other on a multitude of levels, often across lines of race, age, background, gender, or any other identity. For example, there is no need to perfectly speak or understand English to engage in many of these games, which can be very useful when working with a newcomer (or any) audience.

Which is connected to trust. I find that using games and theatre creates an atmosphere of trust that may otherwise take a long time to build. Just being silly with each other, making a face or a strange noise or movement and laughing together can loosen up a room in unexpected ways. In my experience, when we can build that trust and open ourselves up, we often have more access to our own thoughts and feelings, and are more able to share our experiences with others.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, games and theatre are just plain fun. With OJEN/ROEJ’s programming, we are often dealing with complex and serious issues, such as police violence, racism, and challenges we may face when engaging with the justice system. Creating an active space to have fun, experiment freely and laugh injects some lightness into what can otherwise be heavy content.

So go find some friends! Have a slow motion race, or a staring contest, speak in gibberish or improvise a skit! You never know what kinds of revolutionary ideas you might generate.

Swathi Sekhar

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