Thanks go to Jasmina and Goran of Mediaartes (www.mediaartes.info) for being such perfect hosts of the Joker Training in Ohrid, Macedonia last week.
It’s been a while since my last Joker training and it was wonderful to revisit all those wonderful opportunities for teaching and in the process re-learning for myself the art of the Joker.
Thanks also go to those brave new Jokers whose mistakes allowed me to make the teaching points, and who one day will return the favour and give me a few tips on how to improve my own Jokering.
Two realizations I made in the week were firstly a kind of hypothesis that when a spect-actor makes an intervention in forum theatre the change they propose falls into three or four frames of reference; and the frame of reference that the joker is using in his/her approach to Theatre of the Oppressed heavily influences which of these proposed changes are engaged or even permitted.
The second realization was recognising that a joker is ‘ordained’ or ‘blooded’ as such only when they experience the invasion of the stage by a public passionate to change the world depicted on it. This demands that a joker training includes within it a performance to the public, rather than just to the other workshop participants. I knew this already, but had somehow managed to forget that it is precisely at this point that TO enters the blood and infects the host with that thirst for revolution. It is this thirst to ferment revolution that drives the true joker, not self-aggrandisement, academic dilettantism or an opportunity to push a political agenda.
This last statement might seem contradictory since seeking revolution is usually associated with a particular political agenda. But this is where the first realization, the hypothesis mentioned earlier, is useful in deconstructing the different kinds or change or revolution we are talking about here.
A Forum Theatre play, which depicts an oppression of some kind is performed twice. During the second performance the audience (called spect-actors rather than spectators) and invited to intervene by replacing the person who is oppressed and show what they would do to relieve the oppression.
The action that they take will, I suggest, fall into three frames of reference, and will be interpreted by the Joker (who ‘chairs’ the proceedings) according to the frame of reference he/she is using in their understanding of the Theatre of the Oppressed.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post how, for some jokers an intervention where the spect-actor changes the character of the protagonist (the oppressed person) is considered invalid because it doesn’t confront the socio/political circumstances of the oppression. Frankly, I find this notion farcical.
Any action which involves change must include in it a change of behaviour – a way of doing things, of relating to the other. However, the behaviour is just the visible manifestation, the explication of an implicit desire. It is the Joker’s role with the help of the actors to unfold the action into the wider frames of reference, to explicate the implicit desire…What we REALLY want.
Here’s a rough diagram, that suggest one way of cutting the cake, or of depicting the frames of reference.
By asking questions such as ‘What is the root of the problem?’ or “What does the protagonist REALLY want?” the joker starts to unfold on stage the source of the feelings that brought about the behaviour that led to the action of the intervention. This will sometimes be thoughts relating to the values on which our society is built, which are manifest as laws or political movements.
Further questioning, not just by the joker but ideally by the spect-actors on stage confronting the oppressor/s might reveal a belief system which is inherently flawed due to incorrect perception (or ignorance for short). This can indeed have implications for the culture within which the depicted oppression occurs, requiring a cultural shift in order for the oppression to be stopped…equal rights for women is a simple example.
Once in a while something remarkable happens. Sometimes from the places you least expect, an intervention occurs which just ‘bottoms out’ all these frames of reference. It is an action that comes directly from an awareness which is the absence of a frame of reference. A person might step on the stage and just by his or her very being dissolves like salt in a broth all our perceptions, thoughts and feelings about a particular issue. The oppressor is overcome, not by being outwitted but by an action that is not an adaptive behaviour but a force of compassion that reminds us of our common humanity. The oppressor cannot sustain their behavioural mask …they cannot perform the oppression anymore but are also rendered human.
The thing is that the Joker cannot make this happen, but they can stop it happening by sticking to what they know, and steering or even reducing the possible interventions to their frame of reference. In a Context Oriented Theatre approach this does not happen, because this revolution of ‘consciousness’ of which I have just spoken (where there is a ‘knowing together’) is considered the ‘only’ revolution that will bring about what we really want. This does not discount the other levels of revolution but they are enfolded within awareness, and the awareness of their partial effectiveness.
“Joker Training 1 – Forum Theatre and the Aesthetics of the Oppressed” brought together European operators who have been working with Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) with young people, and young people who they are mentoring to become Jokers. 29 participants coming from Wales, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were involved in the 7-days training that took place in Ohrid, in hotel Belvedere between 13-21.03.2010.
Being part of the TO armory, Forum Theatre (FT) is a specific body of techniques designed to teach people how to take an active role in their community through finding solutions to a problem in their particular community, whether it be environmental, social, political, economic. The training focused on the role of the Joker (a TO facilitator) in creating and jokering effective Forum Theatre within the context of the latest developments in ‘the aesthetics of the oppressed’.
The training participants publicly shared their group-work by making 2 cultural events for the local community, in the afternoon and evening of March 18th in which the audience took an active part. These events were Social Action and Forum Theatre performance.
The project was realized with the support of Youth in Action program of the European Commission.