A good friend of mine working with Israelis and Palestinians using Forum Theatre recently sent me a link to a video of an action they made to clear huge blocks that were stopping traffic passing between two Palestinian villages. Israelis and Palestinians resisting the illegal occupation together, side by side with all their strength pushing aside these barriers. It is a powerful symbolic action.
Israeli soldiers eventually arrive and shoot rubber bullets into the crowd.
The interesting thing is that while the Palestinians in the theatre group are keen to continue with such actions rather than do Forum Theatre the Israelis are not exactly ecstatic about the idea and would rather continue with the ‘theatre’ processes – developing strategies for dynamic change on the stage…and who can blame them when you see the video.
It reminded me of something the philosopher Slavoj Zizek says about how philosophy is not about solving problems but reframing them. If there’s a practical problem, better to ask a scientist. Likewise, I think Forum theatre is most effective for reframing problems and rehearsing action within these new frames. Perhaps the frustration of the Palestinians with Theatre of the Oppressed is that they can reframe as much as they like, but they are still oppressed because they are Palestinian and resistance is the only recourse left. And what reason is there to rehearse that, in the safety of the ‘aesthetic space,’ when in reality there is no safety in their position.
Something makes me feel also that during sustained conflict or oppression people enter fully into a ‘character’ that has a ‘role’ in a ‘drama’ which just happens to be real. I recall a similar reaction some years ago when I offered to do Theatre of the Oppressed workshops for Road Protesters who were awaiting their imminent eviction from a camp in a beautiful wood to be cleared for a new bypass. They were in a ‘zone’ where they were already pumped up for the battle ahead. It was like they were wearing a war mask, eyes blazing with righteous ecstasy.
In such a state it seems not possible to ‘reframe’ because the frame of reference has possessed the person’s identity. They have become the mask.
The subtle and unnerving thing I suspect is that our sense of self is entirely constituted of masks that arise and are put aside, framing and reframing, forming and reforming opinions, assumptions, values and beliefs. And behind them all is…well, nothing I suspect. No self…just being.
There is, I think, a capacity within us to shake free of all masks and which Theatre of the Oppressed techniques can bring about in some circumstances. But to do so it needs itself a different frame of reference in which to operate. Not as a means of bringing about revolution outwardly, but with a strong and energetic emphasis on bringing about an inward revolution.
Perhaps by witnessing this constant arising and falling of masks and their effect on us we might in a moment see the whole mechanical movement of the thing and then break through to a different way of being…with no frames, just isness. This is the direction of my work at the moment. (And there’s another mask for you!)