Theatre of the Oppressed: Workshop Brings Diverse Staff Together to Explore Oppression in Everyday Lives

During Mental Health Awareness Month, the Community Health Promotion Unit hosted a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop to build awareness – through an embodied, experiential and participatory process – around root causes of health disparities. Participants explored the interwoven nature of trauma and oppression, exposing systems of oppression that perpetuate inequities along racial, ethnic, gender and socio-economic lines. Through story and theatre, participants explored their own awareness of power, privilege and oppression that exists around them as well as counter-oppressive solutions to implement in prevention and community work.

Native and Indigenous Peoples Initiative (NIPI) Co-Chair, Gloria Gutierrez, participated in the workshop describing it as a space for participants

“To express [themselves] void of judgement. As an individual that has been dedicated to learn about other cultures and communities I found [it] incredibly valuable. I would definitely recommend this training to my colleagues and community members as is teaches us a different approach to handle difficult issues.”

Another participant, Sylvia Tang, Co-Chair for the Chinese Health Initiative reflected,

“The training inspired me to think more deeply about the oppressive and liberating features of our Chinese culture that I have experienced. Hierarchy/compliance can be oppressive on the one hand but the fire for family unity/well-being can be liberating on the other hand. While many assume Chinese may quiet and compliant, there are many examples where Chinese-Americans have resisted and fought for the rights of our family’s well-being, including fighting for basic educational and legal rights during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act.”

The Theatre of the Oppressed is a form of teaching developed by the Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal in the 1970s and has been influenced by the work of educator and theorist, Paulo Freire. Boal’s techniques use theatre as means of discussing social and political change by shedding light on the experience of the oppressed and how systems of oppression operate. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as “spect-actors” they explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living.              

The Prevention Training Academy is provided by the BHRS Community Health Promotion Unit (CHPU) to build capacity of staff and community partners to prevent substance use and its consequences. More information about the training academy can be found here or by contacting Kathy Reyes.

Written by Kathy Reyes, Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Services

*In order to protect participants’ confidentiality, photo is of another theatrical workshop