Muraho everyone! Dorcas here. Today was an applied theater double-header. Our morning was full of forum theatre performances; and our afternoon was devoted to the beginning stages of playbuilding.
For the past two days, six groups have been working on short plays that show how oppression leads to a sad end for the oppressed character or protagonist. Today they presented those plays and asked the audience, “Are there any choices that could have been made differently to prevent the outcome?” Audience members were then invited to try out their choices by playing the oppressed character. Four of the plays dealt with oppression felt largely by women – being abandoned while pregnant, being forced into an arranged marriage, being underpaid and undervalued in the workplace, and sexual assault. However, the male students were just as invested in finding a solution when they stepped in to fill the role of the female protagonist. I watched with amazement at the complete sincerity with which a male student, ‘Frankie’, embodied the role of a woman being pressured by her boyfriend to have sex. He was clear when he said, “We should wait and when we finish school, we will get married.” The boyfriend pushed back with “I love you” but Frankie remained firm in his position. Then the boyfriend threatened to find another woman. Frankie replied, “Oh! Then you don’t love me! Otherwise you would not have brought up another woman. Bye-bye.” The audience roared with laughter and agreement, while the boyfriend begged for forgiveness. During the feedback that followed, a student commented that Frankie had changed the outcome for the protagonist with “self-confidence.” The feedback after some other plays highlighted economic realities and cultural values as well as personal choice.
When a female character is offered a secretary job, rather than the engineering job for which she applied. A couple of audience members commented, “At least she has a job. She can work hard and show the boss that he should give her the engineer job too.” And when a family is terrified by an alcoholic and abusive father, a couple of students commented that the children and wife must still show him respect and “advise him on his behavior when he is sober”. No one mentioned involving the police in the matter- yet there was a suggestion that the brothers should handle the father and beat him. Though these comments do not at all reflect a group consensus, they surprised me. And my surprise made me keenly aware of my own cultural/economic bias. I am learning big time!
The second half of the day, Helen led a playbuilding workshop with the explicit intent of having the CUNY students and the KIE students play together. We taught the KIE students songs and dances from the US and they taught us traditional songs and dances from Rwanda. It was pure fun! First, the joy, beauty and pride with which the KIE students sing and dance Rwandan traditional music is indescribable. The words and the dance have meaning, purpose and connect the students directly to their deep ancestry. I was grateful to take part in that, if even for a short time. In turn, we taught the KIE students how to Dougie and do the Charleston. I wouldn’t call it an equitable trade, but it was a good time. There were smiles and laughter shared the whole time. For me, it was the face-to-face sharing I was longing to have since we got here. I loved every moment! After the workshop was over, the dancing and singing were not. For another hour, we danced, laughed and listened to music with the KIE students. I hope like me, the CUNY and KIE students, will go to sleep with big smiles on their lips. ☺