Theater of the Oppressed Comes to Choate

Photo courtesy of Marja van Mierlo

The Theater of the Oppressed hosted a workshop at Choate on Sunday, October 8.

While many would look at the colossal and daunting condition of New York City’s housing crisis with defeat, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, a group of actors from Brooklyn, responded in a an inspiring way —by creating and performing a new play, Apartment Complex.

Theatre of the Oppressed is a Brazilian form of interactive theatre that advocates for social change and works with different groups of actors to create acting troupes.

They kicked off their work at Choate with a two-hour workshop with students on Sunday, October 8 in the black-box theatre. Two actors from Theatre of the Oppressed led the workshop, using theatre as the medium to express different aspects of social change.

The workshop began with a fun and interactive exercise with the simple tasks analogous to the game “Simon Says.” The tasks began to increase in difficulty and variety, as attendees were instructed to do the exact opposite of the given directions. Instead of stomping, the participants had to clap; suddenly, the innate wiring of the human brain resisted the change and attendees laughed in frustration.

The exercise proved how the human brain resorts to what it is taught, even if told to do the opposite, a powerful reminder that nobody is born knowing how to clap or stomp, just as nobody is born with prejudice. The exercise was a refreshing reminder that change is possible, no matter how seemingly difficult.

The workshop continued with activities and discussions regarding differing perception and social internal and external obstacles, culminating in an extremely powerful exercise.

Each pair was told to create a frozen image of an obstacle they have faced or someone they know has faced. Each pair had to express how they felt and then pick one of the two scenarios to express through the words “Ooh la la,” until one group was to perform the scenario using the words during the situation.

The final activity had profound twist. Person after person physically stood up to the bullies that have affected either himself or herself and friends. The courage students had to be vulnerable on stage was truly commendable.

Theatre of the Oppressed takes real-life issues of its actors and puts them into a play in order to educate and create change. In the case of Apartment Complex, the actors faced housing discrimination in New York City, specifically for being H.I.V. positive. The actors were part of a non-profit group known as Housing Works” which helps people who suffer from H.I.V.

Powerful is an understatement to describe the devastating reality to the housing situations that the actors faced with a ruthless landlord and uncompassionate environment. Similar to the workshop, the audience was allowed to comment, discuss social change, and go up on stage and participate to change the situation. Multiple Choate students became a part of the cast and left the other audience members laughing in their seats with humor and glowing with pride for their peers.

The play was created by the stories of the cast, and sitting down the cast, their resilience and passion for catalyzing change was apparent.

Marjorie Lapoince, an impressive actress in Apartment Complex originally from Haiti, said, “I’m acting to show you what may happen to you and how you respond to that.” She said that, as a foreigner, people can be scared to talk to her or vice-versa, but she feels so strongly about the cause that she still act, despite the social stigma.

Apartment Complex will be performed in Brooklyn with the hopes of creating legal change, as has happened in past experiences.

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