Faculty from the University of Missouri–St. Louis collaborated with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis to produce a workshop designed to teach participants how to use dramatic arts for nonviolent activism.
Representatives from Theatre of the Oppressed New York visited Ferguson shortly after the death of Mike Brown spurred protests and clashes between citizens and law enforcement. A few of the confrontations led to violence and destruction of businesses.
Jacqueline Thompson, assistant professor of theatre at UMSL, saw an opportunity for more involvement and helped bring the workshop to St. Louis. Theater practitioners from the area spent a weekend at the Kranzberg Arts Center doing exercises that addressed using dramatic arts to confront issues such as racism, religious discrimination and other forms of oppression. At the end of the weekend, participants produced short plays for an audience.
“A lot of our students deal with difficult situations every day,” Thompson said. “These are the tools that will let them create their own work to create social change in their communities and throughout the world.”
Theatre of the Oppressed New York City promotes transformative action through theater as a means to fight discrimination. The organization provides performances and workshops in the Theatre of the Oppressed tradition in the New York area and workshops throughout the world. Participants included theater students and faculty from various institutions, and actors from the greater community.
“Whether it be something like Ferguson, or discrimination in general, religion, or politics, this is about how to find a cathartic way to release everything and say your piece without violence,” said Felia Davenport, associate professor of theatre.
The work brought up raw, intense feelings among the participants, said UMSL theater major Kenyata Tatum. The workshop inspired Tatum to consider using theater as a form of activism, she said.
“A lot of people were getting heated in the conversations we were having as a group, but eventually we made it to the point of making the play and putting our differences aside,” Tatum said.
The workshop received financial support from the Missouri Humanities Council.