Czech Republic: Theater as a victory over bullying and racism
Bullying, manipulation and racism are the subjects of three plays that were presented last week by the Theater of the Oppressed (Divadlo utlačovaných) in Prague. This is a special form of theater in which actors create a situation of oppression on the basis of their own experiences and audience members get the opportunity to join the action and try to change the fates of the protagonists for the better.
The actors in the Theater of the Oppressed company are students at the Faculty of Humanities at Charles University and Romani actors from David Tišer's ARA ART theater group. The next performance of the Theater of the Oppressed will take place on 31 May 2015 at the Rock Café.
The first play performed by the company in Prague's Rock Café was about a student named Barunka who, during her preparations for her graduation exams, has to face the antics of her calculating, unsympathetic grandmother. That was followed by a play about a character named Anička whose dream was to study at the conservatory, but who received no support for those around her, while the last play told the story of Pepa, who was refused entry to a nightclub because of his skin color.
"What I like about the Theater of the Oppressed is that it focuses on themes that are ordinarily not discussed and makes it possible for audience members to look at a problem from various perspectives. One leaves the theater with a certain notion of how to approach oppression in real life, how to improve one's own behavior in such situations," said audience member Filip Simon.
The uniqueness of the theater company is clear to both the actors and the audience members. One performer said it is helping her get to know herself better.
Romani actor Josef Ladič says: "I like that I'm not all by myself in the plays - I perform in them like anyone else, but I am able to really identify with the roles because I have had similar experiences. We are attempting, in an entertaining way, to draw attention to problems in society, which seems like a brilliant thing to do."
The concept of the Theater of the Oppressed was created during the 1960s by Brazilian theater producer Augusto Baolo. It was pioneered in the Czech Republic by Lenka Remsová of Masaryk University in Brno.
Three years ago, Dana Moree and Líza Zima Urbanová began to develop this form of theater in Prague. They decided to enrich the concept by using a mixed group of performers comprised of non-Romani and Romani actors.
In the productions, skin color is indicated by wearing wigs of different colors. This means a Romani actor may play a non-Romani character and vice versa.
"This is an era that prefers victories, and the oppression of people is not usually discussed because winners don't come out of such situations. The Theater of the Oppressed is doing its best to 'de-demonize' oppression. Audiences can try to win out over oppression and fantasize about how not to succumb to it. In reality, this means they won't put up with it from their surroundings and can be more themselves," Moree says.
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