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Theatre of the oppressed and the transformative practitioner: An aesthetic of presence, motivation and reflection

Jacobson, Erika (2014) Theatre of the oppressed and the transformative practitioner: An aesthetic of presence, motivation and reflection. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) is a social theatre methodology that offers creative tools and generative processes through which participants can aesthetically explore their individual and collective struggles and oppressions. In these processes the practitioner strives to create moments in which participants can examine the power dynamics present in these struggles and rehearse possibilities for transforming them in positive ways. However, while the practice is well established, research into this potentially transformative and generative work is in its infancy.

This autoethnographic thesis explores my TO practice in order to better understand the work, add knowledge to the field, and improve the practices themselves. Through phenomenological reflection and action learning, I explore what I bring to the work in order to facilitate the possibility for change in others, and what enhances or hinders that process.

This research is located within three case studies: a project dealing with sexual abuse and violence with 13 Aboriginal young women; men in a domestic violence ‘perpetrator’ program; and a community youth Forum Theatre project focusing on respectful relationships.

Three key elements emerged as essential for the practitioner in order to animate the dynamics of theatre as tool for engagement and dialogue: motivation, presence and reflection. Motivation is the foundation for perseverance, 4 commitment, patience and connection. Second, being present, or ‘presencing’, the generative act of allowing the story, the action, to emerge, supports the possibility for dialogue. Third, reflexivity is the key to learning; extracting what the learning is, applying it, and preparing for it by holding in tension the ‘unknown’ and moving towards ‘resolution/s’.

Furthermore transformation is not something that can be prescribed for someone else, but rather is a trajectory where participant and practitioner can travel together; a journey in which ultimately both are affected.

Finally, questions of engagement and of top-down driven, issue-based work arise that call for further investigation.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor: Wright, Peter and Moody, David
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