Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Theater of the Oppressed (and Improv) Online

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I’ve been thinking about this for some time! Pre-pandemic. Then someone in Digital Pedagogy Lab asked the question, and I thought I’d re-post my answer over here on how I would do Theater of the Oppressed online.

If you’re doing some sort of role playing or taking sides, students can rename themselves on Zoom (if using Zoom; am sure other tools allow this) to be another character OR they can put a letter before their name to indicate a position or such. This makes it easier alphabetically to tell students apart.

The kind of “theater of the oppressed” that I know most is when a small group of students prepare, and then perform once, then they perform again with the option of “audience” to participate and jump in.

To do this kind of thing on Zoom, I think, you can ask students who are “audience” to turn their cameras off, and everyone to do the “hide non-video participants” option… and then if someone wants to participate, they turn on their video and mic and jump in. They may need to type in chat to let the actors know to pause because internet connections are what they are…[this is similar a bit to how I recently did the “Fishbowl” structure]

You can also use the participant renaming thing to give time to the actors to break out into different rooms to prepare first… or obviously students can prepare before class time if you like!

Finallyyyyyyyyyyyyyy I can totally imagine doing this completely written and asynchronous.


The “actors” would instead collaboratively write a play, a full play, using Google docs or similar… then the other students would read it, and make a copy of the Google docs file, then start making “suggested edits” to show how they would intervene and behave differently to produce a different outcome. The original authors might want to put comments in places where they want to encourage other students to change the path of the story… Students can then record performances of the different variations, though I think the written might be enough in many cases.

Another maybe simpler way would be to ask students to write individual 100-word stories (of something) and then ask another person to change ONE sentence or something, that would create a better outcome.

I’m improvising here as this is not strictly theater of the oppressed per se, but imagining the main goal of what you’re trying to do as a way to make audience members participate in a theatrical performance in order to change the outcome , audience as “Agents”. I guess you could even do it with popular movies and books – if you could be a character in the movie/book, what would you do … but that’s running away from theater altogether now.

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