Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is a form of popular education that uses theater as a vehicle for fundamental social transformation. Forged in the crucible of Latin American revolutionary movements, it uses the dynamized human body and the charged theatrical space as laboratories for exploring power, transforming oppression, and finding collective solutions to the fundamental problems of conflict, exploitation, violence, and human suffering. Harnessing the reflexivity of theatrical performance as generative critical methodology, TO charges there are no neutral observers, ideologies, or systems of practice: every spectator is a potential actor, every system potentially oppressive or liberatory; and that collective artistic liberation of our human capacity, dignity, creativity is an imperative for transformation and survival. Presented as part of the GUH course Populism, Art and the City, this course will introduce the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed, exploring TO-specific approaches to performance and performative ethnography in the contestation of social space and power. These techniques will be shared as practical and essential tools for artistic development, creative expression, and in their application to collective problem-solving, community-building, resistance, resilience, and transformation of structural and systemic violence at this historic moment of backlash and racism.
Jiwon Chung began social justice work doing popular education with workers under the military dictatorship in South Korea in the 1980's. Since then, he has worked as a professional performer & director, and is one of the key theorists of Theatre of the Oppressed in North America, Europe, and Asia, integrating somatics, performance, and social action. He is currently the Artistic Director of Kairos Theater Ensemble, Visiting Professor of Art, Media, and Social Justice at Starr King School at the Graduate Theological Union, and past President of the national organization for Theatre of the Oppressed. The focus of his work is in the application of theatre as a tool for social and political change, using Theatre of the Oppressed to challenge, resist, and transform systemic oppression and structural violence and to redress large-scale historical atrocity and injustice. His approach to performance and social change is informed by his background as veteran, martial artist, and four decades of vipassana meditation. Most recently, he has worked with North American health care unions in resisting an assembly-line driven approach to health care delivery; with slum, caste, and indigenous rights activists in India; and with Bay Area organizations on immigrant rights.
This workshop is presented as part of the Global Urban Humanities course, “Populism, Art and the City.”