Part II: Facilitation Tool – Theatre Of The Oppressed

by | Feb 6, 2024

Read Part I here

We’ve established that facilitation involves guiding and supporting a group or individuals toward a specific goal. In the context of development work, the question arises: Is facilitation alone sufficient? The answer is no. What’s needed is a type of facilitation that allows us to gradually understand the lives of others. This involves fostering engagement with communities by putting ourselves in their shoes. Thus ensuring a heightened awareness of the actual on-the-ground realities.

Will there always be a facilitator in our lives? No, often, we find ourselves taking on the role of facilitators. When we take the role of facilitators, it is essential to ensure fairness and be sensitive to the circumstances of others. At the facilitation workshop conducted by Sanyukta, we started with a set of energizing games for communion, followed by an introduction to the Theatre Of The Oppressed (TO) tool.

Understanding Theatre Of The Oppressed

TO is a facilitation method for personal and social transformation created by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal. It is a set of theatre games and exercises devised by Boal – inspired by the work of the educationist Paulo Freire. This is one of the most impactful methodologies, a form of participatory theater that aims to address social and political issues by engaging participants in critical reflection and action.

Also read: Dialogue And Democracy: Understanding Theatre Of The Oppressed

It’s a dynamic, interactive form of theatre where both actors and spectators become ‘spect-actors.’ It allows individuals to explore and confront societal challenges by acting out scenarios depicting oppression, injustice, and systemic issues. Then, the mere spectators become spect-actors by suggesting different actions to the acted out situations. This gives them a sense of liberation by introducing alterations to real life situations which can even alter conventional outcomes.

This communicational educational tool also enables us to understand the relation and power dynamics between oppressor and oppressed in the scenario. There is a facilitator to enable healthy discussions, analyze power dynamics, and encourage collective problem-solving. The debrief session at the end helps us have a self reflection on our thoughts and action to be taken. TO facilitation with marginalized communities enables us to identify and address root causes of oppression.

Also read: ‘Theatre Of The Oppressed’ As A Tool For Social Change

Facilitator’s Role In TO

TO relies heavily on skilled facilitators who guides the participants through the process. These facilitators are not directors but rather catalysts for dialogue, ensuring an open, safe space for exploration and expression. When working with marginalized communities, unbiased facilitation is a non-negotiable. It involves acknowledging and dismantling power imbalances, respecting diverse perspectives, and encouraging participants to share their lived experiences without judgment.

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Facilitators in TO workshops create safe and inclusive space to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. They dismantle power structures that often silence marginalized individuals. They are mindful of their own biases and privilege, striving to create a level playing field for all participants. 

Moreover, the facilitator’s role isn’t to impose solutions but to guide and support the community in finding their own answers. This requires a delicate balance of leadership and humility.

Reflection: When Sanyukta held the role of a facilitator, she facilitated on introspecting the mental model we built through our experiences. The process unfolded many instances of unintentional biases that we developed through upbringing and experiences. It helped me reflect on the vocabulary we use. It made me question, “Is it sensitive in the context of communities, circumstances, and prevalent developmental challenges?“

During facilitation workshop in November 2023

Unbiased Facilitation With Marginalized Communities

1. Using Inclusive Language

Word replacements that can help frame discussions in an inclusive manner, avoiding unintentional biases or stigma:

UneducatedHad Limited Access to Education
Stricken by PovertyLiving in Financial Strain
Economically BackwardEconomically Disadvantaged
UnderdevelopmentLacking Infrastructural/socio economic Support
Backward RegionsRegions in Transition
Backward communitiesMarginalized communities
Tribal SuperstitionsTraditional Cultural Practices

2. Active Listening

When someone is speaking to us, we tend to have an urge to skip to the next part like we skip ads in videos. So, there develops interruption or passive listening. To understand their perspective without interrupting or judging, active listening development helps. It is contrary to not give space for others to express themselves freely, on the other hand, we want ourselves to be heard and valued.

3. Clarify, Summarize, Repeat

There is no harm in asking again to clarify the points made. Then, summarizing the key points made in a way of acknowledging individual inputs. Repeating the process helps developing the habit of gaining clarity to critical situations. When we enable constructive dialogues to happen, without the fear of conflicts arising out of it, we tend to develop the necessary resolution together. Thereby, learning starts to flow, rather than it being points of contention.

4. Self Awareness And Openness To Learn

There comes a difference when we have a dialogue without being self aware. Unintentionally, we might let out our opinions to influence the situation. Being mindful of one’s own biases might positively impact the dynamics of the conversation.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”

Stephen Hawking

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