by Sarah Schieffelin
I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of feelings about the threats of danger which people in my hometown face and people in communities across the world face. What can I do to help? Where do I start? How can I change my actions to create more safety?
It’s all just so… overwhelming.
I want a way to create more safety in my own community, communities abroad, and within myself all at once. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Uhh, yes. That is…” I hear you, and still, I declare that it will happen if we work together. So I’ve come up with the “3 Cs of Creating Safer Communities Nearby and Across the World All at the Same Time”, with a spotlight on communities in Philadelphia and Liberia.
There is only so much I can do on my own. I’ll be much more helpful by looking outside of my own thoughts and collaborating with others. Not only do I benefit from learning more perspectives, but I also benefit by being part of something larger than myself.
How do we collaborate?
It can be challenging to pinpoint people with this same desire. And when you find them, how do you get started, without awkwardness and judgment? There are lots of tools for collaboration, but my absolute FAVORITE is THEATRE OF THE OPPRESSED
The Theater of the Oppressed (TO), established in the early 1970s by Brazilian director and Workers’ Party (PT) activist Augusto Boal, is a participatory theater that fosters democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among participants. Theater is emphasized not as a spectacle but rather as a language accessible to all. More specifically, it is a rehearsal theater designed for people who want to learn ways of fighting back against oppression in their daily lives. (The Brecht Forum)
The practice of Theatre of the Oppressed is an accessible and collaborative way to explore methods of achieving liberation. This looks like playing games (similar to games played as a child), “sculpting” images of oppression with our bodies, rehearsing real-life scenarios of oppression to test drive solutions, and more. All parts of TO are collaborative, which is part of the reason this method has been effective across the world since the 1970s.
Okay, but where can I practice Theatre of the Oppressed?
In Philly, Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed (T.O. Philly), offers ongoing and accessible workshops. T.O. Philly is a network of people using the tools of theater and popular education to dismantle oppression. Much of the work we do is based on the writings and teachings of the late Augusto Boal. We also draw upon other theater games and movement traditions, as well as models of popular education like those put forth by Paolo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
On July 8th, Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed is collaborating with Project READ to create a workshop which benefits participants in Philadelphia and girls in Liberia. It’s called SAFER SPACE!
What is Project READ?
Project READ is an initiative with a goal of creating safe places for girls between the ages of 12 and 18 in Liberia. Since 2014, Project READ has been working to establish a female-run public library café, a makers’ workshop space, and girls’ drop-in center.
How does Safer Space work?
In the Safer Space workshop, participants will use Theatre of the Oppressed to unpack what “safer space” actually means and looks like, improving our understanding based on politically-correct-mish-mash-and-miscommunication. We will explore questions like:
- How can we disagree safely?
- How can we create communities which are more compassionate, inclusive and all around safer?
- What are the scars of unsafe spaces?
Participants discover ways to create more safety in their communities while supporting an organization which creates safer communities for girls in Liberia. It’s a rehearsal for action in real life, much needed for us overwhelmed folk.
BLAMO! This is a collaborative workshop, based on the collaboration between two compassionate groups of people who want to create safer spaces.
Participants leave with tools to create safer spaces in their daily lives.
- Helping local communities-CHECK!
All funds and items donated as tuition for workshop go toward Project Read’s work.
- Helping a community the world-CHECK!
To help communities at home and abroad, we have to live compassionate lives. The ache we feel when we observe suffering, as well as the hope we have to alleviate that suffering, drive our action. This is somewhat obvious, but cannot be forgotten.
I believe that human beings are fundamentally compassionate. By tapping into our innate compassion, we realize how unnatural dangerous spaces are, and how important it is to create safer communities.
- But here’s my question, how can we turn compassion from a feeling into an active practice? How can we live compassionately? What does that look like? I’m eager to answer these questions in the Safer Space workshop.
When I began working with Sang Kromah, the Executive Director of Resources and Outreach for Liberia (the nonprofit organization responsible for Project READ), I felt such compassion for the girls who are suffering in Liberia. I wanted to help but did not know how. I watched Project READ’s video which asks, “Where is a place that you feel safe?” and asked myself the same question.
I thought of a workshop I went to with TO Philly in the summer of 2015. I remembered the close community of participants, the dynamic games, and the relief of being seen and encouraged. I felt safer. Safe enough to speak up and really sink my teeth into social justice issues with fewer barriers than ever before. I left with a backpack full of tools to transform the real to the ideal.
Everyone should have the chance to be a part of a community like this. A safer community, which unites, empowers, listens, stretches and cares for people. A compassionate community.
Okay. It’s time to think outside of the box. Creativity is key to making an impact locally and internationally.
We can think of ways to help communities. Thinking is useful…. sometimes. Sometimes I think about ways to help and I end up taking a loopty loop right back to overwhelmed station.
Let’s Change the Pattern.
- Let’s “brainstorm” by learning experientially.
- Engage the body, senses, and community.
- Get in touch with essential stories and images of power.
It’s time to change what is not working. It’s time to try something new.
Where do I start?
The Safer Space workshop exemplifies outside of the box activism, a great place to start! It’s a creative concept, and the workshop is packed with “games-ercizes” which spark creative action. Helping yourself, your communities and girls in Liberia all at once is radically creative. Perhaps the only way to achieve our goal is through radical creativity. Innovative goals need innovative actions. Makes sense, right?
To those who ask, “Can I really do this? This Theatre of the Oppressed thing is unfamiliar, will it work for me?“ I understand how you feel.
I assure you, Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed creates some of the safest spaces that I have ever experienced. You enter an open room, filled with people who listen, welcome and encourage you to transform in positive ways, all while playing games. Participants can take risks and unpack uncomfortable topics because of the safety and containment of the space. It goes far beyond my normal Saturday afternoon experience. I can’t think of a more appropriate place to explore safety and support safety for Liberian girls.
Safer Space is, truly, a call to action.
It’s the first step to achieving our goal of creating safer communities here and abroad simultaneously.
What are more ways to achieve our goal? Well…I don’t know yet…but we shall find out together! I do know that we can use collaboration, compassion, and creativity as tools, and two great groups, Project READ and Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed are ready to support us in achieving this goal every step of the way.