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Escena X (Oxfam America)
The phenomenon known as Community Theater summons large sectors of the population and is one of the artistic manifestations that has been constantly expanding, particularly because its gatherings help to reconstruct the fragmented social network caused by the policies and administrations of recent decades. Community theater productions offer an outlet for powerful artistic energy, while also allowing for the healthy contagion effect that is achieved in the formation of the new groupings.
Community Theater is by and for the community. It is not conceived as a hobby, a leisure activity, or as a therapeutic space, but as a form of production, a space for the will to do and construct. Members of a community group are resident-actors—amateurs in the French sense of the word—because they love what they do and don’t receive money for their involvement. Community theater groups rely upon inclusion and integration; therefore, they are open to anyone who comes and wants to participate on a voluntary basis. In this way, Community Theater creates and recreates social ties that enable everyone, even those who are not members of the community, to see the theater as their own space.
To strengthen the capacity of Oxfam America’s partner organizations in the use of community theater to prevent violence against women and promote healthy relationships.
The project is a workshop that aims to develop distinct artistic or technical disciplines, such as community singing and vocal techniques, choreography, rhythm, technical skills specific to clowning (using the look, complicity with the audience, breaking the fourth wall), humor and other expressive techniques in order to achieve a clear and direct connection with the public. The workshop is intended to delve into the themes of Community Theater bearing in mind the community's collective memory and using it in the workings of the imagination. We will be critical of the established powers and values to claim the identity of the community and to reflect upon the devastating effects of repression and forgetting. These themes will draw upon both comedy and tragedy, recounting stories that have remained silenced. We will use music and singing as authentic reassessment of local folklore, both acted scenes and performed songs, because oftentimes a song can be condensed into a perfect synthesis of an idea.
Due to the limited time with the group, it was impossible to perform a community theater session with the youth of the entire community. Instead, the project involved youth members of Escena X, who were quite motivated and interested in carrying out each of the techniques that they were practicing (including puppets, acting based on testimonial and directing).
While I prepared the project by myself, Escena X did offer input on the techniques that would be taught in the workshop. The preparatory process must take into account the needs they had as a group as it is the youth who are often most dedicated to working in the communities.
The logistical coordination was done by Escena X to ensure a time and place that would allow the youth to participate in the workshop.
In order for the project to be sustainable, each of the workshop participants were asked to carry a logbook with them and, in addition to reflecting upon their feelings about the workshop, were encouraged to write down the technical process. In this way, the activity can thus be reproduced from the unique model produced by each individual.
The interesting thing was discovering that dramaturgical skills were used immediately within the group. Since they wrote their own scripts and then took the stage, they were able to realize when the drama and staging were lacking. For this reason, it was important that the work was always done by the youth.
The main difficulties were related to scheduling the activities with the youth from Escena X. Despite the designated time, as with any project we had to be flexible and often adapt to the times that worked for them, which complicated the process because many times the workshop was interrupted.
I think that the most successful aspect of this project was allowing the youth to work from their own experience and skills, as people often want to do in artistic practices. The writing process was very conscious and encouraged kids to continue creating their own materials.
This project would undoubtedly benefit from aggregate changes, especially execution. While it would work with same basic contents, it was clear that some activities were more successful than others.
The lessons learned definitely pertain to the way in which the project was carried out. Although I had participated in Community Theater many times before, I had never been the instructor and this workshop was certainly a good first test. Without a doubt, the difficulties in execution forced me to look at the project and rethink MY manner of teaching Community Theater. I say this because I have learned that, though art originates from ourselves, we forget certain things that we have learned along the way. Reflecting upon the project is an excellent method by which to systematize our own processes.