Acting out frustrations for social change
For the past two months, Forum theatre artist Naomi Tessler has been leading a series of theatre workshops with a group of women at the Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO). Together they have created a Forum theatre play called New Country New Conflicts, which consists of worst case scenarios addressing issues that these women are struggling with. The purpose of the play is to invite the audience to come on stage and step into the action to rehearse changes they can create to resolve those conflicts. Ultimately, this play is intended to help create a wider community dialogue about the challenges that immigrant women face.
We asked a few questions to Naomi Tessler to find out a little bit more about the project.
1. Can you tell us about your art discipline?
My main practice is theatre, specifically using theatre as a tool for social change. I am focussing mainly on the work of Augusto Boal and drawing from his body of work known as Theatre of the Oppressed, from which Forum theatre originated.
With the Art Place project, I have been sharing my skills in improvisation, storytelling and playback theatre. I have been using image theatre and Forum theatre to guide a group of five women in creating a play that addresses issues that they are experiencing as immigrant women.
2. How would you describe the process?
The process starts by building a sense of trust, a sense of community, a sense of openness, and sharing personal experiences and stories. Beginning with different games and techniques, participants are invited to express their experiences and listen to each other’s stories. From there, we define the issues that are important to the group and that they want to address as immigrant women. We then explore how they can resolve or attempt to resolve some of these conflicts that they are up against. When we have decided on these issues; we work together to define the scenes and characters that are going to be in the play. Then I go home and I write a skeleton, an outline of a script, that I bring back to the group. The group provides feedback, telling me what works and what doesn’t work; adding what is missing or taking away the unwanted parts until we feel that there is a collective script.
From there we begin rehearsals and I train the group in improvisation so that they can be fully prepared for the Forum theatre play. They perform the play twice, the first time as it is and the second time the audience is invited to become what’s called a “spect-actor”. They go from watching the play as passive spectators to active “spect-actors”, stepping into the action of the play to rehearse how to resolve some of the conflicts being presented. The actors are then trained to improvise and respond to what the audience members will be bringing on stage.
3. Why did you decide to work with immigrant women?
As a woman, I feel really passionate about working with other women to support them, have their voices heard, their stories shared, build community and solidarity, and really stand up for women’s rights. We have come a long way as women but there’s a long way to go and I recognize that women from different countries have different experiences regarding their rights. I also feel really passionate about working in a supportive and empowering environment and happy to provide them with opportunities to grow, to express themselves and to find common ground.
4. What are some of the biggest positive outcomes of this project?
It has been a really positive experience for those who have participated, as they got to meet each other, share their stories, and have a safe and open space to talk candidly. There were a lot of tears shed at one point when the women were talking about the challenging stories that they have lived here. I witnessed a lot of comradery.
Also, the chance to perform is new for a lot of the women in the group. They are all natural actors and very expressive, even though they have never done it, either in their home countries or here. These women are really excited to have the new opportunity to act as an advocate for immigrant women, to support each other and to stir a dialogue and create community change.
5. What do you hope the public will learn from this play?
I hope that the public will learn about some of the issues that these immigrant women are facing, whether they are immigrant or non-immigrant women. Also, recognizing themselves as maybe someone who has perpetuated these issues of discrimination, and really having a reflection on how, as members of society, we can be more loving, more welcoming, more compassionate, more open, not just to immigrants, but to everybody in our society.
The two performances of New Country New Conflicts will be held at 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 in room 113-114, at the Immigrant Women Services Ottawa, 219 Argyle Ave.
For more information, please contact:
Naomi Tessler : firstname.lastname@example.org
Loubna Mansouri : email@example.com, 613-729-3145
Jan 28, 2015
Videographer Liana Voia filmed one of the last rehearsals before the show!
Jan 29, 2015 – by Naomi Tessler
Our performances of New Country New Conflicts today were truly a meaningful experience for all involved. The cast was fantastic and their improvising with the audience members when they joined us onstage as spect-actors to intervene in the action of the play was amazing! There were so many beautiful moments and so much learning. Through the forum theatre process, the actors and the spect-actors (audience members who intervened in the paly) engaged in exploring how to address issues affecting immigrant women by rehearsing: how to stand up to and challenge false assumptions and preconceptions, how to ask for the support one needs in any situation- be it having the courage to ask a stranger on the street for directions or to ask an immigration officer for guidance in ensuring a successful work permit application, how to build community and inclusivity across cultures, and so much more! I am deeply grateful for the support of AOE Arts Council and IWSO for the chance to lead this project through Art Place d’art!
Theatre, like art, is the working out of conflict, and can motivate, educate, inspire, and entertain. It can also move you to a new place, a new understanding, for the audience and performers alike.
The New Country New Conflicts theatre performance put on recently by one of AOE Arts Council’sArt Place projects deals with alienation and the plight facing immigrant women in Ottawa. It explores everyday trials and tribulations newcomers to Canada face. Challenges at the employment office, in getting directions on the street and on public transit, and even between and among members of the immigrant communities.
The short 30 minute play was led by Forum theatre artist Naomi Tessler who over a two month period worked with a group of women at Immigrant Women Service Ottawa to put together scenarios based on their own experiences. Following the performance itself, scenes from the play were performed again; however, Tessler invited audience members to spontaneously step into any of the roles during the performance to see how their actions can change the course of events.
It didn’t take much to see the dramatically different outcomes, making you think about your own everyday interactions with fellow citizens and how the way you treat others can have such an impact on their lives. We often forget or are not aware of the challenges newcomers, particularly women, face in navigating life in a new country.
“This kind of performance falls under what is called Forum theatre,” Tessler explained. “It is a powerful tool to increase social awareness and leadership through actively rehearsing how to transform conflicts, build social justice and work towards social change.”
One of six projects funded by Art Place, an AOE Arts Council community engagement program, “New Country New Conflicts” will be showcased in a final performance on February 25, 2015, at theArt Place Showcase Night. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Gilberte Paquette Garden on the 6 floor of the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital, 43 Bruyère St. The event is free and tickets are available by reservation only via Eventbrite.