i often tease Abigail when she is upset about her work that she has the best job in the world. Certainly, if i were working for a paycheck, i would want to be doing what she does. She is the Director of Experiential Education and Prevention Initiatives at University of Oregon. I have written about the incredible work she does with peer education and interactive theatre working on sexual assault. What i have not bragged about recently is the work she is doing on other issues of oppression with the Rehearsals for Life Project at U of O, which she founded and directs.
Using a combination of Theatre of the Oppressed, Playback Theatre and other forms of applied and interactive theatre, the troupe engages with audiences across campus about the subtle and less subtle nature of oppression in academia. They create scenarios and give people opportunities to intervene to change the outcome. The role play in the above video about the teaching assistant’s frustration with the student with a stutter is a perfect example of how conversations need to change to respect people and have a more fair world.
In addition to workshops, Rehearsals for Life addresses the dynamics of inequity and complexities of social justice through personal storytelling. In this video they partenred with NPR’s Michele Norris and her “Race Card Project“. The project, invites anyone to comment in six words about the state of race in America today. In this performance RfL performs from Norris’ collection of six word stories and includes longer pieces of the actors true personal stories.
Abigail’s work with Rehearsals for Life and Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT) is engaging and pulls the often dry and pedantic world of academia into the vibrant and memorable world of theatre. Not the stuffy theater of rehearsed lines, but the more immediate, reality based theatre of improvisation & personal narratives backed by a moral directive to make things better.
And this is fully 17% of why i love her.
One of the oddest jobs i have had was delivering balloons on Valentines Day in a gorilla costume. My partner at the time, Amanda, and i had a friend who had a balloon delivery service (as an alternative to flowers) and Valentines Day was their big holiday. I remember driving a van that was being buffeted by the high winds across the Bay Bridge, in gorilla costume, blowing up balloons for a delivery i was late for. In many parallel universes, my life ended that day.
Amanda used to call the San Francisco Hyatt Regency the “Riot Urgency”. At one point for a friends birthday party we took balloons up to the rotating bar on the top floor. Shortly after the balloons were delivered they were released and started circling around the moving bar (which had a stationary ceiling in many places) and the balloons were everywhere.
For the last few days Abigail and i have been holed up in the Death City Hyatt Regency at a academic theater conference. We have been participating in the pre-conference program in interactive theater and theater for social change. We try to mix our academic conference by breaking me into some and presenting at others. This one we presented at this one.
Interactive Theater involved the audience in the creation of the performance. Improv would count, but the work which is being done by the folks we are working with these few days tends to have a much more significant political orientation. Like Abigails work on sexual assault prevention with peer educators (read students). Or the anti-oppression/diversity work which was much discussed and some acted out in this pre-conference.
Abigail and i submitted the Modesty is Dangerous workshop description, which the organizers liked very much, but was not sufficiently on topic for them to give us space in the pre-conference to present. Instead they asked us to do half an hour rap up and debrief of the pre-conference, which in some ways is much harder, because we dont actually know what the event will cover til it is over and we need to plan before we arrive.
We did a milling exercise where participants confessed what had surprised them about the event. We did some fear and vision fluid sculptures (Abigail is the high priestess of fluid sculptures from Playback Theater). We did a circle game where people stepped into the circle to describe the ally they were looking for and others stepped in if they could be that person. It was all highly interactive and the participants seemed pleased.