Greetings from Chile!
I returned to Santiago, Chile this Monday after participating in a 3-month international exchange program with Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Augusto Boal, 2008 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and 2009 UNESCO Ambassador for Theater, unfortunately passed away a month after I arrived in Rio. My experience working with Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed was bittersweet, but for those of you interested in learning more about Boal’s life and work you can read an article I wrote for the Korea Times about his legacy.
KOREA TIMES LINK: http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2009/07/181_48150.html
“The Art of the Kuringa,” by CTO Joker, Barbara Santos, trans. Kyoung H. Park: http://kuringa-barbarasantos.blogspot.com/2010/08/art-of-kuringa.html
My time in Brazil was spent researching, observing and participating in as many Theater of the Oppressed program’s possible. Besides working at the Center of Theater of the Oppressed (CTO) in Rio, I traveled to Belo Horizonte and Macae, where Boal’s theater methodology was implemented to create theater in spaces in which it did not traditionally exist. I found myself in rehearsals in the middle of favelas, underprivileged public schools, human rights advocacy centers, and criminal psychiatric wards, observing how the Theater of the Oppressed curingas (jokers) encouraged others to use theater as a tool for social change.
As explained in my article, Boal created a series of pedagogically progressive theater forms, such as Theater Forums and Legislative Theater, but his whole body of work is far more extensive than I can describe in this short email. My greatest discovery was the breadth of scope of Boal’s theories and works, and how slowly his practice evolved to incorporate theater, politics, media, social movements, law, and aesthetics into rich brush-strokes to more fully incorporate non-actors and communities in the theater, and to develop theatrical forms that taught people how to express their needs, explore their challenges, and arrive to solutions which could propel social change.
Ever since I graduated from my Master’s program in Peace Studies, I’ve been in search of ways of combining both my passion for peace and theater. I was hoping that during my time in Rio, I’d have the opportunity to discuss this question with Augusto Boal. Unfortunately, after Boal passed away, I had to reshuffle my objectives and learned about his work by reading several of Boal’s newer texts, including his yet unpublished book, learn the practical application of Boal’s theater methodologies, and investigate the application of Theater of the Oppressed’s work not only in Brazil, but in over 70 countires around the world.
I unfortunately had to return to Chile two weeks previous to the International Conference of Theater of the Oppressed in Rio, in which practitioners of 50+ countries will attend. I am hoping I will be able to squeeze another short-trip to attend the last few days of the Conference, but without doubt, I am finding myself closer to the conclusion that: Yes, theater, and theater artists, can play their part in changing the world.
But how–oh how do we build upon the work that’s already been done by such great minds? I have no idea if I’ll ever find the answers, but I’m going back to school–and New York–for answers. Starting this Fall, I’ll be a Dean’s Fellow at Columbia University’s MFA program in playwriting. I’m excited to return to the city and continue both my studies and writing. I feel I’m ready to start focusing seriously on my work to try to find a way to be the change I want to see in the world.
Most of the writing I’ve been doing so far has been about changing me: whether it’s been about learning about my family and where I come from, or searching for religion and inner peace. At Columbia, I’m hoping to experiment with the way I do theater and create a deeper dialogue with the community that has nurtured me as a writer from the very beginning of my career, and extend the scope of my work internationally.
But Kyoung, what are you really going to do?
In tranquil moments riding the bus back home from work in Rio, I evaluated where it is I’m headed with my writing and contemplate what it is I’m truly trying to achieve. Once inspiration hit, I immersed myself in writing the plays that have been sitting in my head and I left Brazil with exciting new ideas I will begin to dwell with back in school. Though there have been a couple of opportunities and recognitions for my most recent plays, I am beginning to craft what I hope to be, a more serious and dedicated exploration of the issues I find so pressing as an artist.
I will continue to write about these matters at a later point, when my work is somewhat accessible in public. Until then, I’m buckling up because I can’t wait to see where life takes me now…