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ARTS: Theater of the Oppressed

1996This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

A scruffy young white man approaches a woman on the subway. He needs directions to the last stop on the line. She tells him he needs more money to get to his stop. He asks passengers for spare change. One gives him a quarter; a Hispanic woman tells a rider not to trust the young man, saying she has seen him before: "He does this all the time." A young African American at the end of the car responds angrily: "No, not for you; get out of my face, white boy!" Voices rise, responses are hurled.

"If I wasn't jumped by a bunch of blacks last night, I would have money!"

"Why do you have to bring race into it?"

"You people . . ."

The white man starts asking people in the car if this is fair. Some respond, some don't. Several get off at the next station, including the angry African American. The young white man gets off at the next stop. Several of the same passengers get on the next train, including both young men, black and white, and the Hispanic woman; and it all starts again.

This is "Invisible Theater," which takes a rehearsed scene, unannounced, into a public space where no one knows who the actors are, nor who the audience is. After the performance, the actors regroup to discuss the "audience's" and their own emotional responses to how the drama brought to the surface underlying social dynamics of racism and injustice. The actors in the subway drama were urban Christian activists participating last year in a three-day training sponsored by the Mennonite Christian Peacemaker Team's Project in Urban Peacemaking based in Washington, D.C.

PARABLES FOR TODAY

Invisible Theater is one technique of a larger in-your-face performance method called "Theater of the Oppressed." Established in the early 1970s by Brazilian director and political ...

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