Most of us oppose oppression in any context, and hate to suffer, or see someone else suffering it. However, when we do see or experience oppression, many of us are unsure of the appropriate response. Some just don’t like conflict, others simply have no idea what to say, and occasionally, oppressive practices are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them.
Enter the Interactive Theater as Pedagogy Project, a partnership between UW Seattle Center for Teaching and Learning and the Memory War Theater, a Seattle-based theater company. The group performs interactive plays designed to open a dialogue on oppression and help the audience rehearse responses to oppressive situations. Performers from the theater headlined the 2014 Diversity Summit last Friday, bringing their mission of opening a conversation on oppression to UWT.
“This type of theater is meant to challenge you,” said Tikka Sears, artistic director for Memory War Theater.
Actors from the theater gave a performance surrounding an oppressive situation in the classroom: During a group discussion, an international student’s ideas were ignored and shouted over in favor of those of a white male student. The performance had no positive resolution, and once it was over the audience (or “spectators” as we were called) was given the opportunity to watch the play again, but yell “Stop” when they saw an act of oppression they thought they could end. They were then able to step in for one of the characters (any but the oppressor) and try to change the situation.
“We don’t get to stand in for the oppressors,” Sears explained.
All we can really do is make sure we are prepared to act. As the exercise went, on some spectators succeeded, some did not, but in each case we were given the opportunity to think about how we would change the situation to rehearse how to end oppression.
Of course there is no solidly “right” way to end oppression, but based on the attempts displayed there are some wrong ways. One of the main ones is responding with aggression of your own. This serves to at best make everyone else uncomfortable, at worst start a fight. Another wrong way is if one witnesses another person being oppressed, and tries to force them into speaking up for themselves, as this can become an act of oppression in and of itself.
Oftentimes we do not have an opportunity to practice before we are faced with oppressive situations. However, thoughtful consideration and learning can help us prepare to some degree. To learn more about identifying and reacting to oppression, take advantage of UWT’s own Diversity Resource Center where students can go for help and support in dealing with such situations.