How it all started
Initiated by DialectIcon in cooperation with the youth movement KelKel there was a first Theatre of the Oppressed workshop in Kyrgysztan in 2005, with the aim of method-training to a group of highly motivated and engaged young persons who were interested in strengthening the democratic developments in civil society. For this training Matthias Thonhauser (Austrian Theatremaker and pedagogue) was invited to Kyrgyzstan for the first time.
Based on these first experiences in communication with DialectIcon and KelKel a small project was developed by Matthias Thonhauser. By his initiative together with the Austrian Association “art in progress”two workshops took place in May and June 2006. Each workshop went on for ten days, one in Bishkek and the other in Kyzyl Kia (Batkent). During the course a group of 52 young people were trained by Birgit Fritz (Austria) and Matthias Thonhauser (Austria), especially in the method and application of Forum Theatre with the goal of starting their own, independent work. The workshops were designed in a way that included several performances of the resulting scenes and sketches in villages and schools of the region and using the means of theatre to enter into a dialogue with a big variety of people about their daily lives, problems and alternative ways of solution finding.
Amongst others there participated a group of students from Professional Lyceum 43, situated 45 km far from Bishkek in Jany Jer village. The students were part of a special program for street-children.
The response of students, pedagogues and the principal was extremely positive and put an emphasis on the effects regarding the strengthening of character and students’ autonomy in decision and responsibility taking. The participants showed high appreciation of the methods in use as an artistic/creative means of social learning.
The positive experiences and responses of Lyceum 43, Jany Jer are representative for all performances that took place. Always, even under most difficult conditions, people participated actively in the performances by coming on stage and acting, contributing to the discussion about the problem posed to them by the theatre activists. They were retelling their own experiences, sympathizing with the stories that were shown to them and making suggestions for future solutions.
Based on the interest of Kyrgyz audience, pedagogues, social workers, artists, participants and cooperation partners of the work so far, the idea has been born to create a Central Asian Cultural and Drama-pedagogical Centre. This centre should be an open space in which the methods of Augusto Boal (and similar methods of other experts in the same field) can be taught and in which their applications in the Central Asian context can be elaborated upon.
On the way to create a centre: a first event
Through a cooperation between art in progress (Austria) and the Lyceum 43 with funds from Open Society Institute (Budapest), Liechtenstein Development Cooperation and the Austrian Development Agency and the Upper Austrian Government the project to create the Centre started in 2007.
The intention was to create a platform for transcultural exchange of know-how, as well as to provide a training facility for the Kyrgyz youth. The place should be open for all people interested in Theatre of the Oppressed, to get information, trainings and possibilities to exchange experiences. As this kind of theatre wants open ways of participation and democratic processes to change society through art, the centre wants to be a place of networking to connect interested people, theatre-groups, organisations and institutions.
After a six month preparation this long term process was initiated by an event of twelve days from 3rd till 14th of September 2007 in the Lyceum 43 (Jany Jer village, Sokuluk Region, Kyrgyz Republic)
Social workers, pedagogues, artists, teachers, students … - finally 59 persons came together to participate in one of three workshops focused on different aspects of Theatre of the Oppressed, mainly Forum Theatre. These workshops were led by Jale Karabekir (Turkey), Sanjoy Ganguly (India), Julian Boal (France), Birgit Fritz and Matthias Thonhauser (both from Austria). They took eight days and ended with two days of performances in villages close to the Lyceum.
The event continued in a three days conference titled “Youth and Society in Central Asia: Creative Paths of Democratisation and Development”. This conference was to reflect about different experiences with TO work, some basic theoretical thoughts and to work on strategies to develop the work of the centre.
Participants from Kazakhstan and Tadzhikistan discussed possibilities to use TO in their fields of work. Tadzhik people were highly motivated to use Forumtheater in their work with rural communities living in very difficult conditions.
In the beginning of the workshops and also of the conference more than one hundred people participated. There was a big interest mostly from people working in pedagogical fields but also mass media and politicians in something new, that seemed to be a useful tool in pedagogical work with young people.
Of all these people, a certain number was interested to go on working with TO and to develop further practical experience.
Next period: continue and develop TO activities in Kyrgyzstan
In a second period of this project it was planned to continue to develop the activities of the centre in the Lyceum 43, offer possibilities to get more training with international trainers, support people interested in practicing TO with supervision and invite them to be co-trainers during the workshops of international trainers. As one goal of the process a pool of local trainers should be enabled to work with the methods of Theatre of the Oppressed in their own fields and to train other people, too.
During this year the theatre group of the Lyceum 43 worked out different Forumtheatre Scenes about domestic violence, corruption within the police, drug problems and violence between youngsters. These scenes were performed in different places in front of other students, politicians and also police officers. Several times I have had the possibility to work with the students group, highly motivated not only to perform but also to work with young people from other places.
The principal started to create a network of five schools to spread out this kind of theatre-work. In the end of the first conference in September 2007 a work-group was founded to network and to support the development of the centre. This group met several times.
The main interest to use and develop Theatre of the Oppressed first came from organisations working with children and on childrens rights like “Every Child” and “Save the Children”. They started to find ways to integrate theatre in the work of the organisation and cooperate with the Lyceum 43 for example in the police-project.
In three workshops in Bishkek they organized some members of the stuff and some of their volunteers were trained in Forumtheatre and other techniques like Newspaper-Theatre and Rainbow of Desire. For October “Every Child” planned to use Forum Theatre in a bigger event with children and youth they were about to realize. Through these organisations three workshops in Osh, a town in the south of Kyrgyzstan were given, too. After the first workshop in Osh some psychologists working with street-children started to work with theatre. One time they played in front of deputies of the city-council. As one result of this performance and discussion they got a room to use all days a week. The responsible persons of the town paid more attention to the problem of street-children, too.
In Osh a part of the participants received various trainings and started to practice in their own fields of work. During the project two women were invited to work with the students group of the Lyceum 43 in September 2008 in order to getting to know them and to make experiences in other contexts of work, too.
During the year a theatre group in Bishkek, an organisation working with rural people about their rights, Nardjesta Centre (a social centre for disabled children) and other schools became interested in Theatre of the Oppressed, too. The Theatre Group Mesto D… founded by young Artists of the Russian Drama Theatre participated in two workshops and decided to open the doors of their training rooms for experimental work and exchange meetings about participative theatre work once a month. If they really start, it could be a good place to network between different persons and institutions in and around Bishkek.
At last twelve workshops were realised by Matthias Thonhauser and other trainers in cooperation with different organisations and institutions in Kyrgyzstan from October 2007 till September 2008.
In the end of September 2008 a conference took place at the Lyceum 43 and more than forty people from different parts of Kyrgyzstan participated. It was a mixed group, coming from different Lyceums, Organisations for women’s and children’s rights, social workers, pedagogues, artists, professionals from the university and some students from the theatre group in the Lyceum 43.
The aim of the conference was to reflect activities of the past year, to develop steps for a continuation of TO-work in Kyrgyzstan and to connect different artistical methods and progressive pedagogical concepts with Theatre of the Oppressed, like the experimental theatre Artishok from Almaty (Kazakhstan) or the work of Nardjesta Centre, presented by Igor Schälike.
Once more the conference offered a possibility to force the contact and the communication between different people interested in participative theatre work.
The final statements of the workgroups confirmed that during the last year the interest in TO expanded beyond work with children and youth, although this is still the main focus of work. Some organisations will continue or force to use TO in their work, others try to create small projects and invite international trainers at least to train some members of their stuff. There was a consensus between the participants of the conference on having a high motivation to continue to develop the practice of TO on the one hand and on needing continual input from experienced trainers coming from outside of Kyrgyzstan on the other hand.
Further development of practical TO in Kyrgyzstan now depends on the initiatives, interested native people will implement there. It will be interesting to see, if the options being set during the last year will therefore be used.
A small centre exists with materials and some already experienced people at the Lyceum 43. They use theatre as a pedagogical tool and as a means for social chance. At the end of October they went to Kochkor to work with students from another Lyceum and to perform Forum Theatre scenes there. For the first time there were articles published in Russian about theoretical thoughts about TO and a practical part with exercises, games and a basical structure of a process to create a Forum Theatre Scene. Since August 2007 a website (www.toprojectcentralasia.org) about practitioners in Kyrgyzstan and to find contacts has been created. Artist’s organisations, Mesto D…, Artishok, women organisations … are interested to work continually.