From www.theatreoftheoppressed.org (Library/Projects)
Analogical and Complementary Ensembles
Nature never produces two identical things. All unanimated objects and all living creatures are always unique, even when they were cloned. In a world so diverse, we must organize our perception, otherwise we would remain paralyzed by the sheer abundance of impressions and sensory information. Fortunately, Nature allows for the creation of Analogical and Complementary Ensembles. Newborn babies first look at everything, without seeing. After a while, they start distinguishing between straight and curved lines, depths and colours. If it stops looking at everything at the same time, it can start seeing. It sees ensembles.
Analogical ensembles, homogenous, consist of things that are similar but not identical – Unicities – in a larger unity, like the choir of a ballet, a battalion of soldiers or the flour from the same sack. Heterogeneous ensembles are made of Complementary elements. Not two rivers are identical, but in all of them water runs and all have banks and beds. A human being is an Ensemble of Complementary elements: we have a head, a torso and limbs; we have veins, skin and hair. We have brains.
Words As Means of Transport
Ensembles must be named to create communication, and naming is an attempt to immobilize. Naming means fixing what is flowing, fixing what cannot be stopped neither in space nor time. Words – the Names – are indispensable for exchange and dialogue. They designate Ensembles, but they ignore the unicities, which constitute the sole real objective reality. Black and white people, men and women, proletariat and peasantry, none of those exist. They are, but they don’t exist. What does exist is this black man and that black woman etc., in transit, in the process of becoming, in coming to be and ceasing to be. Words are means of transporting our ideas, our desires and emotions. With the same word – through syntax in written words and through the language of the voice in spoken words - you can say exactly the opposite of its meaning in the dictionary.
To appreciate what a word means, it is necessary to precise it. A word is an entirety that is nothing. It is a trace drawn in sand, a sound sculpted in air. Words are nowhere and are everywhere. Words are the emptiness that fills out the emptiness between one human being and another. In this emptiness we deposit everything we are. We are the words we say, transformed in sounds and traces. To precise our words, we must dress them: with masks, like in Greek tragedy, with light, like in cinema and in our everyday lives with clothes, cultural gestures and physiognomies. Words are the work and the instrument of Reason. We must transcend them and look for forms of communication that are not only rational, but also sensual – aesthetic communications. Attention: this aesthetic transcendence of Reason is the reason of theatre and all other arts.
The Aesthetic Process and the Artistic Product
The Artist is he who is able to penetrate reality, hermetically hidden behind words and ensembles. The Artist reveals unicities behind the simplification of language that names it and the senses that groups it, without perceiving it. The Artist penetrates the unicities of the being, as if she were looking for her complementary part, as if she were looking for herself: her Identity in the Otherness. The One looks for the One, looks for itself in the Other. This dynamic perception is always in motion, just like love, which is never the same.
Some people are named Artists, but every human being is, substantively, an artist. We are all capable of penetrating the unicities, either making art or love. We can find the One. It is important to distinguish between the making – the Aesthetic Process – and the already made – the Artistic Product. The latter needs the first to happen, but the Aesthetic Process does not need to come to an end. For the Aesthetics of the Oppressed, the Aesthetic Process is the most important, although it is quite desirable that it leads to an Artistic Product, because of its amplifying and social power.
The Aesthetic Process enables people to do what they are usually denied to do, to expand their expressive and perceptive possibilities. The Process is useful on its own, but becomes more useful when a Product is made, to share with others, equally engaged in their Aesthetic Processes. The Aesthetic Process is not a work of art by itself, but a means of developing capacities, especially the capacity to metaphorize.
Love and Art
Art is love. The loved person is a Unique Being, and in loving, we penetrate the unicity of the loved being, who is a complex one-universe and in constant movement. Therefore, love “is” not. Though based in reality, love is a work of imagination. We project parts of our desire onto the loved one. So Love is Art and Art is Love. They are identical, and so they are identically fluctuating. No loved person or admired piece of art is loved and admired in a constant way. Contrary to public saying, Love is not a meeting, but a pursuit! Someone always in motion pursuits someone who is never identical with his/herself.
Art and Knowledge
Art is a special form of knowledge, subjective, sensory, not scientific. The artist travels beyond the appearances of reality into the unicities, hidden by the Ensembles. In the Work of Art, the journey is synthesized with the core of reality and creates a new Ensemble, which reveals the One, which, by analogy, refers to us. A work of art, composed by unique parts, creates a new imaginary Ensemble. One that makes people experience a certain shared identity. The me transforms into us. In the us, we discover the discovery that the artist makes. Saying `us`, we discover our real me. I become the sum of all my relationships, and something more, like some kind of synergy. Metaphorically, I am sounds and colors, I am Wagner and Velásquez. Art rediscovers and reinvents reality through a singular perspective. The artist’s singular reality can only be observed through her Work, which is also unique.
Aesthetics and Neurons
The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is based on the scientific notion that the neurons of our sensory perception build circuits. The neuronal networks enable us to remember, to relate and eventually to create, invent and imagine. You could say that imagination is memory transformed by desire. The neurons of the sensory networks meet in the Cortex and all messages received dialogue with each other, leading to decisions of the subject. The circuits are constantly modified, so the way we receive messages also is. Old words, concepts and values are confronted with new ones, and they can be modified, replaced or extinguished. Nothing is definitive in the human being.
Television creates a sad image of reality, especially through Hollywood-style movies. Not the violence they display causes damage, but the fact that it lacks reasons and motivation. Violence for itself is neither good nor bad. It is bad when it is reduced to objective punches without subjectivities. It can be didactic if it is rationalized, when it shows its ethics. Showing the same kind of scenes over and over is aimed at blocking the metaphoric intellectual development of a passive audience. The invasion of Brazilian TV by US commercial cinema is more dangerous than the invasion of the Amazons by greedy foreign powers. And it’s not only TV, but all the media that reduces reality to the minor problems of rich people, or the conformism of middle-class people. It’s also the political discourse in which words like Liberty and Democracy are transformed into just the opposite of what they mean. In the name of those words, one country invades another, kills and tortures its citizens saying that it is restoring order. What order? The one of the imposed power. All this is meant to destroy the metaphoric capacity of the citizens.
The Metaphor includes all symbolical languages, among others the Word and the Allegory. If the aesthetic neurons – those who process sensations, reasons and ideas - are activated by new stimuli, the creation of Metaphors is activated. Without an autonomous metaphoric activity, intelligence is paralyzed and the individual approaches the hominid, the one with which evolution started. Hominids and animals are unable to create metaphors. Unlike in the Greek Tragedies, cinematic globalization brings only action without reason. In the Tragedies, the action takes place off-scene, what we see is a ballet of words, ideas, concepts. In Hollywood films, we see violence and no ideas, we see the Good beating the Evil, the Evil being those who think differently or not at all. Even in films without any brutality, we are presented with how we are supposed to behave, to think and even to dress. This unhealthy consumerism creates unnecessary necessities, exemplified in the infernal shopping malls of the world. The same thing happens with young people who are raised in an environment dominated by drug-trafficking. Their brains receive only messages of death, torture, lack of scruples, in which human life is worth less than a penny. How can human Ethics arise out of a soil of misery and fear?
Wreaths of Neurocircuits, Resistant and Aggressive, But Not Indestructible
My hypothesis is that neurocircuits can build resistant, aggressive and destructive Wreaths, depending on the nature of the information and the circuits that receive them. Examples of those Wreaths are religious extremism, sports fanaticism, adulation of a person or institution, political sectarism or gangs and clans. The input into these Wreaths must be repetitive and constant. If football would only be played twice a year, there would be no hooligans, if gangs would only fight sporadically, no Wreath would be formed and dialogue would be possible.
Now some neurons in the brain are capable of transmitting complex ideas and emotions, words and symbols. I will call them Aesthetic Neurons, because that is the function of Aesthetics: to reveal reasons and emotions through sensory stimulation. Paraphrasing Dostoevsky, who said that “Only Beauty will save the world”, we can say: “Only Aesthetics allow for the truest and profoundest understanding of the world and society”.
Volume, Territory and the Insignia of Power
Every object or living creature occupies a space, a territory in this world. Inanimate objects occupy a space equal to their volume, animals mark a territory with scent and sound. Human beings also use their senses to extend the limits of their territory, the most important being the vision: and Image. Therefore, all human societies are visual spectacles. In the course of history, only the means of producing the spectacle vary. Being spectacular implies being based on the relationships of power, and power needs insignia and rituals. It needs to be recognized at first glance to be feared and respected. The royal carriage was not invented to be a more efficient means of transport, a popular car would have done better, but the royal carriage is a symbol of power, only in the second place it transports.
Not only the 15th anniversary feast, or the wedding ceremony, not only the launching of a ship are spectacular, but also the Sunday family lunch, following established rules like some sort of play. All are spectacles in which all places are assigned, protagonists, supporting cast, all dialogues are foreseeable. The media, being a source of information and of the valorisation of those who are shown in it, can convey status onto anyone appearing on a cover of a magazine or on a TV show. The stupidity and superficiality of TV shows is intentional and aimed at selling products and ideas through the insidious mechanism of empathy.
It’s the TV that turns into the only absolute truth, and reality turns into fiction or a lie, until it is referred to by the Late Night News. In the end of the past decade, there was an assault on a bus in the centre of Rio de Janeiro. Hostages were taken and it lasted for five hours. It was filmed for TV integrally and a young man confessed, when he passed by and saw what was happening before his very eyes, he ran home and turned on the TV to be sure that what he had witnessed was true.
Less technologically, the indigenous people of Brazil use colored feathers during feasts or when they prepare for war. They all dance respectfully, looking for a place in the structure of power that is offered by the landowner. The insignia not only dress the bearer with superiority and power. For those who don’t bear the insignia, they are also Images of Absence. The insignia display where the power lies and where it doesn’t.
The Three Levels of Perception
- Information – the receptive level: the senses register a stimulus which is transported to the part of the brain where I can see, hear, feel, smell or taste. I receive a message. This information is not saved but related to other neurocircuits.
- Knowledge and Decision-Making – the active level: the human being relates the new information to that already received and makes reactive decisions
In these two levels, humans and animals are alike. Some decisions are instinctive or biological. Rats raised in laboratories, who have never seen a cat, will flee when they smell one. With humans, knowledge is accompanied by a subjective evaluation, which can lead to errors. Suppose there is a tiger at my door, I receive the information, I know he is dangerous, but I don’t have to flee. I can invent another solution, like shooting the animal.
- 3.Ethic Conscience – the human level: on this level I question myself – it is the level of doubt and of the ethically justified choice. Should I kill the tiger? He may just be hungry, an economic crisis decreased his food. I could run away but he could devour the little boy next door. Should I call the Fire Department? Should I throw my computer on his head? Should I scream?
The third level is creative, it demands the invention of alternatives. It is on this ethical level that a Forum session should move: it is not sufficient to have good ideas, they must necessarily be ethically justified. It isn’t enough to work with ideas that already exist, it is necessary to invent. In our theatrical work, it is important to enlarge and amplify all the levels of perception, especially the Ethical one, so that our choices are conscious of the possibilities that exist or can be created. In every situation there is always a choice!
The Need for the Aesthetics of the Oppressed
The Aesthetics of the Oppressed, which CTO Rio de Janeiro is developing right now, makes people more capable of feeling (sensing) and at the same time understanding social reality. Theatre is the oldest and most natural way of learning; children learn through theatre, jumping, interpreting characters, and through other forms of art, putting on make-up, painting, singing and dancing. Theatre of the Oppressed makes use of the social structures and moral values of each society, to avoid the passive acceptance of those values and structures. TO is subjunctive, not imperative.
Theatrical Games combine Discipline – players have to obey the rules of the game - and Freedom they have to invent. Every game is lesson of Life; every theatrical game is a lesson of Social Life. The Games of Theatre of the Oppressed are a lesson of Citizenship. Without discipline, there is no social life; without freedom, there is no Life. Like one of the peasants of MST (Movement of the Peasants without Land) says: “TO is so wonderful, because people learn everything they already know!” We learn aesthetically and we learn to learn!
We have to enlarge our Method, nowadays predominantly theatrical. We have to conceive a project of Aesthetics of the Oppressed, (see below – the Prometheus Project), designed to stimulate the Aesthetic Neurons. The aesthetic perception includes reason and emotion, judgement and values, not only sensations. Just like sports expand the potential of the body, Art expands the potential of the mind.
The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is meant to help us to learn what we already know about our own culture, the words, the sounds, the images and the ethics. If we don’t create our own culture, we will obedient and servile towards other cultures. The Aesthetics of the Oppressed xxx tries to help the oppressed in discovering Art, discovering their own art and by that, discovering themselves; in discovering the world, discovering their own world, and by that, discovering themselves.
Theatre usually conjugates reality in the present indicative: I do. TV uses the imperative mode: “Do!” Theatre of the Oppressed conjugates realty in the Subjunctive Mode: “…If I would?” or: “…if I will?” Everything will be “if”. Subjunctive Theatremust be accompanied by Legislative Theatre, so that the acquired knowledge during the theatrical work can divulge into laws and concrete actions. Or Invisible Theatre, so that we intervene directly in reality. Or a Concrete Action, which changes it in the short run.
The Prometheus Project
This project is a hommage to the Titan who taught the humans to make fire, which he had stolen from the selfish gods, who wanted to keep it for themselves. This project aims at developing, with the members of our popular groups, or of any other organized popular group, all the aesthetic forms of perception of reality. Its primary focus is the Aesthetic Process, which, hopefully, can lead to an Artistic Product that we can share.
The Project has four main branches:
Words are not identical with their meanings. Every word is loaded with the desires of the sender, every receiver translates the word according to his/her own structures. This section is about writing. Writing is a way of dominating the word, instead of being dominated by it. There are three exercises in this section:
- WHAT IMPRESSED ME MOST IN THE LAST FEW YEARS
The participants are invited to write a short narrative about a personal fact or about a fact of national importance. Instead of a Declaration of Identity, turned inwards, this is an opportunity to reflect a panoramic vision which everyone makes of the world, near or far.
Suggestion: Stick all the stories to a wall and let them be read. Then ask every participant to express which story was the most impressive and why. Not until then is revealed who wrote what story. Every author then gets the opportunity to react to the comments on the texts.
- DECLARATION OF IDENTITY
Every participant should declare, in a few lines, who she or he is, but every time the addressee should be different: a loved one, a neighbour, a person he or she depends upon in their work, a president or other authority or the people in general.
This exercise makes people discover the multiplication and the richness of their being.
Every participant should write a poem, according to the rules of her or his intuition. We can offer some very simple guidelines:
- The participant chooses a theme that emotes him/her. Emotion is necessary, but it can be any theme, from the eyes of a lover to the prices in the supermarket.
- She or he than should write a whole page about the theme.
- In the next phase, all useless or less useful words are eliminated. Most adverbs can be eliminated.
- The participant tries to organise every sentence in such a way that a rhythm is created, a sequence of verses
- Finally, the poet should replace every last word of a verse by another word (if necessary), to create a rime, but only if he or she wants to.
If these rules don’t work, you invent others. In Art, rules are suggestions and not imperatives.
The participants should develop their capacity to see and not only to look. By making images they can study and restructure reality. Painters and sculptors feel somewhat deified, because they reshape and correct the work of the gods. The basic activities in this section should be:
- SCULPTING AND PAINTING
First, every group should produce a collective creation under the title THE HUMAN BEING IN GARBAGE, using cleaned garbage from their communities or workplaces. Every sculpture should depict one or more human figures working, relaxing, loving, dialoguing etc. They can use all kinds of materials to fix and support the sculpture. They can also make paintings about the same theme. This is just the starting point; other themes from the circle of interest of the participants can be explored as well. They can be concrete or more abstract.
Every person in the group takes five photo’s of the hands of her/himself or of other members of the group, colleagues at work or people living in the community. The number of photo’s is limited to enable the group to explore the stories behind them: what are the hands doing? It’s the person photographed who decides what the person taking the photo has to do. The photo’s become a title, but more important is the dialogue that should take place about the images produced, the way in which every image can be perceived, the ideas that every images provokes, memories, desires…
- RESHAPING THE SHAPE
Take well-known figure of say, a flag, a geographical landmark, the skyline of a city, a logo, anything recognizable at first glance, and the participants should remake it, transform it. They can color it, change the structure of its lines, cutting away parts or adding parts, showing their opinion about the figure and its meaning, the ideas and emotions that it awakens.
Music is the way humans relate to the universe, it is the contact of the human being with his heart and the cosmos. Because of that, the economic powers have incarcerated Music in companies that produce only the rhythms they can control. Eighty percent of the music produced serves only to blur the mind of its listeners. In the Aesthetics of the Oppressed we look for the rhythms within us, rhythms of nature, of work and of social life.
Based on the known games “The Image of the Hour”, “Game of Professions”, “Masks and Rituals” and “The Work Dance”, the participants can choose any repetitive activity in their professional or daily lives and transform it into dance.
- The start with showing silent repetitive moves, mechanized of their work or of a part of daily life
- They extend the moves, eliminating the redundant details and enlarging those they believe to be essential, forming a sequence that contains all essential movements.
- Gradually they transform the movement into dance, introducing rhythm
- They themselves or other participants should compose music to go with the movements
The participants can create rhythms and melodies based on what their bodies perceive when it is resting or in different daily activities, as well as in the relationship between the body and the outside world. It is important to avoid well-known rhythms.
Objects from work can be transformed into musical instruments. Every musical instrument was constructed, you don’t find them lying around in nature; many more can still be invented.
Theatre of the Oppressed is ethical theatre, in which nothing can be done without knowing why and what for. The ethic meaning of every action is just as important as the action itself.
Theory: Without giving lectures, there have been many ethical decisions with great social repercussions. Just think about the Iberian Invasions into Central and South America, leading to the genocide of dozens of indigenous civilizations; the treaty of Bretton Woods, that installed the dollar as global currency, the Gulf War of the Iraq War, compared with the Vietnam war.
Practice: Solidarity - The difference between the Fire Fighters and the Military Police, in Brazil, is that the latter learn to fight and destroy, the Fire Fighters, apart from extinguishing the fire, learn First Aid, learn to save lives and to lend services to the community. Therefore they are morally superior to the Military Police.
This part of the chapter should consist of practical lessons of solidarity, according to the real needs of the communities of the participants – and it should be really brought into practice, not just learned!!!
Every participant should actually collaborate in some collective act or achievement of his or her community.
In India, many of the groups that constitute Jana Sanskriti after they performed in a community ask the people if they can help in any way. It is part of their way of making theatre.
Multiplication – Every group should organize one or more other small groups to which they can transfer the received lesions, in the spirit of “only he/she who teaches, learns”, looking for the Multiplication Effect.
This is real neurological science: by learning the individual mobilizes the necessary neurons to perceive and to retain what has been taught; by teaching, he/she mobilizes neurocircuits of many more different areas, expanding and fixating his/her knowledge, making the things learned available again and again.
This is just an initial proposal. For its results to be available and its structure adapted, it is clear that –for years and years- we must work hard and make experiences in many different fields, cities and countries where Theatre of the Oppressed is active.