Reflections from Luis and Mikel (Making Series #1: Embodied conversation exploring and interpreting social justice through the performance of dramatic arts)


Being part of the of civic participation project’s making series was such an amazing experience. As someone who was trained in performing arts, it was such a pleasure to be able to jump into this kind of exploratory work in such a rich academic setting like Teachers College, Columbia. As a performing artist, there is something to be said when one takes individuals who have never had an inkling or self concept as musician, actor, or mover, and to see these same people engage with these artistic modalities in a way that results in really meaningful and impactful work. My arts background derives from a methodology that is rooted in Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed in which anyone is able to engage with social issues and injustice as needs through the rudimentary and emotive process of performing arts as well as a model of community art development. Much of what this making series did for me and this group of brave faculty and students was to redefine the subject of activism to include and the identity of “artist activist.” This kind of work can be quite off kilter when we academic folk have been socialized and trained to put much of our natural inclination of pathos away in order for logos to really drive the momentum of academia, and rarely is it simple to let go of our inhibitions completely, especially when asked how we manifest words like oppression, in/exclusion through our bodies, movement, and affective vocabulary. I’ve come to reflect on challenging it can be as individuals who conceptualize abstract concepts to take the same ideas and charge them in a way that is creative and expressive. It was amazing for me to start seeing slowly modeling themselves comfortable to tackle the artist role through these games. Hopefully it has inspired them to rethink of themselves as creative art makers as well as reframe the way we talk about inequity, power, privilege, and social justice.


In Drama Therapy, we have a word that we use to describe when there is a connection that is recognized by all of those experiencing it. That word is: “Tele”. Tele can happen in any situation whether it be the recognition of a positive aspect or an area for growth amongst those experiencing it. I have to confess that in all of my time training, working and researching in drama therapy I have never experienced as many moments of tele then I have when with the Civic Participation Project. It can be no surprise that when offered the opportunity to offer up my experience as it is to show what drama therapy is and how it can work within the context of social justice I jumped at the chance.

In initial conversation with my co presenter Luis, we both expressed a level of reticence. Our concern was how making sure that the demonstration and the message that we had to pass along was something that was accessible to as many people as possible and would give a accurate glimpse into worlds we both considered sacred. We also wanted to be sure that we illustrated the power of the mediums that we worked within and to take care of those we took on this journey. A tall order indeed! During this process we were reminded that in theatre there is this lovely idea called “Yes and”. “Yes and” is the unspoken rule in improvisation that dictates the acceptance of the offers to participate in what your scene partner is presenting. We realized that while we would have a plan of action, it was up to us to remember “yes and” when working with whatever we were presented with and trust that whatever is offered is meant to be in the space at that moment (again, tele).

There are moments in your life when the pride in your work is magnified because of the willingness of others to engage in it with you. Our presentation was definitely one of those moments! I was really proud and honored to see all of the participants respecting and taking care of each other, engaging in the work and relating it to the work they do.

In the end I feel that our conversation and the work that we did was an excellent demonstration of how the arts (drama in particular) can be used in a myriad of ways to effect change in our society. I look forward to continuing this and many conversations with the Civic Participation Project in the future. Many thanks to Yolanda, Lalitha, and Laura for inviting us to participate.

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