Friday, April 5, 2013

Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice: The New Classroom and Workplace

Flossie McKnight
Toronto, ON

What is Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice?


The theatre industry is modeled on colonial ideologies. It is pink, beige, male,
heterosexist, and reflective of dominant culture mores. The theatre industry runs on CREDIBILITY. This is created by the illusion of prestige, white privilege, un-
earned gentry, and oppression. AOTP posits the congenital skill set of interpreting human narrative at a consistent level of excellence has nothing to do with ethnicity, gender, class, size, age, sexual orientation or definitions of what is abled/disabled.

1. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) defines theatre as a form of qualitative Research called ETHNOGRAPHY.  Each piece is a study of a culture. The rehearsals and creative process are research, the artists are researchers. Every performance is a presentation of the findings and conclusions of this qualitative research (Neuman &Robson, 2009).

2. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is the ethical development of knowledge of the human experience (Strier, 2006).

3. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) includes Silenced Voices. (Strier, 2006)

4. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) rejects dominant traditions of colonial theatre practice (Strier, 2006).

5. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is responsive to the long-term traumatic nature of appropriation, exploitation, fetishization, commodification and mythification of human narrative. (Strier, 2006)

6. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is an application of Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice implemented in the context of theatre work, practice and scholarship. It recognizes that oppression arises from unequal power across social divisions, that this is harmful, and can be addressed effectively through inclusion and ethical engagement. (Healy, 2005)

7.  Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is an informed arena of participation. (Strier, 2006)

8. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is an awareness of power-processes, dynamics and resistance. (Strier, 2006)

9. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP)endorses that theatre belongs to all
persons, especially those who are excluded, exploited, commodified, fetishized and oppressed. (Strier, 2006)

10.  Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is knowledge in action, process and evolution intended to counter the commodification, fetishization, exploitation and appropriation of the narratives of Missing and Silenced Voices. (Strier, 2006)

11. Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice (AOTP) is an opportunity for long-term social change and community building. (Strier, 2006)

Anti-Oppressive Theatre Practice:
5 Practice Tools

1. Social Context
2. Agency
3. Fluency
4. Use of the Self
5. Use of Theory
(Ryerson University Faculty of Social Work, 2009)


The practitioner uses Social Context as a research and performance tool. The practitioner will apply critical understanding of social, economic and political forces and their implications in the work and its environment. Emphasis is placed on diversity, power, privilege, oppression, violence,
individualism, neoliberalism, groupthink, and transformative change. Awareness of policy impacting the workplace and classroom, a focus on populations for outreach and connection, the creation and ownership of a
workplace and classroom charter, the awareness of external alliances and oppressions, networking, advocacy and understanding the micro/mezzo and
macro level. (Neuman & Robson, 2009)

AOTP Practice Tool 2: AGENCY

Agency here is used both process and outcome. The practitioner must have a  critical understanding of personal and collective issues and the narratives that inspire them from an anti-oppressive framework and their implications on the interpretation of qualitative data (narrative). Examples include: sociological constructs, political science flashpoints, the mission of the project at hand, the artistic mandate and how that coincides/conflicts with the vision on an individual,  project, and community level, ascribing meaning and the perspectives of that process, roles and responsibilities of those allied and involved with project,  enabling access, equity and anti-oppression in the workplace, creation of "SafeSpaces."(Ryerson University Faculty of Social Work, 2009)

AOTP Practice Tool 3: FLUENCY

Fluency of Theatre Practice past and present from an anti-oppressive gaze, is used as a creative work tool. The practitioner gains and applies knowledge and skills through the anti-oppressive lens to enable the personal and collective creative process resulting in transformative change. Active applications of this include engaging in a variety of arts media within context of agency, assessing power dynamics and access, building alliances, social location, intersection, co-facilitation of colleagues/group/community, supportive enabling, structured and safe improvisation, confidentiality, a culture of respect in the workplace and classroom, collective documentation of process.(Ryerson School of Social  Work, 2009)

AOTP Practice Tool 4: USE OF THE SELF

The Use of the Self to research, create, process, distill, interpret, manifest and connect. The practitioner applies critical self- reflective knowledge about the social location of the self and its implications in creative work, the classroom, and the workplace. To interpret and access the narratives of The Other, the practitioner uses the self and must critically reflect upon how that narrative is used and viewed.  They assess their personal capacities for transformative change and agency, connect to its strengths, and pinpoint opportunities for outreach, research and
Personal learning. (Ryerson University Faculty of Social Work, 2009).

AOTP Practice Tool 5: THEORY

The use of Social Work Theory in theatre practice enables the use of Social Context,  Agency, Fluency and Use of the Self for anti-oppressive outcomes. All professions, including social work, rely on theoretical frameworks of practice. In the theatre workplace and classroom this has been frowned upon in order to maintain oppressive power dynamics. As a result, creative workers have been denied self-actualization and sovereignty due to the monopoly over resources to do their work. Understanding with theory gives the creative worker the diagnostic tools to be professionally, socially and artistically nimble and robust in workplaces and classrooms that thrive on colonialism.(Mullaly, 2002)

Healy, K. (2005). Social work theories in context: Creating frameworks in practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

Mullaly, B. (2002). Challenging oppression: A critical social work approach. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press

Neuman, W.L., Robson, K. (2009). Basics of social research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada

Ryerson University Faculty of Social Work (2009). Anti-oppression foundations and practice curriculum. Toronto, ON: Ryerson University

Strier, R. (2006). Anti-oppressive research in social work: A preliminary definition. The British Journal of Social Work

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