TAG investigates how participatory theatre practices, with the attending challenges to collaborate with a sense of equity, respect and sharing power across lines of difference, can be a metaphor and a model for people who want to come together to address social justice issues through “community cultural development.”
Community cultural development describes the work of artist-organizers and other community members collaborating to express identity, concerns and aspirations through the arts and communications media – a process that simultaneously builds individual mastery and collective cultural capacity while contributing to positive social change (Arlene Goldbard). TAG uses the universal language of theater as a springboard for people and whole communities to investigate their lives, identify their dreams, and reinvent their futures. We believe arts saves lives and is a potent tool for transformation towards engaging people in social justice.
With Augusto Boal ‘s TO and the adaptive uses of his “open” system all over the world, it is clear how organizing around forum theatre and the resulting dialogue can lead to and support campaigns, lead to policy changes and in the case of Boal himself after being elected to Rio’s city council – lead to the writing of laws whose ideas directly extend from the solutions proposed by citizens called “legislative theatre.” Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) and community cultural development is a credible and established field where research, scholarship and case studies show time and again how “creative” organizing is one of the most effective and complementary tools for transformation politically and individually. TO is not a tool for propaganda but purposefully defers to community members’ wisdom to come up with solutions to the problems that they identify around the issues. It requires critical thinking while also “humanizing the human” because TO depicts vivid and personalized examples of “the problem” vis-a-vis authentic and truthful circumstances (real stories). A TO facilitator will very often ask the community, “Is this true? Do you believe this accurately represents your story, struggles and issues?” When the answer is yes, the audience is allowed to use a “forum” theatre event to be a “rehearsal for real life,” essentially practicing and trying out solutions, vetted as credible and effective by peers on stage, that then can be applied to organizing and policy changes.
Our events and trainings have had significant local impact. We have provided training for arts-based social change methods at MICA, Goucher, Loyola University Maryland and Morgan State. Four of our members have won Open Society Institute Community Fellowships before and after joining TAG. And TAG members were instrumental in helping to organize ROOTS Fest 2011: Many Communities, One Voice — a one-of-a-kind galvanizing event. Celebrating the 35th anniversary of Alternate ROOTS, the nationally recognized arts organization, ROOTS Fest transformed an under served community in West Baltimore into a rainbow of colorful tents and pavilions and artistic expression. The festival functioned as a community cultural development project for this urban community seeking to capitalize a community arts center there. For more information, go to http://www.rootsfest2011.org.