What I have been feeling is perfectly normal. Wow this might be one of the first not projected statements I have written, and which now I am condemning as projected as I reflect on this. Development Theater, developed by many but spearheaded by Agusto Boal, is one of the techniques we are using during 100 Voices in Esmeraldas. The theater exercise we applied with our first participant group is known as Rainbow of Desire.
This form of participatory theater was born out of Boal’s admittance that there were other manners of oppression apart from the flagrant ones he suffered in his native country, Brazil. It is the faulty recognition that we are internally oppressed. We are constantly battling with desires that ultimately feed our idea and ideal of our identity and of our belongingness.
During our discussion of bad ambitions and good ambitions with the group from Isla Piedad (mercy island) we chose a recurring conflict within our group for them to perform and play/intervene with. The conflict was group violence in the form of gangs and the internal desires to be part of one or to cut off ties. We failed to do the exercise properly mostly because we allowed the group to get too comfortable with the scenario: you are walking around in your neighborhood and you are approached by some acquaintances who want you to become part of their group and join in their activities. In the first scene the protagonist rejects the group and showcases his good ambition to be healthy and proud. In the second scene the protagonist is acting out his bad ambition to be part of this group and to feed off their energy, despite how merciless it might be.
The scenes were too close to reality, which was the intended purpose, but also failed to present something new to the participants. They acted and improvised wonderfully; this seemed like a game they knew quite well how to play. I wasn’t sure at the moment how to direct the scene because we were missing contextual clues. The problem was that we did not know which buttons to push. We knew the neighborhood we were working with was full of gang conflict but we had failed to make assumptions about our participants. The result was a re-enactment of their perceived moralities, yet a glimpse of their inner conflicts surrounding their actions and “purest” ambitions.
It was normal to feel conflicted when working with a conflicted group. I had been questioning why I was not having fun with this exercise and why I could not just play along. Like Boal says “ [we] are playing, we are rehearsing, we are getting stronger, so that we may go and transform reality.” My desire here is to rediscover the nakedness of a dress rehearsal to be able to transform the uniform reality.