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New Ridgelines Theater Program Explores Challenges Facing Immigrants

by on September 17, 2020 3:00 PM

Ridgelines Language Arts, the organization that works to empower new language artists and under-heard voices in the central Pennsylvania region, kicks off a new theater program exploring issues related to immigration this week.

Teaching artist Érika Anseloni leads an eight-week program focused on and entitled Theatre of the Oppressed.

“The Theatre of the Oppressed in general is a very special kind of theater,” explains Anseloni of the movement created by Brazilian dramatist and politician Augusto Boal. “He developed this technique in the 60s and 70s when Brazil was going through a military dictatorship, and it was based on another Brazilian philosopher and educator … Paulo Freire and his critical pedagogy.

“The main idea of the Theatre of the Oppressed is to empower people who are usually underserved and vulnerable, with this idea that we live in a society where power is not shared evenly among people.”

As such, the Theatre of the Oppressed fits nicely within Ridgelines’ overarching mission, something that was clear to both Anseloni and Ridgelines founder Abby Minor when the two met at a Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer orientation. Anseloni was looking for a way to share her experience in the Theatre of the Oppressed movement, while Minor was looking for a theater teaching artist for Ridgelines.

“We weren’t looking for each other, but we were both looking for an opportunity,” Anseloni says of their fateful meeting. What resulted was the upcoming program.

Anseloni’s background makes her well-suited to lead the workshops. An educator with experience working in vulnerable communities and with unheard voices in her home country of Brazil, she says she’s been passionate about theater for her entire life. When she was looking for a way to combine theater with environmental education, she came across the Theatre of the Oppressed movement.

“I found a group that was teaching this technique and I fell in love,” she says. “I felt it was so empowering and so in line with the critical pedagogy that I was practicing and studying through my work with communities. Then, together with that group, we ended up forming the first Theatre of the Oppressed group in São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil.”

While some theater workshops focus on technique and skills, Anseloni clarifies that she plans for the upcoming workshops to more so focus on an enriching, enlightening experience for the participants, which can then be extended out into the community.

“When you think about a theater program, you might think you’ll learn about techniques, but my focus is not to teach about the different techniques we have in the Theatre of the Oppressed, but to use those tools — the games, the theatrical forms, the exercises — for the participants to explore their own experience in, in this case, our focus of immigration. What are the challenges of being an immigrant or living in another country?” she says. “Also, we always like to do Theatre of the Oppressed in a group so people can share with others and identify with others, so they can discover that they have common things with the other participants— common feelings, common challenges, common things that they like — so they can together critically analyze and interpret their realities through theater.” 

Normally, Anseloni says, a similar program would culminate with a piece of interactive theater for the community, but, given COVID precautions, she plans to produce a theatrical video to share online, with the hopes of inspiring community conversations surrounding immigration. 

The Ridgelines Theatre of the Oppressed program kicks off Saturday and runs through Nov. 7, with workshops taking place over eight Saturday afternoons, 2 p.m.–4 p.m., in Spring Creek Park. Workshops will take place outside as weather permits, and in order to protect participants, all will be asked to wear masks and social distance. The program is limited to 10 participants. The program is open to everyone 14 years of age or older, and no prior experience in the dramatic arts is needed.

“Theatre of the Oppressed was designed for anyone,” Anseloni says. “You don’t need to be an actor or need any experience with theater in the past. In contrary, one of the ideas of the Theatre of the Oppressed is to democratize the theater means of production so the laypeople can also have the opportunity to use this amazing kind of art to experiment with their bodies, with their feelings…” 

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” she adds. “We’re targeting the voices of immigrants and refugees and international scholars and students, people who are coming from abroad to live here in the U.S. or who have the experience of living in other countries. It’s a wonderful and fun and powerful opportunity for them to explore their realities through the exercises. What happens, through the Theatre of the Oppressed, is you end up assessing things inside of you that you had no idea of before — how your experiences have changed you, empowered you or made you feel lesser-than. Sharing this experience with others is very empowering, to see that you’re not alone in this. The exercises stimulate and challenge us to think about… a different reality.”

To learn more about Ridgelines’ Theatre of the Oppressed program and how you can participate, email [email protected]



Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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