Posts by Mandala Center

Looking Into the Mirror of Internalized…?

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Looking Into the Mirror of Internalized…?

By Cheryl Harrison Back as a young female of color, I was not always taken seriously or listened to at first. At times, I was challenged with a lot of defensiveness from people who didn’t want to be there or hear other perspectives. I  was subjected to comments such as: “That’s reverse racism,” “I don’t mean to be sexist so don’t take this the wrong way, but…,”, and the classic, “You’re too sensitive,” or even comments like, “Slavery was good because it gave people jobs.” Prior to my first forays into facilitating diversity trainings I had just begun to work on undoing the knots of my own internalization of stereotypes, myths and sometimes unconscious negative feelings towards myself and other members of the marginalized social groups of which I am a member. Digging into long-ago buried old wounds and the out-of-site, out-of-mind feelings about our social groups can sometimes be quite painful and shocking when we first start investigating. However, that continual process of diminishing my own internalized oppressions has made it possible to stay more and more present with challenging ideas instead of shutting down, and has increased my ability to think more clearly and creatively. Over time, it became clearer and clearer that arguing is not so useful for social change and can, in fact, produce the opposite effect. While I am far from perfect (whatever that means!), the inner personal work of looking very closely into the mirror at my own “stuff” continues to be extremely valuable. This “stuff” includes the lenses through which I view my own social identities and how others might possibly perceive me. Along with that, I think it’s just as vital for me to be aware of my perceptions, feelings, and actions with regards to those social groups that I am in a position of systematic power over. For example: I am not a youth, I am not an immigrant to this country and I did have the privilege of graduating from college. In thinking about whatever groups you might possibly have more systematic privilege in relation to, did you ever ask yourself, “Wow, did I really say/think/do that?” In one of the “diversity” workshops that my longtime colleague, Marc Weinblatt, and I were co-facilitating, a young, black, male participant was absolutely shocked to realize that he actually carried systematic privilege in many areas (class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc), especially considering the historical and ongoing stereotyping and abuse he is subjected to on a daily basis as a black man. I believe it is essential to deal with both our internalized oppression and our internalized entitlement, to really examine ourselves closely to be able to help create the world in which we say we’d like to live. Looking very honestly at ourselves, how much do we actually “live our talk”? However, it is also important not to turn this examination of self into yet another exercise in guilt and shame nor defensiveness and apologizing for the circumstances we were born in to nor trying to appear to do the “right thing” (aka political correctness). Such responses may not be helpful and only serve to freeze us into inaction and so block true transformation. I do not believe we are “good” or “bad” people. I do believe we are people who sometimes do unintentional and mostly well-meaning, but harmful actions out of social conditioning, ignorance and short-sighted self-interest. That said, it doesn’t mean we have no choice but to follow our conditioning, nor do we have to stay ignorant. I challenge myself, and all of us who identify as members of...

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Organizing Transformation with Legislative Theatre

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Organizing Transformation with Legislative Theatre

By Sarah Stockholm This summer at the Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference (PTO) conference in Omaha, NE, I was overjoyed to participate in a collective conversation that, in the tradition of these pedagogies, asked a lot of questions. Where have we been? Where are we? Where are we going? I began what became 10 intense conference days of questions and reflections in the pre-conference workshop on Legislative Theatre with Barbara Santos and José Soeiro. Barbara worked for many years with Augusto Boal at CTO-Rio and was involved with the first experiments of Legislative Theatre. José utilized Legislative Theatre while he served in Portual’s parliament and continues to use it within Portuguese social movements. Their successful experiments with this branch of Theatre of the Oppressed guided us through theoretical dialogue towards enacting a mock session of Legislative Theatre for the opening night of PTO. I have to say this workshop was the main reason I committed to a cross-country journey to attend the conference. As a Joker, I had felt limited in my capacity to create tangible social change. I heard myself excitedly explaining to friends that Theatre of the Oppressed is used to transform society. But, my community organizer instincts knew that the radical transformation I believed in could not be achieved only with individual solutions in isolated workshops and performances. I entered the workshop with the question of how to locate my practice more solidly in the streets in a grassroots movement for collective liberation. José and Barbara offered a model of praxis that looked like a modified SWOT analysis (a common organizer tool) tailored to Legislative Theatre. As an organizer this made sense to me. There were four essential questions. The first two helped us understand the problem and seek solutions. 1. What law do we need? 2. How do we make sure it is effective? The next two moved us into a process of organizing to gain the grassroots capacity to enact a solution that balances power between oppressor/oppressed or legislator/citizen, corporation/community, etc. 1. How do we get legislative power? 2. How do we build the balance of forces? This was the first time I felt like Theatre of the Oppressed was helping me locate institutional power with the support to challenge it. I saw the capacity for Theatre of the Oppressed to live in grassroots social movements as a tool beyond exploring the dynamic between oppressor and oppressed. Legislative Theatre felt like the missing link towards concrete social transformation. Within the workshop we created two plays, both located within the educational system. One focused on transforming institutional racism and the other, addressing the rights of learners with disabilities. On the opening night of the conference we began a mock session of Legislative Theatre. Spect-actors chose one play to Forum from which we gained insights into the issues and possible solutions. Then, spect-actors wrote, proposed and voted on legislation to create lasting social change. It was an energizing, participatory way to begin the conference. In a real scenario, José explained, we would take the spect-actor proposals and end the session. Then, in a more typical movement based campaign approach, we would continue more research to see what proposals were actually possible. At the next session, these findings would be presented and using theatre/dialogue, we would refine a proposal. This cycle would continue until we generated a final proposal, from which a whole new process began: strategizing and organizing to turn the proposal into a real law. He added that perhaps we might discover our proposed law is already written, but not utilized or being violated. This...

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Activism and Parenting

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Activism and Parenting

By Marc Weinblatt Is it possible to be both an activist and an active parent? My to do list seems to always have several critical time-sensitive items on it – either pushing or sometimes beyond deadline (including this Blog post.) Often, I find myself about to finally get to it when…. “Waaaah!” My nearly 17 month-old son, Darius, wakes up 45 minutes early from his normal 1 ¼ hour nap. “Nooooo! This is my window…. You’re supposed to sleep for at least a half hour longer!” “Waaaah!,” Though he’s crying, I’m sure he’s laughing at me. “Guess I’ll wait a little longer to finish that project… “ This is a normal scenario for any parent. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a father. I wanted this since childhood and have chosen with great intention to be a father and actively parent my three sons including two now teenage boys, Shae and Orion. What is interesting to me is that a significant number of my colleagues in the field (of activism, Theatre of the Oppressed, etc.) either have no children or have already grown children. Or are not so involved with their children. I don’t know really. Some, after having children, seem to disappear from the field. They take a break, have a supportive “provider” partner, or sometimes they take a more stable job, go back to school, etc. I understand this. Parenting is hard work with a huge and seemingly unending time commitment. Not to mention expensive. No one could have prepared me for the on-the-ground demands of raising a family. I remember asking (Theatre of the Oppressed founder) Augusto Boal, a question as I drove him to a training session in Seattle in 1995. “Looking back at your life, is there anything you would have done differently?” He took a long thoughtful pause then said, “I wish I had spent more time with my children.” So is it possible to be an activist and actively parent one’s children? For me, it has to be yes. It has to be. As a theatre activist, I am often working with populations who are grappling with their own life struggles – sometimes working hard from the margins of society just to put food on the table and feed their families. Many people I have worked with just want the conditions to attend to their religious/spiritual life and raise a family (or be a part of their family) in a good way – safely, without stress, in good health, and with enough food, water, and shelter. The basics. Spirit and family. That is what so many people on the planet seem to center their lives around. It seems ironic that I would deny myself those nourishing and fundamental aspects of my humanity. I do not think that everyone should have children. For many obvious reasons. And the world certainly needs good aunties and uncles to support the parents. But I do think that if people really want to have children, they should be able to do so and do so with full heart and presence. Not so easy for an activist – trying to “save the world.” So what do I do? I limit my time working. I don’t work 60-80 hours a week or most weeks even 40. I don’t take all the work I could. I limit my travel. I say no sometimes. I prioritize time with my family. I’m willing to live with a relatively small income. I’m frugal. I rarely buy new clothes (something my 15 year old son laughs at). I don’t buy new furniture or...

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True Love

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True Love

By Zhaleh Almaee Weinblatt “What’s love got to do with it?” Tina Turner’s classic lyric rings out. As I reflect on my efforts as an agent of social change, this question lingers at the center waiting patiently for my attention to return to it again and again. Love, after all, is more than just a word; it can evoke a myriad of images, ideas, stereotypes, and emotions. Consumer culture uses it as a tactic for people to spend money, while certain Counter Cultures claim it as a way of life, and religions around the world preach it as a tenant to live honorably. And activists…well, many of us strive for our actions to come from a place of love, or justice, or peace, or equality, etc. Call it what you will, but I think the essence and intention is the same. It’s clear to me that love motivates my actions when I teach a Playback Theatre workshop, help create a Forum Theatre play on a burning social issue to present to the wider community, or stretch to epic proportions to listen and be patient with the teenagers and toddler in my life. It becomes much harder to keep love on the radar when I need to create a database, edit video footage, write a grant proposal, organize a fundraiser, or tune into the world news to stay current on social movements. Yet, I can clearly see in retrospect that all of these things are “in the name of love,” (thanks to the band U2 for ensuring this phrase lives in the collective consciousness). All of these actions build upon one another, from the mundane to the heroic. As a part of the greater weaving constantly taking place, I humble myself to give thanks to my peers, teachers, elders and the young ones who keep guiding the way. This is a simple action that requires a committed remembering. The infinite possibilities on the other side of love lead me in all kinds of cockamamie directions, some full of growth, others detours from my true path. Even so, I recognize the stark difference in my contributions when love is not at the center and I find myself in a tangled web of illusion. I aim to stay present, notice the sometimes subtle difference in my actions, and choose to return and live in my integrity. So what’s love got to do with it? Everything. Zhaleh Almaee Weinblatt is the Co Director of the Mandala Center for Change and a full time artist-organizer. She is a Playback Theatre practitioner, spiritual activist, and...

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Trusting My Fears

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Trusting My Fears

By Velda Thomas “Are you speaking of me? I am not an actress,” I said after a performance. Actress sounds so LA, so Hollywood, so not me. I was the child who cringed in school if I was chosen to read aloud in class. Safety in numbers was my rule, a friend or more felt safer. I could disappear then, no one would see me or notice me. “Blending in is best,” I told myself. I grew into adulthood as an artist, a teacher, a manager, a parent, a capable person in the world. But, was the truth of my essence being seen and heard? No, I could not allow it to be so. When I first saw the Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble perform my mouth dropped. I was really moved and the courageous work around the subtle effects of racism struck a chord so deep within me. I processed my experience of seeing them perform for weeks. Audience members shared their stories and were met with acceptance and no outward judgment from the performers. All stories were relevant to the process. I recognized Theater of the Oppressed and Playback Theater as impactful tools to work with social justice issues and ultimately bring healing to individuals, groups and communities. But, I did not see myself participating ever, even as a spect-actor or teller. Performing and being seen brought up and out one of my best friends, FEAR. I thought “How did they do that? What improvisation! That is so scary.” But the cops in my head, my inner voices told me “Never do that,” and ” Don’t trust your instinct.” However, less than a year later there I was working my vulnerability at a Playback workshop led by Zhaleh Almaee. I was so afraid I felt myself shrink. I became so small I could not squeak, let alone speak. My personal inner stories around being seen and heard, judged for expressing my truth were playing out. I had no control over my fear. One of my spiritual teachers refers to F.E.A.R as false evidence appearing real. That day in class with Zhaleh I found that my fear was visceral until I acknowledged it and stepped into the very action that frightened me most, acting. My ideas about what could or should happen almost crippled me. My thoughts were about how I could make mistakes and everyone would see, that I could even look really stupid. Then I took just one small step forward. Once I began to allow acting to take shape in me I was engaged in the process of exploration and creation. I felt powerful and real, that was a surprise to me. When I met my personal edge of discomfort, I felt that there was something within the experience worth exploring for the purpose of my self-development. So, I decided to try out for the troupe in the fall of 2012. Once I became part of the ensemble, there were many occasions to practice feeling my fear and allowing it to edge me forward. During warmups, I felt very self-conscious and uncomfortable playing games. When offering a story for Playback check-in I thought, “Oh then they will play it back to me and I don’t know if I want to see myself reflected.” While speaking my strong opinions, I worried about being judged and accepted. While standing with my own truth in silence I wondered, “Can I sit with my own discomfort and feel it?” The answer is, “Yes I can. And I want to grow in this way.” In the troupe I have tried on different...

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