Tuning Up Our Toolboxes

Oct. 15, 2018

We here at TONYC try to keep our facilitation skills sharp and our community ties strong. Resident Joker Mike reflects on his experience going through our latest summer training.

I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the ToolBox TuneUp workshops this summer. I appreciate the expertise that each facilitator shared with us, the various aspects of Jokering that were covered in such great detail and the opportunity share ideas, questions, laughter and techniques for better communication with one another so that we can continue to develop our craft... 

One of the "extra" assignments for our recent training was to watch some technique videos. 

“Mama and the Pimp” (Rashomon Masks Technique) — Watch the video here.

It was interesting to watch Julian Boal and the actors in this play use the Rashomon Technique to demonstrate the contrasts between the perspectives of both the antagonist and protagonist. To see how each viewed the characters through their own eyes really helped give depth the roles each actor was playing. It reminds me of the “Gatekeeper” that we often discuss in our rehearsals, particularly during the Handshake Forum. It is important to understand that even the oppressor is being oppressed in most institutional settings. This is not to absolve them of any responsibility for their role in keeping an individual or community from accessing their basic human rights / needs, however I think to better understand how systemic oppression operates to bring about transformative change, it is essential for both sides to engage in dialogue. The Rashomon Technique really drives home the importance of utilizing contradiction and contrast in a forum setting. I see how using this technique can not only be beneficial to character development and really zooming out during the process of creating a play, particularly during the mid to late stages of rehearsal, but I think it can be a great conduit of sorts during the forum portion of a performance, helping to navigate the flow of the debrief / conversation with the audience.

“Interview w/ Augusto Boal on Democracy Now” — Watch the video here.

Much of what Boal discussed in the interview is what we are always keeping in mind at TONYC. I did appreciate hearing a more granular explanation of the techniques and process.  For example, when Boal discusses how TO does not bring the solution but rather the question so that we can all learn from one another it reminds me how important it is to inform the communities we work with about this idea. Boal described it as “democratizing the means of production” so the people are taught how to empower themselves rather than having us as facilitators come in and do it for them. I find that a troupe is more responsive when they understand this dynamic. It is not the empty meaning of “democracy” that politicians refer to, as Boal mentioned when he describes how words are like trucks, a means of transportation. You can put anything inside them that you want.  While it speaks to manipulation of words and ideas by oppressive institutions / systems I think it also gives strength to this idea that we as the oppressed can take the ideas that our oppressors have weaponized and used against us to create our own methods for combat against the system. I can’t always remember the details of the story of how Boal was chased out of the village when they realized he wasn’t prepared to take up arms against the sharecroppers that were threatening their livelihood, but I believe I can take what I’ve learned from this video to help inspire anyone who may be unsure about whether TO might be something they see as a viable means for social awareness and reform.

Going forward I believe using what I have learned from these videos has contributed to the sense of certainty I feel when working with a troupe. Having a greater understanding of our intention as practitioners of the TO technique and character development during the process of shaping a play helps me to feel more grounded in the space I am sharing with everyone. As a facilitator it can sometimes be difficult to assure the communities we work with that we are not the authoritarians that so many others in leadership roles can be, particularly in oppressive institutional environments. Being able to more clearly express our purpose as guides, as instructors, that are here to pass down what we have been taught can be a useful way to change the perspective of the dynamic in the room. Allowing for moments when troupe members can take on leadership roles and more responsibility by leading games, exercises and developing their own story organically also contributes to fostering a sense of autonomy that is essential to what we do.  


Resident Joker Tasha leads the group through a game.