On Thursday evening, families braved the unexpected snow to get to the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) to see ten fifth grade students perform. The play was created by these youngsters with the help of BAX teaching artist, Jose Joaquin Garcia. They had spent many a lunch period grappling with themes of oppression as they participated in rehearsals using the Theatre of the Oppressed technique. Theatre of the Oppressed is a theatrical form first created by the Brazilian theatre practitioner, Augusto Boal in the 1970s. Boal’s techniques use theatre as a means of promoting social and political change. In Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience participates. The scene is stopped and the audience to asked to take on the role of the oppressed character to offer a solution.
On Thursday evening after watching an act of racism taking place on a school bus, our audience members had the chance to confront the racist through a variety of actions. The entire evening was an opportunity for our fifth graders to share their learning and theatrical expression and for a group of children and adults to grapple with the complexity of race and social dynamics, all of this done in the safety of the Brooklyn Arts Exchange’s beautiful space.
After the theatrical experience, audience members and the ten fifth graders discussed what was learned and what was still necessary to explore as we confront this never ending problem.
Parents were taken with the thoughtfulness of our students. When teaching artist, Jose, asked the question Are they too young to think about this?, the audience answered, “No,” as these students’ insights and understanding had already been witnessed.
The children’s performance began with a reciting of the poemIncident by Countee Cullen.
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
This turned into a thought provoking script regarding relationships and school bus rides, an everyday occurrence indeed. What a pleasure it was to see our fifth graders at work, performing, thinking, and grappling with issues of race and social justice.
We turn now to Thanksgiving, a holiday with its own complex history, but whose concept of giving thanks is worth emulating. With that, we say thank you to Brooklyn Arts Exchange and to Jose Joaquin Garcia for engaging our youngsters in big ideas through the art of theatre.
This program is made possible by the 2018/19 Department of Education’s Office of Arts & Special Projects Arts & Family Engagement Initiative and is a partnership between BNS and Brooklyn Arts Exchange.