When you go to a play, you normally don't expect to walk out of the audience and into to role of one of the major characters. But that is what happened with the Theatre of the Oppressed presentation Friday night, February 19, at the KYNE studios on the UNO campus.
On the stage, a young woman (portrayed by an actress) from out-state Nebraska with a full-ride scholarship becomes involved with a fun-loving kind of a guy who keeps dragging her off to parties instead of encouraging her to do the studying she needs to maintain her grades. The bigger conflict arises when her folks show up after receiving a notice of academic probation from the school. They try to pull rank on her with predictable results.
Members of the audience intervened with alternate responses, sometimes taking the part of the girl and sometimes taking the part of one of the parents. The audience cheered or groaned with the success or failure of the efforts.
However, the scenes did not take place just in the studio. They were being cablecast live over the Learning Consortium Cox channel 17. The home audience was given a telephone number they could call to reach a crew member, visible in the back of the stage, who then relayed viewers' alternate scenarios to the actors.
John Schriner, one of the cast members, commented: "It (The Theatre of the Oppressed) originated in the slums of Brazil where they're facing just immense oppression. You don't want an oppressive theater in an oppressive society. You want to interact with the people."
He continued: "It's so wide open. I love that fact that like you get so many people involved; you get the audience involved, it brings new perspectives..."
Gary Repair, the Executive Producer, pointed out that this production would be viewable on The Learning Consortium, Cox channel 17. Just tune into that channel after hours and on weekends; a call-in number will be displayed along with a menu of programs which can be accessed by touch-tone phone.
Doug Paterson, UNO professor who initiated this project, said that this interactive idea is often used by communities of non-violence to model responses to difficult situations that they may run into. He commented: "It is remarkable what happens when you have an audience that has a stake in the scene; when you're dealing with real issues, of poverty, of racial violence ... and what do we do about them."
But that's what you want," he continued. " you want people from a designated community to look at it, to do workshops. And we play lots of games, people have fun. Because if people are experiencing a lot of oppression, that last thing you want is for them to come into a workshop and suffer. So I gave them the game of 1-2-3 and people were laughing and giggling and carrying on; and that's what you want: a mood of imagination and creativity."