In a recent lecture for the National Centre for Biological Sciences, musician T M Krishna spoke about the challenging journey of an artist in search of his own voice. If one has grown up surrounded by a homogeneous world, as Krishna was, one is conditioned to construct notions of the ideal voice as defined by and within that world. One imagines one’s own voice as belonging in this world, and internalises aspirations towards this constructed ideal. Referring to the need for the artist to engage in dialogue with voices and cultures different from his own, Krishna said “ listening and receiving are the foundations for discovering one’s own voice”.
When one comes out of the insular world one had been inhabiting, engages with different constructs of the ‘good’ voice, allowing oneself to be vulnerable, by truly listening and receiving these different ideals, one’s mind opens up, and a new, often subtle, shift happens in one’s own voice. The shift may be really subtle, almost imperceptible, even to oneself, but the road to discovering one’s own voice has opened up. One realises that it was never about mastering the form that one grew up revering. Discovering one’s true voice, not echoing someone else’s, makes the form come alive in one’s practice.
In the Sound and Movement Transformation game (Finding your voice Part I), everyone has a chance to experience vulnerability, to make themselves uncomfortable, and come out of it. It’s just a game, so no harm done. But the potential to learn something valuable is there.
There are lessons here for me as a facilitator. When I started in 2011 as a new Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner, the form excited me, and I was eager to start work. I began by imitating my teacher, in everything from how to create a safe space, instructions for games and exercises, debriefs, and even how I sequenced the different activities.
As I started to feel more confident about the form, I began to ‘see’ my groups more sharply, felt a need to change a few things in my facilitation. Sometimes it was just a word in the instructions. Believe me, it was not such an easy decision, because I felt every word was sacred! But my 25 years of classroom experience began to kick in here. I connected with groups effortlessly, I enjoyed working with people. And I allowed my intuition to guide me about the changes I wished to make. I shared stories from my life, I experimented with different ways of introducing the theory of Theatre of the Oppressed, and grounding it in local context. I also experimented with different ways of responding to the oft repeated question : Do we have to use the word “Oppressed”? It is so unpleasant. My groundedness in the form felt firm, and allowed me much moving room.
I now began to feel a strong desire to understand the form from other perspectives. So I read, attended a Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference, experiencing other Theatre of the Oppressed facilitators. I spent a week at Jana Sanskriti, attending their forum festival in the villages, and closely watching what the non Indian participants took away from the experience, comparing it with my own. When I was invited to lead workshops in the US, I closely watched my facilitation in an alien cultural context. I made copious notes, before, during and after every workshop that I led. And I talked. I discussed my experiences with close friends and colleagues, shared my thoughts, my feelings of inspiration, excitement, anxiety and doubt.
In 2016, when we decided to invite David Diamond to hold workshops for us in India, it seemed like the obvious thing to do, a logical extension of this journey of exploring different perspectives on Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre for Living was a deliberate movement away some of the central principles of Theatre of the Oppressed. I had to find out what Theatre for Living was, and experience the difference for myself. David called this invitation a “very brave thing to do”. Looking back, I can see that I challenged myself in a big way. The month long immersion in Theatre for Living pushed me to make a choice. Making my choice, and articulating my reasons for it, I realised that my engagement with Theatre for Living had enriched my practice deeply, and also helped me find my true voice.
That was in 2017. I have continued my quest for different voices, and for my own.