The Avodah Blog

Theatre of the Oppressed: Bodies, Garbage and Assumptions

By: Elise Goldin

This piece originally appeared at here.

As someone who is both involved with theater and in the middle of my year as an AVODAH Corps member in Brooklyn, Pursue’s event hosting the Theatre of the Oppressed workshop was a perfect combination. Theatre of the Oppressed combines a mix of improv games that focus on creatively rethinking our assumptions and social structures. The workshop’s dynamic facilitator led a series of games and activities that forced the group of 20- and 30-somethings to act silly and be creative in a way that is often hard to achieve in young adults. 

While we did several theater exercises and games, one in particular stood out for me. We were each asked to bring five pieces of “clean garbage” from home, and when we entered the workshop room in downtown Brooklyn, we placed our items on two long tables. There was anything from sketches to tea bags to plastic wrappers to empty liquor bottles on the table. When it came time, we were split into two groups and asked to make a person out of the pieces of “clean garbage.” We sat in a circle on the floor and each placed a piece of garbage down, hoping that the end result would resemble some sort of body. Throughout the process, I noticed myself feeling tense, getting angry when people were placing pieces in a spot I arbitrarily didn’t agree with. “Fine,” I resolved, “do what you like.” As we reflected on the experience later, I realized that I wanted to control the situation and was not comfortable with letting the group come to a shape on its own.  

What we created was something more beautiful and interesting than I certainly would have come up with on my own. We discussed where did this person come from, what its gender was, how old the person was. We named it a “trans pregnant man” who had a sparkle trail/leash with an animal/tail/extended leg. It was loony and silly, but we also discussed our issues with making quick judgments and assumptions, and what it’s like to read a body without having any real knowledge of the person.  

Thinking about this exercise in the context of my year in AVODAH and involvement with Pursue around Jewish social justice, calling out my assumptions about people is a really useful tool. While living in my house with 17 other Jewish people (16 of whom are women), it is easy to pre-judge people and imagine I know how each one will respond. Taking the time to actively rethink our assumptions and play with ways responses to those assumptions helped me to reimagine the ways that I interact with my housemates, my co-workers, and tenants I organize with in the Bronx.

Elise GoldinElise Goldin is from Evaston, IL and attended Macalester College. She is a Tenant Organizer at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which supports self-help housing and community building in low-income neighborhoods by training, organizing, developing, and assisting resident-controlled limited-equity housing co-operatives.

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