THE THEATER OF THE OPPRESSED IMAGE THEATER TECHNIQUES: RASHOMON

Inspired by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s study in multiple perspectives, Rashomon is an improvisatory technique that highlights the role of perception in the creation of the «Other.» Rashomon is specifically designed for the study of the rigid patterns of perception that create a negatively-charged Other, in an oppressive, closed, recurring situation; as such, it is particularly suited for exploring the role of individual perception in generating biases and hate.

DESCRIPTION OF THE TECHNIQUE

1) Workshop members are asked to volunteer to tell the story of an incident of oppression that has happened to them, and that is likely to recur. The situation must involve well-established, antagonistic relations with others. The oppression is experienced by the narrator, or protagonist, as an impasse; it results from the objective interaction of people situated in a circular, conflictual social setting.

2) When all the stories have been heard, the group votes and chooses the story that has evoked the greatest collective resonance. The protagonist of the featured story then chooses fellow participants to play the other characters of the story, and together they improvise the scene.

3) Next, the protagonist makes an exaggerated image, involving the whole body, of how he/she felt and saw each of the other characters during the preceding scene, and gives them their corresponding image. They, in turn, take it, wear it, and freeze. The protagonist finally makes an image of how he/she felt and saw him/herself, and freezes. Keeping their images as masks, the characters then begin to improvise the same story, repeating the same dialogues and interactions.

4) Each of the other characters then gets to create a set of images that all will wear during successive improvisations. Each time, the dialogue and the interactions are filtered by the masks. The number of improvisations depends on the number of characters.

5) When all the images have been generated, the scene is improvised once more. This time, however, the characters can alternate between the masks that they have worn; they can chose at any given moment the one that feels most comfortable to them or that best helps them to obtain what they want.

6) At this point, the study of a circular, closed situation ends, and there begins a new moment: attempts to transform the situation itself. The Rashomon technique now expands into a lightning forum. The characters shed all masks and improvise the scene one last time. But now, members of the audience become «spect-actors.» They can yell Stop and intervene in the action at any given moment by replacing the protagonist in order to show him/her alternatives to the behavior illustrated in the scene, alternatives that they feel are more empowering.

Rashomon is based on the premise that our perception of the Other is a social construct mediated by stereotypes. It also posits that, within the context of the «spect-actor» relation, the use of living body imagery in a three-dimensional space to explore patterns of perception that give rise to deformed, incomplete, or mistaken impressions offers the opportunity to develop a unique critical perspective. Rashomon is a powerful critical tool that can be used to collectively challenge stereotypes and promote greater understanding of empathy with others.

From the documents of the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory in New York which has initiated and organized seven intensive workshops led by Augusto Boal in New York City through the auspices of The Brecht Forum—the latest held at The Brecht Forum in March 1993.