Rehearsals for life: Social Justice Theater Troupe

Rehearsals for Life to present workshop at Showcase Oregon

A program developed by UO graduate students is helping people both learn and practice the delicate art of stepping in and defusing disrespectful exchanges among others.

Rehearsals for Life uses interactive theater to tackle sensitive issues surrounding identity and train audience members in effective intervention. RfL acts out scenarios and asks audience members to enter the scene and practice intervening, using a model based in part on the Theater of the Oppressed project by Brazilian activist Augusto Boal in the early 1970s.

Rehearsals for Life will present a workshop from 10 a.m. to11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 22, at Showcase Oregon, a free one-day symposium on equity, inclusion and diversity taking place at the Ford Alumni Center. Register by May 15 here.

Rehearsals for Life was founded in 2009 by the UO Graduate School to give graduate students more avenues for addressing topics of equity and inclusion. Abigail Leeder started the troupe with Mia Tuan.

Leeder is the director of sexual violence prevention and education in the Office of the Dean of Students, and Tuan is the former director of the Center on Diversity and Community and current interim dean of the College of Education. Leeder has a degree in drama therapy and counseling psychology and oversees the UO Sexual Advocacy Wellness Team.

Students call Rehearsals for Life performances empowering, saying they help them find their voice and connect with other students from different departments.

 “My philosophy is that we are not transparent enough on the whole about how we are impacted by one another, especially around the dynamics of identity,” Leeder says. “Taking those stories to the stage and remaining that vulnerable in front of an audience takes a certain amount of courage.”

To create a show, RfL members begin by telling their stories, many from actual experience, looking for connections among them. From those shared stories, they choose a theme, free write, improvise some monologues, brainstorm and end up engaged in “a lot of discussion about issues of power and privilege,” says Leeder.

The shows are geared toward faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduate students. Audience members who are willing to step into a scene to practice their intervention skills have to be courageous, too, and willing to make mistakes.

“It’s good for people to take the risk and try an intervention themselves,” says Maiyra Espinoza, a first-year couples and family therapy graduate student.

Espinoza joined RfL because she enjoys acting and wanted to find connection and support in graduate school. She also was very involved in student groups as an undergraduate.

Another participant is Patricia Toledo, a student working toward a graduate certificate in PPPM’s nonprofit management program.

“Everybody experiences moments in their lives when they are the victim or we watch other people being the victims of situations we do not agree with or like,” Toledo says. “Those situations bring us negative feelings, shame or even pain. Years after, we are still thinking that we should have said or done something to intervene. RfL gives us the opportunity to practice how to respond to these situations in a more assertive way,” says Toledo.

— Aria Seligmann, Office of the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion