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First Theatre of the Oppressed workshop for medical students

Breaking Patterns, Creating Change

Theater of the Oppressed (TO) workshops were held earlier this year in four cities of Pune, Munbai, Hyderabad, and Banglore among a mixed audience of NGO representatives, doctors, writers, teachers,academics and parents. The Preventive and Social Medicine department at the KEM Hospital, Mumbai also organized a Forum Theatre on occassion of the World Breast Feeding Week this August. The Medical Humanities Group (MHG) of UCMS & GTB Hospital, Delhi organized the first ever TO workshop for medical students in India on 23,24 Aug 2011 at Delhi whose details are given below. 

Organizers and Facilitators

The 2-day workshop was conducted by Dr Radha Ramaswamy and Dr Ram who are TO-trained from Mandala Center for Change, Seattle, USA & Founder of Centre for Community Dialogue and Change (CCDC), Bengaluru. The workshop was organized by ‘Infinite Ability’ of MHG, Medical Education Unit, UCMS. Prof NG Desai, Director IHBAS (Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences) was the Chief Guest who elaborated on the difference between being human and being humane. Patron of MHG Prof OP Kalra (Principal, UCMS) graced the occasion along with members of MHG (Prof Navjeevan Singh, Prof Upreet Dhaliwal and Dr Satendra Singh).


The regional workshop was attended by 28 participants (20 students and 2 Faculty from UCMS), 5 students from Army College of Medical Sciences and 1 from Amar Jyoti Institute of Physiotherapy. The faculty members, Prof Navjeevan Singh (Coordinator, MHG & Medical Education Unit) and Dr Satendra Singh (workshop organizer) also volunteered as participants

Proceedings Summary

Created by the Brazilian theater legend and visionary Augusto Boal, TO is a form of theater that is used worldwide for community education. Using a wide arsenal of theater games and exercises, it helps build community, communication skills, and deepens our understanding of ourselves and others.

The workshop used games and exercises, and also introduced participants to some of the longer structures in TO such as Image theater, Columbian Hypnosis, Image Fishbowl, Glass cobra, Zip Zap Zop Fainting by numbers, and Forum theater. The workshop was not only fun, but also challenging. It encouraged participants to put their bodies to work, and through their bodies learn about themselves and the world around them. The goal was to create a sharper, greater sensitivity to our inner impulses and motivations, to provide opportunities for self exploration and growth, and through these, to generate possibilities for changing our world.

The participants in Image Theater made still images of their lives, feelings, experiences, oppressions. Groups suggested titles or themes, and then individuals sculpted three-dimensional images under these titles, using their own and others bodies as clay. The image work never remained static as they were later dynamised. The participants explored themes like ‘cadaver’, ‘selection in MBBS’, ‘classroom’ and ‘lack of passion’. The frozen images were simply the starting point for or prelude to the action which was revealed in the subsequent dynamisation process.

On day 2, the Forum theater on ‘Abandonment’ challenged the spectators with a problem, shown in an unsolved form, of the protagonist with debilitating Parkinson’s disease who was abandoned by family, doctor, and faith.  The audience was introduced to their roles as “spect-actors”, wherein they were invited to suggest and enact solutions. It demonstrated to all how the community could provide solutions to its own problems. Throughout the workshop the development of verbal and non-verbal communication skills was emphasized.

The facilitator, called the ‘Joker’ in this form of the workshop, lived up to the challenge as she molded the principles of TO suit to the medical background and inexhaustible energies of the participants. The unique opportunity provided everyone with new perspectives to balance medical opinions with community expectations.

We are thankful to Dr Radha and Dr Ram for introducing this innovative concept to our medical students. I can assure you, it’s just a beginning! Photographs of the workshop are in the Photo Album  and participant feedback is at TalkBack.

Dr. Satendra Singh