Very difficult for theatres and theatre people to survive?
Stephanie Pollack, support organizations and people in transition and traveled extensively in over 35 countries on six continents. Through theatre activities she is increasing communication and building positive relationships. And also she enjoy developing start-up educational programs, such as study abroad, leadership, mentoring, peace building, character education, and service-learning. She is a well known American theatre activist all over the world.
When she was participated in Rotary peace and conflict programme in Thailand .Our friend S.Basharan met her and had done some theatre activities during the session. After that, she has given this interview in July 2008.
Please Introduce yourself to our readers as specially your family background, academic qualification and theatre involvement ?
My name is Stephanie Pollack. I am an interculturally and artistically focused experiential educator and consultant from the United States. Since the early 1990s, I have been developing and leading innovative educational programs, trainings, and community building sessions around the globe. I have traveled extensively in over 35 countries on six continents, including living in Australia, Thailand, Nepal, soon in Gaza (for a few months working with Mercy Corps), and numerous places throughout the United States.
I support organizations and people in transition. I use my organizational development and facilitation experience to focus on increasing communication and building positive relationships. Creative experiential strategies, including Theatre of the Oppressed, improvisational theatre, visual arts, and literary arts – are all my passion. I enjoy developing start-up educational programs, such as study abroad, leadership, mentoring, peace building, character education, and service-learning. Educational Background - M.A. Interdisciplinary Studies (Leadership, Education, and the Arts), Long Island University - B.A. Organizational Psychology, University of Michigan - Selected as one of 18 mid-career professionals from around the world to participate in Rotary International Foundation’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program, a three-month professional development certificate program based at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand (where I met Paskaran) - Certificates from the Intercultural Communication Institute (including Teaming Across Difference, Training for International Transitions, and Social Justice and Intercultural Communication in the Global Context) Theatrical Background I started taking acting classes when I was 5 years old in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. Between the ages of 5 and 18, I took numerous acting, improvisation, directing, stage managing, and playwriting classes and performed on various stages around my home community. For two summers at ages 14 & 15, I attended a theatre-based summer camp. I started teaching theatre games to youth at the age of 16 while still in school. (I’ve also studied physical theatre, clowning, Commedia del Arte, music, and various forms of dance.) When I was looking to attend university, my father talked very seriously with me and advised me not to major in theatre. He told me there was constant rejection in the profession, and that not many people could actually make enough money only doing theatre – he was worried about my future. He convinced me that I should plan on doing something different with my life, and not focus on theatre. I was quite upset, but understood that he was just trying to be protective of me. In the university at the undergraduate level, I took some theatre classes but focused my studies on communication and organizational psychology. And then, I started finding jobs where I could use theatre in the work that I did. The jobs did not pay well, sometimes not at all (I did other things to pay the bills), but I loved them. Some of the early career theatre type jobs I held were: - co-led 5 week traveling theatre trips of 13 students, responsible for program development and travel logistics, fostered personal growth of participants, created and directed original production -supervised and evaluated theatre and dance teachers at an international summer camp; organized arts festival with 150 -conducted auditions and rehearsals for an inner-city issue-based youth theatre troupe; traveled through the state presenting improvisational shows at schools and conferences -acted, wrote and directed for professional “alternative theatre with a conscience”; fulfilled rotations as marketing coordinator, box office manager, stage manager Since those early jobs, I have never focused completely on theatre in my career, rather using theatre as one of the many methods used for other purposes.
I was first introduced to Theatre of the Oppressed in 1997, and continue to practice the techniques as often as possible. Over the years my work has grown and changed, and I always enjoy each time I get to use theatrical methods in my intercultural communication training, facilitation, organizational transformation, and educational development work.
You are mainly taking about the personality development through theatre how is possible ?could you pl explain.
Yes, now in my work I use theatre techniques for personality development and capacity building, leadership development, community building, forming more effective teams, and inspiring creativity. (I also use other forms of the arts, including visual arts, movement, writing, and cooking, as well as outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking and camping.) Theatre games and activities can be ordered in just the right way for the maximum educational effect. It took me many years to understand and perfect this skill; studying organizational psychology, group psychology, business management, intercultural communication, experiential education, and game theory helped tremendously.
You had a experience with forum theatre pl explain more about forum theatre ?
In my view, this is the best description I have found of Forum Theatre. It is a technique that "begins with the enactment of a scene in which a protagonist tries, unsuccessfully, to overcome an oppression relevant to that particular audience. The joker (Boal's version of a facilitator) then invites the spectactors to replace the protagonist at any point in the scene that they can imagine an alternative action that could lead to a solution. The scene is replayed numerous times with different interventions. This results in a dialog about the oppression, an examination of alternatives, and a 'rehearsal' for real situations" (Schutzman and Cohen-Cruz, 1994, Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism, New York: Routledge, p.236). I have jokered traditional and adapted versions of Forum for the past 12 years in numerous places around the world with different populations for various purposes,
• Native American youth at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, mostly concerning alcohol abuse, family violence and neglect
• Intercultural communication and culture shock training for university students going to live overseas, highlighting stories of unresolved problems from returning seniors – most notably the issue of safety for women
• Character education for adolescent girls helping them understand how to handle peer pressure
• Union members who are construction workers, surrounding various workplace issues
• Training for Intercultural Trainers, concerning racial and ethnic profiling in airports
• Intercultural Conflict Resolution graduate students, focusing on cultural values and norms about hitting children
• School teachers attempting to teach “outside the box” by using experiential education methods and dealing with test-performance pressure from administrators
• Diversity training for staff at colleges
How would you differentiate formal theatre and forum theatre ?
In my view, formal theatre involves actors who have prepared a show to perform for an audience, usually mostly strangers, who sit quietly in their seats and watch. Forum theatre involves a community with a problem to solve; community members might become actors on the stage or might remain as audience members, but they are all spectactors, because at any moment the audience members might join the actors on the stage or participate from their seats.
When you started the Creative Facilitations? From that what’s your achievement ?
I officially started Creative Facilitations a few years ago in order to connect people to ideas, each other, and themselves. After years of global experience working with people of all backgrounds using various modalities, it felt like the right time to go out on my own rather than having an external employer. I enjoy working with different types of people and organizations so I do not get bored. Thus far I’ve achieved supporting people who work in universities, not for profit organizations, and corporations increase their communication in order to make their world better.
In the past few years, I’ve created tolerance building curricula, taught intercultural conflict resolution at the university post-graduate level, facilitated difficult planning meetings, developed and led service learning trips for students, conducted intercultural communication and diversity trainings, and taught people how to use interactive, creative experiential activities (including theatre) for training.
You are mostly taking about rediscover or discover the human body through theatre how is possible ?pl explain?
In theatre, the body is the main tool. An actor needs to know their body well, what it is capable of and what it cannot do. Actors need to be able to make various facial expressions conveying different information, so they need to know exactly how to make which expression in which context. They need to know how to move the body in various ways, how to walk as different characters, how leading with your feet says something different than leading with your head, what to do physically in order to appear to an audience to be 20 years older or younger in an instant. All of this takes practice, mistakes, and then lots more practice.
A stage actor should be in top physical condition, strong and flexible, able to move in any direction at any time. All of this means that the body and mind must be connected in very sophisticated and sensitive ways. The mind needs to be alert to what the body is doing at all times, on stage or off, and be able to intellectually know that small physical changes are needed for the desired effect.
I remember early in my acting, looking at myself in the mirror all the time when I made different body and face movements; this was the only way to really know what was being seen by others.
I discovered my body and the connection between my mind and my body when I was a young child, and am grateful that I still carry that ability as an adult. The final piece is that an actor always needs to be acutely aware of their surroundings, and be able to react quickly and appropriately to cues from another actor. Without this, group theatre work and effectiveness for an audience is impossible.
In our place theatre personalities or theatre organisations are very hardly to survive only with theatre profession. Can you explain American experience?
Unfortunately the story is the same in the U.S. It is very difficult for theatres and theatre people to survive only doing theatre. Theatres need to constantly apply for grants and appeal for donations. People who want to work in the theatre usually do other work in order to pay bills (often working in restaurants).
Do you have any experience in Asian culture ?could you pl share the experience compare with west?
I assume you are talking about Sri Lankan theatre as compared with U.S. theatre. I have heard about Sri Lankan theatre from Paskaran but have not yet experienced it myself in Sri Lanka (I hope I will soon!). I understand that there is straight theatre, invisible theatre, forum theatre, etc. From Paskaran I learned about the use of traditional song and dance, which seems like a wonderful way to preserve traditional culture in this contemporary world. In the U.S. most people think of theatre as something that happens on a stage by actors as they sit quietly in their seats and watch.
There is a type of theatre that uses music and dance, called “musical theatre” and types of theatre that are interactive with the audience, but general mainstream people think of these as variations of the usual enactment of a play. There is a lot of interesting and super creative theatre happening in smaller venues all over the country. When Paskaran and I studied in Bangkok in 2008, there were three theatre people taking part in the program (Paskaran, me, and a self-made clown from Australia). We shared stories and performed in a refugee camp together.
It was interesting to see how we each performed in different ways: Paskaran focused on dance, drumming and music, the clown focused on costume, gags and getting a laugh, and I focused on interactivity, spontaneity and play. I’m not sure if these differences had more to do with our cultural backgrounds or who we are as theatre people. Toward the end of our time in Bangkok, Paskaran and I facilitated a theatre workshop together, going back and forth between our different styles – this worked quite well. In June of 2009 Paskaran and I were in London, England together and we facilitated a session of theatre (and other) games with Tamil youth for community building purposes. I look forward to working again with Paskaran and learning more about Sri Lankan theatre.
How would you define a theatre person? What are the qualities do you expect from a theatre person?
I believe there is a difference between a theatre person who wants power and attention by always being onstage, and a theatre person who is an activist and an educator using theatre for those purposes. Growing up, I only knew of the former, and it made me not enjoy being around “theatre people” because I viewed desire for personal power and seeking attention for individual purposes as a negative. As an adult, I cherish theatre people who are educators and activists, those who are seeking to get attention for important issues; these people are attempting to harness some of the power to give it to the powerless. These types of theatre people have all of the training of an actor, plus an ethical and moral stance to do good in the world. They are aware of social and political issues, have an open mind, are always learning, and are able to collaborate well with others.
What are the suggestions do you give to develop a theatre organisation?
Developing the internal workings of the members of any organization is the key to the organization’s success. I think it is incredibly important to continually do capacity building through training, community building, and communications skill development. It is possible to use artistic processes and experiential learning alongside group psychology in order to provide a positive experience for all. If you are a theatre student and you are interested in developing a theatre organization, I would suggest learning about the aforementioned subjects and applying this knowledge to your theatrical skill set. Always having a positive attitude helps too!
Final note: Her favorite game within Theatre of the Oppressed that she have facilitated with great success is “The Great Game of Power” – if don’t already know it, check it out (it’s in Boal’s book Games for Actors and Non-Actors).