March 26, 2008
When theater director, Sushama Deshpande first invited us to work with the sex workers from the VAMP* collective in Sangli we were filled with great excitement and anticipation. At Imaginaction we focus on working with marginalized communities using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. Thus, this was a unique opportunity that we immediately welcomed. It was of great joy for us to find ourselves in a group of women and men who exceeded any expectations we had and challenged many of our preconceived notions about the lives of people working in the sex business. We conducted a three day workshop where we used traditional Theatre of the Oppressed techniques such as Rainbow of Desire and warm up games as well as new techniques that have been recently developed by our Creative Director and workshop facilitator Hector Aristizabal. Hector combines T.O techniques with others influenced by his background in psychotherapy.
The following are some of our observations from the three day workshop in Sangli:
The group was completely open to exploring new theatrical ways to communicate and articulate their own individual stories which are a reflection of the larger community.
This openness was also manifested in the group’s willingness to use the techniques to express hopes, communal struggles, and challenges.
It was evident that a lot of work had been done in this community and with this particular group of people. It was manifested in the group’s comfort in expressing their voices and speaking of their experiences. For example, in many of the images they talked openly about their struggle with HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.
The people we worked with were comfortable with whom they are. They were willing to explore their internal contradictions and discuss their daily difficulties.
The images created during the workshops were incredibly descriptive of scenes from many oppressions they face such as police oppression, illness and the struggles between tradition and the way they live their lives.
There were impressive images of alternative solutions to community challenges.
It was a great pleasure to work with the women in Sangli not only because they were beautiful and giving but also because our experience with them emphasized yet again the power of theatre and the arts to transform. It is clear that their work in theatre has inspired them to share their stories with dignity as well as explore and imagine, as a community, in nonjudgmental yet critical ways, alternatives and solutions that are not imposed but organic and stemming from the genuine desire and commitment to look at ones life and community.
Finally, we would like to thank Sushama Deshpande and the whole staff at SANGRAM* especially Meena Seshu who allowed us to be part of the great work they are doing. It was a life impacting experience.
Launched in Sangli, India in 1992, SANGRAM (Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha) reaches out to women in prostitution in 6 districts in Maharashtra and Karnataka’s border areas. Condom distribution is a central activity of this peer education organisation, whose goals include creating awareness about HIV/AIDS and methods of prevention, altering behavioural patterns, and enforcing preventive action.