Corporations in our Heads, 2013 header



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History of the Project

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We have done “process projects” like this in Vancouver before, but never toured. Those projects were:

2° of Fear and Desire (on what stops us from taking action on global warming) in 2008:

“2° of Fear and Desire was the most profound activism I have ever witnessed.”
Molly Caron, audience member

"Experiencing 2° of Fear and Desire was so refreshing because it went straight to the source, the human psyche, and examined it with honesty, respect, and witty humour. Furthermore, the performance was strikingly tangible and personal to the audience members and participants.  The show helped each of us understand our mental processes a bit better, and develop a sort of solidarity with each other in recognizing and processing through our common struggles. Thank you so much for the wonderfully deep work you have done.“                 
Elisa Lee, audience member


and Us and Them [the inquiry] (investigating humanity’s need to create “the other”):

“Us and Them (the inquiry) takes us to the place where we deeply feel the resonant truth that we are just one people on this planet. This is startling theatre that requires action.”
Kim Hayashi, audience member

Us and Them (the inquiry) has the power for both individual and societal transformation like no other theatre event I have ever witnessed. Be prepared to leave the venue viewing your relationships and interactions with others in a new light. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be talking and thinking about this event for a long time to come. ”
Anna Vogt, audience member

The context

Is a corporation a person? In 1819 the Supreme Court of the United States recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts. In 1886 the Supreme Court recognized corporations as persons for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment ¹ which, up until this point had been about humans.

In November of 2012 Canadian news was filled with satire regarding US Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s comments regarding corporations being people. His statement, however, is based not only in US law but in North American and Western (including Canadian) consumerist culture. The voices of corporations tell us hundreds of times a day (in ways I would suggest we don’t even notice anymore) what to buy, how to feel, how to perceive and the kind of person to aspire to be.

How do these issues manifest in Canada? Canadians who are organizing against the northern pipeline have been labeled as enemies of the national interest. A series of community consultations took place across BC in which the corporation had rights that were at least equal to and in some cases greater than the people who live in affected communities. Our current Federal Government has pushed through two Omnibus Bills that not only erode the very core of democratic process in Canada, but compromise invaluable long-term environmental protection standards in order to secure trade agreements and short-term corporate profits. The “Idle No More” movement is a reaction against exactly this.

The wonderful series The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis² traces the story of the growth of the mass-consumer society and how it relates to the ground-breaking work of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis. The series suggests that by introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud’s theories unwittingly served as the precursor to a world full of corporate and political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of material satisfaction is our ultimate goal. This was accomplished, in part, by transforming the impulse to purchase an item from one’s need for the item and a desire for it to be functional and long-lasting, to one’s belief that possessing the item will increase one’s happiness and feeling of self-worth, contentment, etc.

I believe we live in the community, province and country that we create. How do we break deeply ingrained patterns and start to create healthier community, province and country?

The kind of transformation that is necessary does not happen from the intellect alone, or through well intentioned politics or projects. Transformation happens when people and communities are engaged at both the emotional and intellectual levels - at levels that are both metaphoric and concrete. The stories we create at these events will be concrete. The way we work on the stories, though art (theatre) means speaking a metaphoric language together.

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What is the theatrical technique that will be used?

Corporations in our Heads has evolved from Augusto Boal’s exercise “Cops in the Head”. The exercise works like this:

After a short warm-up the audience is asked to offer stories out of their own experiences; stories in which the story-teller had to make a decision about something and they know that the voices of corporations are affecting that choice in negative or unhealthy ways.

For example:

  • an instance in which a career choice is affected by an idea that more money buys more happiness/contentment;
  • an instance in which food choices are determined by marketing and not nutritional value;
  • an instance in which body image is affected by the ‘beauty industry’ and not real world possibilities;
  • an instance in which excessive debt is accrued in response to confusion over “needs” and “wants”;
  • etc., etc., etc.


Three people offer stories and the audience chooses the story that resonates the most deeply with the majority of the audience. That story-teller remains onstage, at the heart of the exercise, playing themself. The story might be with another person, or it might be the story-teller on their own. Either is fine.

If the story involves another person, an audience member volunteers to play that other person. Why? Not to demonize or satirize the other character, but to portray that character with as much integrity as possible.

We are making theatre at this event to get underneath the fact that something is happening (beyond the symptom) and into the root causes of why it is happening. In order to do this, we need to honour all sides of the moment. We don’t need to agree - in fact disagreement is often very richly useful. We do, however, need to be respectful of other voices/perspectives, otherwise, how can we generate a real dialogue?

And so we “see” the story on the stage and the facilitator freezes the action when s/he recognizes a moment in which the “voices” are active in the story-tellers head. “Freeze!”. From now on and for the rest of the exercise, we are frozen in this moment.

The story-teller is asked if s/he has the voices of corporations in her head in this second. Yes. OK. Please do not explain, but make a shape, using your body, of what the loudest voice is asking/telling you to do. The story-teller makes a frozen shape and the facilitator asks:

‘Who understand this shape?’ Lots of hands in the audience go up. Who could come and “be” the shape…turn the shape into a character? Lots of hands go down…but somebody comes. Why? Not because they know what is inside the story-teller. (We are not making a psychoanalysis of that person.) A person volunteers because they recognize the voice inside themselves.

Another voice. Another volunteer. Another… and so we people the stage with different voices of Corporations that are inside the story-teller’s head and, as the audience starts to “own” this story, our collective psyche.

Once we have the voices on the stage, the actors (audience members who are now in the exercise) are helped to create characters based on the shape they are making with their bodies. Fears and Desires are explored. They are given a specific NAME of a Corporation that they represent. A Brand. It is often surprising how easy it is for people to know and agree on what corporate voice we have on the stage…an indicator of how pervasive corporations actually are (sometimes invisibly) in our lives. This becomes a lovely moment of how “the theatre (in Boal’s words) can make the invisible visible”.

One we have the voices on the stage we can turn the theatre into a laboratory and work on the voices one by one. Using interactive techniques of Forum Theatre, if an audience member has an idea of how to disarm a voice or “evict” a voice from “occupying” a space in our collective psyche, the audience member yells “stop”. S/he enters the playing area, takes the place of the story-teller and tries his/her idea. The actor being the voice responds truthfully - now being a character who wants something that is determining their actions inside our heads.

We enter very metaphoric space, but space that has practical meaning in our lives. Humans think in metaphor, not words and so the metaphorical language can be very transformational.

We work through the voices one by one, peeling layers of complexity away as we go, exploring tactics to deal with the voices. Different people in the exercise and audience take away different things - things we never need to know.

Funny things happen because it is live improvisation and profound things happen because it is about “us”. The event takes 2.5 to 3 hours.

¹ Four principles were asserted in the text of the US 14th amendment. They were: 1 - State and federal citizenship for all persons regardless of race both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed; 2 - No state would be allowed to abridge the "privileges and immunities" of citizens; 3 - No person was allowed to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law."; 4 - No person could be denied "equal protection of the laws." All of these principles now apply to corporations in the US and because of the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to US-based corporations in Canada.

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