Us and Them: The Inquiry Image

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Methodology of Us and Them

(the inquiry)


We will use a theatrical technique called Rainbow of Desire, that comes from Augusto Boal's body of work known as "Theatre of the Oppressed". In my own work, Rainbow of Desire has become a valuable tool in the investigation of the complexity of the feedback loops in which we all exist. We all have our own internalized struggles that manifest as behaviour that is detrimental to both ourselves, the people around us and the planet.

An example of Rainbow of Desire in practice

March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. In 2005 the Equity Ambassadors at the University of British Columbia (UBC) put together three days of anti-racism events. One of the events was a Theatre for Living workshop. The very nice request from the Ambassadors was to do something that would shake people up and challenge their perceptions about racism. I chose to use Rainbow of Desire.

The people in the room chose to work on this story offered by a member of the workshop group: A woman of Chinese ancestry is shopping in a drug store, in an affluent and not very diverse neighbourhood. She hasn't been to this store before. When she finishes finding what she wants, she goes to the cashier, who is Caucasian. The cashier looks her straight in the eye, so obviously knows she is there, and then turns around, fusses with a shelf for a moment, and leaves. The woman, who realizes that the cashier is pretending she isn't there, wants to say something but doesn't - and, having not said anything in that moment, doesn't when the cashier is leaving and gone. She places her full basket on the counter and leaves the store. Many of the participants mentioned that this kind of thing happens to them regularly.

I want to be clear that the exercise, while based on a real life story, is also symbolic - the woman playing the cashier is not the cashier. But we agreed that, even though this was just one example, we could recognize the cashier in ourselves in some ways, through her anger and fear at her own place in life. In one of the Rainbow fragments (a fear) that was presented, we discovered the probability that the cashier spends her day serving people who very often don't treat her like a human - she is 'just a cashier'. Now, her perception is that ‘all these people' are coming from another country - people who she perceives have a lot more money than she has; people who she feels she is going to spend her life serving; people who, from her perspective, rob her of chances to advance. She is furious with them, without knowing them.

Again, the exploration was not a case of condoning the character's racism in any way. However, the participants, many of them anti-racism activists, found the insights from the exercise very profound. What we realized during the exploration is that we are already very familiar with the fears and desires of the customer who experiences the racism. While this is interesting to all of us, and there are important discoveries to make about how to combat racism through the exploration, to a large degree it verifies things we already know. It is the fears and desires of the racist that are most hidden and unexplored and, because of this, they are of real value in our desire to confront the causes, and not just the symptoms, of racism.

There was an animated and very positive group discussion after the exercise. All of us were confronted, I believe, by our symbolic connections to this character - even though we are all people who are engaged at some level in anti-racism work - and by the ways that we are ourselves racist, or classist or sexist, or exclusionary in some manner.

We were only able to investigate the issue at this level, because we risked creating the Rainbow of Fear and Desire of the racist cashier. We honoured her humanity, while not condoning her actions.

"2° of Fear and Desire was a challenging piece for me, but essential to any efforts we can put forth in reducing the negative impacts of climate change, because it forced me to humanize the 'other' that is normally so easy to this case a corporate other. I obviously tell people I care about everyone, but I also slip easily into blaming a certain type of person for the problem of climate change, usually economists, business people and politicians. This particular way of engaging the issue used by Headlines Theatre struck a deep chord in me that to actually overcome this problem, we absolutely cannot dehumanize anybody in this. As cliché as it sounds, we all truly are in it together… but I think we best realize that when we discuss the issue in terms of fear and desire, as we did on Friday, because we all identify with fears and desires around climate change."
Andrew Rushmere, Vancouver, BC (Nov, 2007)