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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 296-297
Exploring medical humanities through theatre of the oppressed

1 Department of Physiology, Medical Humanities Group, Medical Education Unit, and Assistant Professor of Physiology, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, India
2 Intern, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, India
3 4th Semester Medical Student, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, India

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Date of Web Publication15-Oct-2012

How to cite this article:
Singh S, Khosla J, Sridhar S. Exploring medical humanities through theatre of the oppressed. Indian J Psychiatry 2012;54:296-7

How to cite this URL:
Singh S, Khosla J, Sridhar S. Exploring medical humanities through theatre of the oppressed. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2012 [cited 2021 Jul 25];54:296-7. Available from:


Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us

build our future, rather than just waiting for it.
- Augusto Boal

Established by the Brazilian theatre legend Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) is a form of theatre that is used globally for community education. It is a powerful tool which uses array of theatre games and exercises to help build community, communication skills, and deepen our understanding of ourselves and others. TO may be new for medical practitioners in India but their role in community education is widely known. "Forum Theatre for Bystanders" is practiced to gather awareness for gender violence prevention which aims to increase moral responsibility of bystanders. [1] TO is used by health professionals in deconstructing toxic exposures, risk factors, and cumulative stressors impacting the well-being of communities. [2] McClimens and Scott argues for the use of forum theatre as a method of addressing learning disability concerns in Nursing setting. [3] The Jana Sanskriti Center in Kolkata is involved with TO for the past 21 years. Early this year, Marc Weinblatt (Mandala Center for Change, Seattle, USA) and Dr. Radha Ramaswamy (Founder, Centre for Community Dialogue and Change, Bengaluru) organized TO workshops in four cities of Pune, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad which were attended by NGO members, writers, health professionals as well as parents.

Beginning in 2009, the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS), Delhi, has become the first medical institution in India to run a Medical Humanities Group (MHG) for staff and students. [4] To appreciate the humane dimensions of a medical student's life, the group also staged a street theatre on A.I.D.S. (Academic Induced Degenerative Syndrome). [5] Continuing with the student involvement, "Infinite Ability", the special interest group on disability of MHG, organized the first ever TO workshop for medical students in India. 26 students from UCMS, Army College of Medical Sciences, and Amar Jyoti Institute of Physiotherapy participated in this 2-day workshop along with two faculty members. The workshop was endowed with eminent facilitators Dr. Radha Ramaswamy and Dr. Ram from the Centre for Community Dialogue and Change, Bengaluru, who conducted this workshop.

The Workshop comprised of a number of games and exercises (Name playback, Cover the space, Columbian hypnosis, Sound and Movement Transformation, Image gallery, Glass Cobra, Zip-Zap-Zoom) to stimulate our sensitivity to impulses inherent inside us but concealed or rather oppressed by the rigid patterns of thought created by the mechanical world. They were followed by Image Theatre and Forum Theatre which provided both actors and spectators with the opportunity to understand the problems around them and motivated them to actively bring change to solve them effectively, and in the process enabling them to rediscover their potential for creating change. Quite aptly, this workshop was named "Breaking Patterns, Creating Change" as those who were caught up in ever repeating oppression by the patterns broke free and realized their potential for bringing change. The close to real life situations enacted gave the comfort of not being struck dumb by the adrenaline rush but its closeness to real life made us think critically of how we would react or how we reacted when such a situation arose. In Boal's words, "this kind of theatre is expressly 'subjunctive'; that is, it represents a version of reality that is experimental, asking 'what would..?' rather than stating 'this is'."

On day 2, randomly selected groups of 4-5 made three-dimensional images in Image theatre exploring themes like "cadaver," "selection in MBBS," "religion," and "lack of passion." Later on, individuals sculpted images based on themes like "Good medical practice" using bodies of other participants and their own as clay. It was just a static beginning of a process of dynamization as other participants actively changed them following their innate theatrical impulses.

Conventional theatre imposes "finished visions of the world" and denies the audience the capacity to think critically and look for alternatives. The audience is merely a spectator there. But in Forum theatre, the audience is "spect-actor," i.e., the audience members are empowered to imagine and think critically about the problem and experiment with different perspectives of problems through acting. In this way, many different alternative solutions come up and are assessed for their efficacy. Forum theatre on "Abandoned" challenged the spectators with an unsolved problem of the protagonist with debilitating Parkinson's disease who was abandoned first by family, later by the doctor, and finally he lost faith. The constant depression and loneliness forced him to commit suicide. The audience was invited to suggest and enact solutions to this problem. The audience responded suitably by transforming from "Spectators" to "Spect-actors." It demonstrated that community can find and apply solutions to all of its own problems only if they realize their inert collective potential to do so. But for that, they have to break free from the shackles of rigid patterns, and listen to their inner impulses.

At some point in our lives as doctors, each of us starts going through the motions of life mechanically. We stop empathizing and start treating the patients as objects, as machines who need to be put right. TO has this ability to re-humanize ourselves as and when we reach such a point in our lives. But to wait for that point in our lives would be sin. Using TO to trigger the cathartic process of medical humanities in health professionals and community in which we work in will help everyone grow symbiotically and lead at some point to a better society which we all aspire for.

For Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), the agent of change was education - for Augusto Boal (Theatre of the Oppressed), it was theatre.. For medical humanities, it should be confluence of science and art where TO have an important role to play in this.

   Acknowledgments Top

We are thankful to Dr. Radha Ramaswamy and Dr. Ram (Centre for Community Dialogue and Change) for conducting the workshop for medical students. The workshop would not have been possible without the co-operation of Professor O. P. Kalra, Principal of UCMS, Professor Navjeevan Singh, Coordinator MHG, Professor Upreet Dhaliwal, all the participants, and most important spect-actors.

   References Top

1.Mitchell KS, Freitag JL. Forum theatre for bystanders: A new model for gender violence prevention. Violence Against Women 2011;17:990-1013. [Epub ahead of print].  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Sullivan J, Petronella S, Brooks E, Murillo M, Primeau L, Ward J. Theatre of the oppressed and environmental justice communities: A transformational therapy for the body politic. J Health Psychol 2008;13:166-79.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.McClimens A, Scott R. Lights, camera, education!. The potentials of forum theatre in a learning disability nursing program. Nurse Educ Today 2007;27:203-9.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Gupta R, Singh S, Kotru M. Reaching people through medical humanities: An initiative. J Educ Eval Health Prof 2011;8:5. [Epub 2011 May 20]  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Gupta S, Singh S. Confluence: Understanding medical humanities through street theatre. Med Humanit 2011;37:127-8. [Epub ahead of print]  Back to cited text no. 5

Correspondence Address:
Satendra Singh
Department of Physiology, Medical Humanities Group, Medical Education Unit, and Assistant Professor of Physiology, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5545.102461

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