Gender Shadow: An Invitation to Interrupt Injustice

By Evan Hastings

In the street and in our minds, the shadows of gender oppression dance against the fabric of society. At Srishti School of Art and Design, in Bangalore, India, I collaborated with Arzu Mistry in facilitating Gender Shadow, a participatory theatre project interrogating gender though shadow puppets, movement, improv theatre, and masks.

Gender Shadow was a 10-week endeavor of 20 young design students from all over India. Because our personal experiences of gender are part of a larger social narrative we creatively addressed gender violence and oppression through playful and personally meaningful dialogue.

In reality, even as an anti-oppression theatre project our improvisations were still saturated with gender stereotypes. The tension between traditional gender values and the modern desire for gender liberation was playing itself out in our rehearsals. Young women played ditzy characters objectifying themselves for chauvinistic males. Although the performers knew better, stereotypical characterizations were ever present. We were
at a sort of stalemate, at the crossroads of traditional patriarchy and modern feminism.

We challenged our own assumptions through sounds and hand shadows to dramatize gendered conflicts. Although we didn’t always embody the values we discussed, we remained open to seeing our own contradictions. This was critical as we moved to take our project to public venues.

Engagement from the participants was different than we anticipated. New ways of using the materials in space emerged as we spontaneously facilitated continuous engagement. Regardless of what we intended to happen, actual participation means relinquishing total control over the outcome.

We kept ourselves attentive to what was emerging in the moment as we entered a deeper phase of personal sharing with purpose. We all wrote out stories of how we or someone close to us has been impacted by gender violence and selected the most resonant pieces to expand into scenes for our public performances.

In our public performances, we warmed-up the audience to participation through creating a non-threatening, playful and inviting atmosphere. The responsibility to facilitate participation fell on the Jokers (Boal, 1979). The Jokers (like wild cards in the deck), kicked the show off with interactive games to engage spect-actors (spectators with the potential to be actors) with their bodies, the people sitting around them and the
actors on the stage (Boal, 1979).

With an engaged audience the play was performed once with shadows, music, masks and dance. Then the Jokers replayed a few scenes and invited the audience to interrupt the injustice on stage, replace a character who’s lacking power and try out an alternative action. The performers spontaneously responded to interventions by reacting in character, providing realistic resistance to any tactics brought by spect-actors. In the
end there was no right or wrong intervention, just a wider range of possible actions and consequences.

In Gender Shadow tradition all our show’s end in a dance party. It’s amazing how smoothly we can go from intense dialogue to night club style dance party. That’s Gender Shadow though, transforming trauma with rowdy resilience.

Photographs by Jackson Porretta.

Boal, A.(1979) Theatre of the Oppressed . London: Pluto

The Big Picture: Child trafficking TV project gives teens an opportunity to get real.

by Billy Miller

On a rainy Saturday in Caldera’s Teen Center, we’re talking with twelve high schoolers about child trafficking — a subject difficult for adults to discuss, let alone the young people whose iives this issue most affects. Joining us is filmmaker Libby Spears, whose documentary about the
subject Playground is showing to audiences around the world, having first gained the support of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.

Caldera, a youth arts and environmental education non-profit founded by Wieden + Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, uses all kinds of creativity to connect with Oregon’s young people. Both in the year-round program and at summer camp in Central Oregon, they respond to challenges in their lives with amazing art and resilience.

However, children enslaved in the sex trade is a horrific subject that’s in the news far too frequently. As Spears’ documentary points out, we might think these crimes are just overseas, but they are here in America, in communities where these kids come from.

The choice was clear when presenting Spears with a mini-residency. Her child trafficking work continues using Caldera’s digital filmmaking equipment to edit a segment of the FOX show, America’s Most Wanted.

Yet what was not at all clear, was how to gain youth perspective on such an intense subject.

What to do when it’s too dangerous for them to go on a shoot or hang up a ‘missing’ flyer? What of the emotions the content triggers? Is the subject just too severe? When watching the AMW rough cut at the Saturday event, one young lady who was all smiles earlier about getting straight-As for the first time in her life, leaves the room in tears.

But she does return. And facing this is the key to educating kids about the pimps and opportunists who use their ignorance to trap them. After hearing the filmmakers’ perspectives and viewing their work in progress, the assembled teens — diverse in race yet mostly challenged by socioeconomic status — are asked to thumb through stacks of donated stock photo books.

Where meaningful conversation proves daunting, they go right to work cutting out healthy and unhealthy images of sex and relationships. In pairs, they create collages of juxtaposing pictures, put in perspective with found words or ones they choose to add.

The resulting “mood boards,” work much like those that inspire an ad campaign. The girl who had to leave the room pits lurid images labeled “degrading one’s self,” against shots of a healthy woman, family and a smiling baby. “As women, we can be independent and we can love
ourselves,” she says on camera afterward. “And out of sex you can have kids and they can be one of the happiest things the world cherishes.”

What they make serves as their voice, staying on display where Spears and crew finish their important project. And after giving their free Saturday to staring down a difficult topic, these dozen extraordinary teens go home, hopefully, with a different perspective — and strength from their ability to fight fear with art.

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REFLECTIONS FROM A NEW SISTEMA: Learning to build community through music

by Paloma Udovic Ramos

On a street that acts as a border between gangs, in a neighborhood with a changing racial demographic, 200 low-income kids attend free group instrumental lessons and orchestra rehearsal 3-4 times a week. Our team of Teaching Artists struggles with establishing proper
technique, developing ear training, note reading, instrument care, and… racial tensions. It is easy to find training on pedagogy and classroom management, but where does a Music Teaching Artist learn about community organizing and social justice?

Our program takes place in a Los Angeles Community Center situated in a historically African-American neighborhood that in the past ten years has become home to a large number of Central American immigrants. It is not uncommon to discover the underlying feelings of resentment that exist within the community. Within our numbers, the divide is clear. Less than ten percent of our participants are African Americans, with almost all of the remainder Latino. It would be easy to say that many African American students come from single parent households and thus have more transportation issues, or that they look to be more involved in sports. Perhaps they would prefer to sing gospel in the church choir than learn classical music in an orchestra.

Regardless of stereotypes, and perhaps even because of the falsities they promote, our program needs to step up to the responsibility of representing the whole neighborhood. Due to an already long waiting list, we have done little recruitment. Most on the waiting list are Latino who know of the program through word of mouth. Many African-American parents have told me that they assumed the program was for Latinos, and had doubts about enrolling their children. All of these children have an ear for music somewhere, and it would be a missed opportunity for the program and its Teaching Artists to not find a way to attract a most diverse group of kids and develop a
musical community less divided than their own neighborhood.

As the face of our program, the Teaching Artists are the ones who must learn to accurately represent the intent of the program. However, in several instances, I have heard Teaching Artists ignorant to racial issues. “I just can’t talk to Ishmael’s mother, I feel like she’s always
busy and not present like the other parents. I don’t think she cares.” In this particular case, Ishmael’s mother, who is an African American, works 2 jobs as a single parent while the rest of the students in the class, all Latino, have stay-at-home Moms that hang out with each other right outside the classroom. In another case, an African-American student quit her class because she felt like her Teaching Artist spoke Spanish in class too much. Her mother told me, “She felt like the class wasn’t for her kind.”

Our Teaching Artist faculty is a loving group of professional musicians extremely proficient. What we lack is training is in Sociology and Cultural Sensitivity, practices that would be fully relevant in a program such as ours, where practicing music is the mode towards building community and fighting for Social Justice. While it’s not surprising that ‘Social Action through Music’ is not a common course in today’s top Conservatories, perhaps it is time to think about the benefits of such training to assure effectiveness in marginalized communities.

Teaching Artists as Advocates

by Joan Weber

Teaching Artists could lay a claim to caring more about arts education than just about anyone else. We have given up hope of high salaries with great benefits in the interest of educating young people in and through the arts. Many of us have learned our craft experientially. because, until very recently, there were very few training programs for our field. All the while, we have continued to grow as artists, knowing that we demand excellence of ourselves in both our art form and teaching. We are improving our practice through action research, arts integration and documented outcomes. We are professionals. Let’s be like other professionals and ask our bosses for a raise. While we’re there, let’s ask for a larger workforce to meet the real demand for arts education in our communities.

We deserve a living wage that includes enough money to pay taxes and have health insurance. What we do has incredible value to the education of children around the world. It’s time to show policy-makers that value by introducing ourselves to them. We don’t generally have that opportunity. After demonstrating the value of arts education through testimony about our practices, we just ask for more money. That’s really it. What’s beautiful is that the better we do for ourselves, the better we do for kids.

Arts Education Month is in March. During that time, let’s make a commitment as Teaching Artists to Testify for Arts Education in March 2011. This is an important time in the budgetary process for school systems. Decisions made during this time will dictate school budgets for the next year. If arts education partnerships are not in the budgets at this time, it’s harder to “find” the money for a teaching artist later. The Board of Education determines the budget for the entire school system. If they require all schools to have budgets for arts education programs, then that

becomes policy for the system. If not, each principal decides on how to allocate discretionary budget lines, including artists or transportation.

Teaching Artists have direct evidence about the benefits of arts education. We must gather our lesson plans, compile our anecdotes, line up our slides and write speeches about how our programs have affected students’ lives. We must tell the board members our stories and convince them to spend more money to create more stories like that. Let’s tell them why we are Teaching Artists.

While we are with the Board of Education, we must also advocate for arts specialists in every school building. The truth is that arts specialists make it possible for us to have the impact that we do. Teaching artists are complements to specialists, not replacements. We must always make that clear to policymakers.

Join Teaching Artists and other arts education advocates across the country in a new social community at Our goal it to build a grassroots movement of people that want to make sure that kids in our communities have arts education. It requires everyone’s help. Teaching Artists must be at the table of school reform, arts education standards and school system budget decisions. Showing up and testifying is a great start. Please e-mail me at to share your story or ask questions.