The guest speaker for the June edition of Sharpened Word was Professor Shamsul Rahman better known as Dr Shark. The event was held at Institut Darul Ridzuan, Persiaran Greentown, Ipoh on Saturday, June 23.
A wastewater engineering graduate, he stumbled into the world of theatre by accident. His sister prompted him to audition for a play during his first year at university. That was the beginning of his foray into the theatre scene, both locally and internationally.
Shamsul and his colleagues founded the Tronoh Theatre Shop Club based at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and endeavoured to bring theatre to the masses.
Themed “The World is a Stage”, the focus of the 3-hour talk was theatre. The event began with Shamsul sharing his background and the local theatre scene. To date, he has written 14 long and 20 short plays.
He jokingly added that when people in positions of power say things like “if fish is expensive, eat chicken,” it motivates him to write. He enjoys fusing modern elements with more traditional forms of theatre, when writing.
The ‘interactive workshop’ that was on the agenda turned out to be a form of theatre itself – “Theatre of the Oppressed”.
“Theatre of the Oppressed” originates from Brazil and is the brainchild of Augusto Boal, who was inspired by educator and theorist, Paulo Freire.
Today, “Theatre of the Oppressed” functions as a community-based education tool that uses theatre as a means of challenging social norms. It involves two parties – the Oppressed and the Oppressor.
A 3-minute skit was acted out by four UTP students. It had a fairly simple, but satirical plot about a hot-tempered boss who wants to reject tenders, so he can accept a single tender that would provide him 20 percent of the ‘profits’. He forces it upon an honest employee, Danial – who is scared and reluctant to do the job. To sway Danial, he offers him 2.6 percent of his ‘profits’. Danial is also influenced by two other employees to just do his job and take the money. At the end of the play, he agrees and does as he was told.
Here, Danial is the Oppressed while his boss and colleagues are the Oppressors. After the skit ended, Shamsul questioned the audience whether what Danial did was right.
The crowd disagreed, claiming that one should not sacrifice integrity for money. Shamsul then asked his students to repeat the skit. This time, the crowd had to yell “stop” or “cut” at scenes where they felt like Danial, the Oppressed, could have acted differently. This then, could have potentially changed the outcome of the situation, simultaneously protecting his integrity.
Attendees took turns to act Danial’s part, demonstrating how they would have reacted if placed in his shoes.
Some chose to resign, Puan Aida resorted to play the crying employee who ended up getting fired. A few suggested that they would covertly record the boss and send the evidence to the media. Yasmin Yusof, the moderator, jokingly suggested that she would blackmail the boss.
The audience laughed watching one another performing his/her version of Danial.
Shamsul suggested that this could be a useful tool to gauge community values. Currently, he is pushing for this form of theatre to be taught to high school counsellors.
The downside to this form of theatre is, it is only functional when catered to a small crowd. It is heavily dependent on crowd response.
“Theatre of the Oppressed” provides people with a safe space and an opportunity to independently express themselves.
The speaker wrapped-up the evening agreeing that theatre scenes in Perak are scarce, as there is not much support from the government, public and the media.
Theatre troops receive little or no funding. Most cannot afford space for rehearsals and have to resort to using their homes. This is not as effective as auditoriums.