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Category Archives: Performance

Jiwon Chung Workshop: Theater of the Oppressed

Posted on by vidya_bhamidi@berkeley.edu
Filed under: Performance

Movement, Bodies, and Relationships of Power, Oppression, and Resistance

Theater director Jiwon Chung recently led a Global Urban Humanities (GUH) workshop in which students considered systemic violence through a series of exercises based on the work of Augusto Boal. City and Regional Planning student Jeff Garnand, who participated in the workshop, reflects on how physical movement helped students from many disciplines consider power relationships.

Coursework in the humanities and social sciences often – should, must – bring students into contact with systems of oppression, hierarchy, and domination. And all students have had experience with these forms of power in their own lives in various institutional and social settings. Many have studied, and some have participated in, resistance movements that seek to challenge the exercise of power as a form of domination themselves. But how often are we provided with a forum in which to consider these manifestations through the methods of theater and performance?

 

The Global Urban Humanities program brought together students, faculty, and engaged members of the community for a workshop on considering systemic and structural violence, offering them the opportunity to work with Jiwon Chung, a theater practitioner and adjunct faculty member at the Graduate Theological Union with a long and deep connection with Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed.

 

Chung uses Boal’s work as a way of helping students and communities recognize both the targeted and diffuse operation of oppression, and then using the format of movement, performance and theater as a generative space for conceiving forms of individual and collective resistance and counternarrative to advance social justice.

Workshop participants came from a range of fields in the arts, social sciences, environmental design, and humanities, bringing to the workshop their own disciplinary expertise and epistemologies. At the opening of the workshop, we were invited to meet each other, wandering the room loosely and encountering our fellow classmates and beginning to create webs of connection and affinity through prompts offered by Jiwon. The exercises became increasingly intense, as participants engaged in relationships of power through body movement, and were asked at each turn to reflect upon how it felt to be dominant and oppressed within a given scenario.

In one exercise, the entire class was engaged in movement that tied each participant to multiple other participants; I happened to be at the center. Small movements on my part had dramatic effects on my fellow participants one or two levels out. There was a cascade of power in each gesture: a small movement of my hand sent people sprawling across the floor at the periphery, struggling to keep up under the constraints of a system which had been imposed without consultation or consideration of the participants.

Jiwon invited us to reconsider these dynamics, inventing new ways to respond to the exercise of power that was happening right in front of us. We were able to respond to power, to critique and resist it, at some points ignore it or create alternate ways of being in our autoconstructed system that respected, or attempted to respect, the needs of those who were oppressed in these embodied relationships. The oppressed were able to respond both as individuals and collectively, to reshape the dynamics in the room toward a more just relationship.

A major strength of the workshop for attendees was a very visceral experience of power, as well as seeing visually and experiencing through the body the relationships that people are placed within knowingly or unknowingly, and the points at which empowerment over one's own or collective decisions is truncated or constrained, as well as the slow unfolding of possibilities to modify those dynamics. Jiwon was a very sensitive and attuned facilitator – I really appreciated his style and attentiveness to power and the attendees as intersectional subjects nested in webs of multiple and varied power relationships. Part of what I hope we are all getting in our coursework and time at Berkeley is a facility for empathy, and the workshop was an excellent way to further develop that facility in everyone who participated, regardless of their chosen field: empathy should know no disciplinary boundaries.

At the end of the workshop, everyone agreed that they had learned a great deal through working with our bodies, with feeling, exercising, and resisting power. Participants came away with a mindfulness and a deeper understanding of the ways that power works overtly and also very subtly, and opened our minds (and bodies) to the ways in which oppression is exerted within and across disciplines and in society at large. We could see clearly that there was no easy answer, and no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing oppression and power, but in experiencing its effects through our own bodies we gained in our consciousness and awareness a somatic understanding that can and will carry forward into our own academic, social, professional, and personal lives.


Reawakening the Sensory Network

Posted on by Susan Moffat
Filed under: Performance, San Francisco

On Saturday, February 27, Ava Roy, Artistic Director of the We Players site-integrated theater group led students in a workshop at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to learn methods of using movement and bodily awareness to investigate public spaces.  For a complete description of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and other experiments in dance and architecture, see this blogpost.

REAWAKENING THE SENSORY NETWORK

by Jason Prado, Master in Landscape Architecture candidate

My recent fascination with Lawrence Halprin's design process and the development of my studio design is what brought me to Ava Roy's workshop.  In studio, I have become increasingly interested in how landscape design can not only benefit places ecologically, but also how it can create a theatrical stage for people in civic spaces to perform at all scales, from concerts and protests to the stand alone street performers.  It seemed like a perfect match!

However, I was still uncertain of what to expect, as I am new to the field of making spaces and even newer to the world of performing arts.  In any case, the workshop did give me a great excuse to visit Fort Point, which is an incredible site.  From the beginning, I felt at ease with Ava.  She did not start with lecturing us or even giving us context. 

 

 

She began with awakening our senses by asking us to close our eyes for just a few minutes and allow the other senses to take hold.  What do we hear in the distance?  What do we hear at our feet?  How does that make you feel?  I almost immediately entered a calming, meditative state.  It reminded me of practicing yoga, which helps to relieve the stresses of my day and ground me in my senses, which are often blurred with all the other noise of the day.  The exercises continued throughout the workshop and helped with bringing the group together and bringing meaning to the place.  It was an effective tool to shut out the outside world and bring yourself to be with the space and notice things that would otherwise be hidden at first glance. 

That is what I found so powerful about the workshop.  This kind of approach to the space allowed Ava to be successful in her production.  She diligently studied the space in a manner that soon revealed to her where, when, and how to set up her performance and this led me to think, “How can I bring this to my design?” 

 


Jason Prado at Fort Point
Image courtesy of Hien Nguyen

 

It is often that we find ourselves glaring at our phones, listening to our headphones, browsing social media, or performing other daily rituals that allow us to be unaware of our surroundings.  And thinking in terms of design, it presents a major problem because it is very difficult to make people stop and take notice.  However, the series of exercises I just underwent revealed the space in a way that I would not have captured otherwise. 

Can I use these exercises in my site analysis?  It seemed clear that they can be another set of tools to make sense of the current state of the site.  This kind of practice can reveal the awful noise of a site but it can also shed light on the uniqueness or beauty of a site.  This is where one can harness, for example, a faint pleasant noise and bring it to the surface to contribute to a more complete design.  


“You get friction and heat”

Posted on by Susan Moffat

 

“Before you can synch up languages, they have to bump up against each other. You get friction and heat, and that’s good.”

That’s what choreographer Erika Chong Shuch is saying in this picture as her co-teacher, urban designer Ghigo DiTommaso, leans in to listen. The two instructors from disciplines with different habits, words, and tools of the trade are already doing a lot of listening—and debating—in order to learn each other’s languages and figure out how to study and intervene in public space with both bodies and design.

“With my artist colleagues, we can be recycling our language, talking among ourselves, but Ghigo stops me, says ‘Wait—what do you mean? What is that?’—it’s great,”  Chong Shuch told the class, punctuating her words with the physical gestures of a dancer.

The first meeting of the new Global Urban Humanities course called Public Space: Placemaking and Performance was a packed house of students from departments ranging from performance studies to archaeology to landscape architecture. During introductions, some students broke into song or dance, while others admitted that even talking in a seminar gave them stage fright.

“This is not about virtuosity,” said Chong Shuch. “This is not about pleasing people.” She promised to provide tools of performance for those to whom this was new. Similarly, DiTommaso said that he hoped to reintroduce the notion of “low-stakes failure” as a tool for experimentation in architecture, and to provide handles to the theoretical readings in the course for people “who are learning a trade”—whether as landscape architects or performers.

“We are both practitioners, first and foremost,” said DiTommaso, "and that is what shapes the way we look at theory." He said that fifty percent of the class would take place “in the street,” including theory sessions, "so you can look right out and test what we're talking about."

The course will start with readings in urban theory and performance theory, and proceed to the creation of student-led interventions in public spaces around the Bay Area.

“I’m not sure I even know what ‘public space’ is,” said Chong Shuch. 

“We know where we’re starting in this class, but we don’t know where we’ll end up,” said DiTommaso.

The progress of the course over the semester can be followed at the course website at placemakingandperformance.wordpress.com.

Public Space: Placemaking and Performance/Theories of Practice, Practice of Theories is listed as Landscape Architecture 254 and Theater, Dance & Performance Studies 266.  More information on the course is available here.  This course is one of three new interdisciplinary, team-taught courses exploring cities that are created each academic year as part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative.


Redirecting the Relationship Between Tech and Innovation

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Robyn Perry

"The notion that diversity in an early team is important or good is completely wrong. You should try to make the early team as non-diverse as possible.”
– Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal

“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

Shannon Steen’s recent talk, Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area, situated the broad question of how US cities are changing economically in a discussion that touched upon my own studies of technology and culture at the School of Information. Steen used Richard Florida’s notion of the “rising creative class” as the focal point of an examination of the state of art and artists, and the shrinking support of the infrastructure that sustains their work and enlivens our American cities.

Florida propounds the rising creative class as the solution to struggling cities, perhaps the most recent in a line of silver bullet strategies for urban renewal, as a commenter aptly pointed out in the discussion following Steen’s talk. Though the “creative class” sounds like artists of all stripes, Florida’s analysis leans away from the (struggling) thespian, painter, poet or muralist, and towards the oft-lauded tech worker. Many cities have created favorable conditions to usher in this tech worker, his company, and his future startup. Some of the I School curriculum is designed to funnel more workers, albeit thoughtful and informed ones, directly into Florida's creative class. In effect, Florida drops the actual artist from said creative class. What he offers instead is an ode to the tech workers, the “productive” creative class that brings innovation, “disruption,” and infallible youth.

Particularly interesting was Steen’s guidance through the history of creativity as a notion in Western culture, and its move from the exclusive domain of God to that of the Renaissance artist, the elitism of artist as distinct from artisan in the 19th Century, to the scientific study and intentional propagation of creativity in children in the modern era, which saw the beginning of the removal of the artist from her authoritative position on creativity. Steen’s talk brought into relief the fact that the current notion of creativity, like many other commodities in US culture, is something we think we can manufacture on demand, and something that we can grow, as if in a Petri dish, if only we arrange the right conditions for it. Many use the existence and bustling churn of Silicon Valley to evidence the fact that indeed, creativity is being pumped out by the hundreds of startups and apps and interfaces.


From an April Fool’s Day action by activist group Heart of the City and artist/interventionist Leslie Dreyer of Google bus action fame. Activists blocked buses and announced that a new service, GMuni, would be offering free transit for all.


However, this is all taking place at the risk of the heart and soul of our cities, and artists themselves. As “old-fashioned” creatives like playwrights, poets, writers, potters, sculptors, and their ilk are forced to resort to Indiegogo and other crowd-sourced funding strategies for one-off projects, their ability to thrive and produce art in the city withers. Meanwhile, the tech companies that are operating in the physical world are raising skepticism that this kind of “innovation” is at all good for San Francisco. On the contrary, it has spawned (some) companies that are capitalizing on public goods, sometimes with unabashed greed and opportunism. After Steen’s talk, I wondered how the burgeoning tech worker community might put some of their high incomes towards strengthening the arts in our cities. Although I’m skeptical that the problem would be solved by the very forces that have caused it, it would be interesting to challenge the Valley to produce a startup that makes the crowd-sourced funding of arts infrastructure extremely easy, fun, and hip.

Steen’s talk drove home the fact that there’s a direct interplay between the elements that make San Francisco and its surrounding cities the place to be, and those that forewarn its decline. Those of us at the I School have the responsibility to double-down on our efforts to be thoughtful and discerning in our contributions to innovative technologies, and tread lightly in a city that was made cool long before we came on the scene. Given a recent article by Carlos Bueno in Quartz from which the quotes at the top of this post were drawn, the tech worker culture of Silicon Valley has tended towards insularity and in-crowd behaviors. I can’t think of a better antidote to such insular clique-ishness than a thriving and protected arts culture in the Bay Area.

Robyn Perry is a candidate for the Master of Information and Management Systems degree at the UC Berkeley School of Information.


From Bricks to Bus Stops: Protesting San Francisco’s Second Tech Boom

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Will Payne

Shannon Steen’s presentation about the shifting role the term “creative” has had over the years provided a fascinating glimpse at the power of words to define and redefine populations, and their respective perceived value to the city and its rulers. Specifically, she carefully demonstrated how Richard Florida’s famous invocation of the “creative class” of liberated and affluent workers in his eponymous 1991 book has been used carelessly by planners, politicians, and journalists to describe a multitude of people, often highly fragmented by more traditional class and identity categories. Specifically, the difference in lifestyle and worldview between a poet and a programmer can be a much bigger wedge than the common educational background the two may share, or the fact that both rely on crafting “new forms” (a fairly durable definition of creativity) on relatively flexible work schedules to support themselves.

Recently, the most vivid skirmish in the creative civil war has been related to an astronomical rise in the cost of living in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, along with the fastest rise in income inequality in the country. One question comes to mind as I read about the latest unbelievable price statistics, or the rise of Ellis Act evictions, or the people struggling to get by on fixed incomes: haven’t we been here before? Some of the stories could have been copied and pasted from 1998, swapping Pets.com and Webvan for Uber and Airbnb. Not having lived through the first boom, one of the most striking differences I’ve seen through accounts of the earlier boom and bust is the earlier focus on radical action against property, exemplified by the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project of the late 1990s. See the posters below for an example of the kind of tactics they advocated, and their extremely specific target businesses (3/4 of the businesses are still around, although Circadia is just a regular Starbucks now, around the corner from KQED’s main office).


Posters from the 1990s Mission Yuppie Eradication Project


Image credit: FoundSF


While the group seems to have been a fairly small, violent segment of a broader movement criticizing Web 1.0 excess in a city full of exclusive parties and double-parked SUVs, I haven't seen anything this radical emerge in reaction to today’s crisis. Maybe the fleet of private buses ferrying commuters down to Silicon Valley is too massive a target, too perfect a metaphor for today's two-tiered economy, creating a handful of gold-plated jobs and a sea of intermittent gigs. Perhaps the most vocal critics of the yuppiefication of San Francisco made their way to greener pastures during the first boom, and what we’re left with is only a shadow of the activist Left who used to call the city home. Maybe the Bay Area’s much-vaunted food culture has been internalized to the point where rock star chefs feel more like creative class allies than mere gentrifiers. Maybe the impact of a decade and a half of slow-boil warfare and economic anxiety has limited the capacity of radical activists and allies to strike out too strongly at today's Crockers and Huntingtons, or the symbols of their wealth and status littering the city. Or maybe the creatives today on both sides of the civil war are just content to wage their battles with words, symbols, and social choreography (sometimes literally, in the case of some of the Google Bus protests), instead of the blunter instruments of bygone days.

Disclaimer: This post is a speculation on the history of anti-gentrification activism in San Francisco, not an endorsement of any particular method of protest, especially violent ones. If you feel the need for physical protest against urban space, may I suggest yarn? If you’re fighting eviction or want to help people who are, considering joining and supporting the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Will Payne is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley.