The Jan Hus Homeless Theatre Troupe uses Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) as a medium for communal problem-solving around the issues of homelessness, joblessness and related discrimination. In their daily lives, the actors struggle with mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, family problems, unemployment, hunger, lack of sleep, and the stigma of homelessness. TO is a unique tool because it uses interactive, physical and playful exercises to help the actors explore situations in which they feel either personally or collectively powerless to make positive change. The actors are introduced to TO methodology through theatre games designed to allow them to critically examine their experiences and to articulate the collective problems they face. Participants are encouraged to share their personal stories which the group then improvises, scripts and stages. The director guides this process but never dictates the group’s artistic choices.
Ultimately, the group presents a public performance about a collective problem they want to change. The audience is invited to propose solutions to the problem by taking the place of the protagonist on stage. The director moderates the forum and asks the audience to consider the potential of each proposed solution.
By imagining and rehearsing solutions together onstage, participants explore their role in perpetuating the problem and prepare themselves to take action offstage. This program empowers the homeless to be catalysts for change in their own lives and communities, and it encourages participants to create a culture of cooperation, honesty, and safe physical communication.
The production that the Troupe is currently creating and rehearsing deals with discrimination in the courts and by the police, as well as difficult or destructive choices made by the homeless individuals themselves. The members have been working since June, and have, over the four months, become infinitely more responsible to the project, learning to show up to rehearsal on time and sober, thinking about the play outside of rehearsal and coming in with ideas, and entering rehearsal with a professional attitude. The Troupe members are exhibiting pride around their work and experiencing the new feeling of having completed a personal project--they are spreading the word to all their colleagues around the city, and we are expecting a big turnout at the premiere. The next step is to secure more venues for the NYC tour, and find funding for the tour, in order to spread the word and increase the project's impact.