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Theatre of the Oppressed: Omaha Conference celebrating 20 years

I have just returned from Omaha, Nebraska where I attended a TO conference (Theatre of the Oppressed). It was a full six days of workshops, dialogue, performances and socialising. There was a three day Legislative Theatre pre-conference workshop and opportunities to work with practitioners including:
Charles Adams
Julian Boal
Mariana Leal Ferreira
Jesse Hagopian
Gloria J. Ladson-Billings
Barbara Santos
José Soeiro
Biographies can be accessed at KEYNOTE BIOGRAPHIES


WE explored Theatre of the Oppressed’s Legislative Theatre with jokers Barbara Santos (who worked with Augusto Boal at the original Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro) and Jose Soeiro, TO activist in Portugal. Our theme was Education, and we created Image Theatre, Forum Theatre and finally a full Legislative Theatre Session which was attended by invited guests and conference participants.

What is Legislative Theatre?

From The Forum Project’s website:

Legislative Theatre is an extension of Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques and functions to determine the need for, create, and enact laws. Beyond community building and issue awareness, Legislative Theatre uses theatrical techniques to create concrete and specific socio-political impact:

“In the Legislative Theatre the aim is to bring the theatre back to the heart of the city, to produce not catharsis but dynamisation…The Legislative Theatre seeks to go further [than Forum Theatre] and to transform that desire in to law” (A. Boal, Legislative Theatre 20).

After an intense three days we began the Conference at University of Omaha where Doug Patterson started TO twenty years ago. TO BE CONTINUED.

Ten things I learned at The Creative Aging Conference, Washington DC JUNE 2014

So I am sitting in a sun drenched room in a gorgeous little hotel called Hotel Lombardy in Washington DC.

taken at ENCORE! Hands on Creative Aging Training for Artists, hosted by Susan Perlstein and Stuart Kandell

I have just spent four crazy filled days talking about something that previously I would have thought “What…you mean what?”

These four days have opened other worlds for me and in turn hopefully for our community back in Queensland.  I have met gloriously friendly and extremely capable people who have spent years bringing creativity to the elders of their community. Why you may ask? Well I learned that too! Gene Cohen, a revered elder of the NCCA  community dedicated his life to researching the effects of creativity on the elderly. One of his favourite sayings was “Creativity is like Chocolate to the Brain”. NCCA, or National Center for Creative Aging here in Washington ( has based their work on his research and this was their first ever conference. Several Aussies crossed the Pacific to attend, and I did not know any of them, but I know them now: Margret Meahger from Port Macquarie who founded Arts and Health Conference, Australia (its in Melbourne this year and Steve Mayer-Miller who began CrossRoad Arts in Mackay Queensland ( ).

I loved this image: for me, a whimsical image of belonging

I loved this image: for me, a whimsical image of belonging

So what did I learn at this hugely impactful conference? The below points are not chronological. I am allowing the thoughts to emerge as I write, rather than predetermined…I think it is more alive that way, at least for me:

1. There is a very fine line between friendly, open and equal exchange of processes and a slightly condescending tone.

Mostly I witnessed enormous skill where facilitators worked with us in a collaborative and open manner. The challenge is how to present creative arts to people who may have hearing loss, memory loss, dementia, etc. and still remain collaborative. Some of the facilitators were brilliant at this: on our final post conference day, we worked with four facilitators:  who all excelled at connecting to their “clients” (and we were their clients that day) in such a light, fun and respectful way:

  • Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, Co-Founder MacPhail Music for Life
  • Margot Greenlee, Founder, Bodywise Dance
  • George Merced, Associate Artistic Director, Pregones Theater
  • Jeff Nachtigall, Founder Open Studio Projects
I watched exquisite skill, huge sense of humour, “yes-and”, strengths based work.
2. I learned the importance of planning programs and how these plans are not so different from the collaborative rehearsal processes that we use at Force of Circumstance (FOC)  and 4change. I have dreamed on these approaches to include:
  • emphasis on process AND product. Jeff Nachtigall talked about the importance of not sacrificing one for the other, rather allowing both to sit side by side. This is certainly how i see FOC: highly aesthetic productions with a very powerful process.
  • Mastery: that all participants learn new skills. In our case (FOC), the involvement of professional actors from multiple generations opens up opportunities for new learning across the age groups.
  • Social engagement: the importance of sharing the space, food, conversation, as well as the work.  FOC places a lot of emphasis on hosting and it is wonderful to see how this is reflected here in DC.
  • Adult Learning Principles: now this expression was new to me, though the process was not. Check out for more clarification.
3. That artists have summed up the joy of creation so beautifully. Here is a quote from Willa Cather
What was any art but an effort to make a sheath a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself-life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose
3 and 3 again: “Setting an Intention”: Patricia Dubroof, the gallery Director at Iona Senior Services, began her presentation with “lets set an intention”. I loved the language she used. I normally use “what is our goal for today” or “what do we want to dream on”, but “to set an intention” seems to combine both of those things and keeps us firmly in the drivers seat. Thank you Patricia! I will use that expression!
4. That there are so many wonderful organisations dedicated to working with elder, both in homes and in the community. So many intergenerational programs. Such richness, and I feel motivated to bring these ideas back home and begin to implement them. Should I set up a meeting with Campbell Newman (our Premier of Queensland) to discuss where we are going regarding creative ageing?
5. The importance of evaluation: The conference had very simple evaluation forms that we filled out after every session. It covered the content and process, the skills and the logistics.  A very simple evaluation which I loved was suggested:  “If this workshop was a show, how many stars would you give it?” So simple!
I think evaluation is something that artists often fall short of: we are too busy creating our work let alone evaluating it. I think I will create some evaluation forms to have on hold, something that can be pulled out and adjusted depending on the workshop/performance.
6. Our Potential:  something our keynote mentioned is still resonating with me: Mark Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, entertained us royally with a beautifully prepared presentation that set the tone for the conference.  First of all he quoted Gene Cohen:
What has been universally denied is the potential. The ultimate expression of potential is Creativity.
Its worth checking out his website:
He also said “the arts bring us together and transcend” and I will add the arts bring us together and transcend limitations and obstacles, and open up the doorway to our enormous potential, regardless of age and circumstance.
7.  We can no longer only focus on K-12 education. We need to change that to “Cradle to Grave”…what a disturbing expression but it really visualises the fact that we never stop learning. and science can now prove that our brains continue to grow as we age, and in fact can work even more effectively.
8. Problem solving is creativity with a capital C: there were so many people wanting to present at this conference, that the solution was bringing several facilitators together on the floor at the same time. So not only did they have to improvise their presentations most of the time, they also had to negotiate relationship. What was so marvellous about this was the modelling that I observed. Most facilitators warmed to this way of working extremely successfully, to the extent that in one particular workshop (Using Storytelling to Build Community and Enhance Cultural Understanding with Cathy Dewitt, Molly Sturges, Russella Bradman and Anthony Hyatt) I was convinced they were a team. Anthony simply joined in with his violin at most appropriate times as Molly and Cathy moved seamlessly between their own presentations.  I think more collaborative conferences and leadership exchange conferences  should risk this format, because not only do you get an insight into multiple ways of working, you also witness the modelling of the process.
9.  There is such a thing as an Age Friendly City. There is a whole movement! And it is international! Again, a meeting with Campbell Newman may be a good idea here: is Brisbane an Age Friendly City?
10. DREAM BIG: all the people I met who have achieved huge things in this area have dreamed big. People like John Zeisel (“I’m Still Here” his book…check out his website who talked about environment not just being a place. It is also how you are welcomed into that space.  His research will enrich mine: the importance of hosting the space as well as providing the place.  Susan Perlstein who founded National Center for Creative Aging ( modelled the way she works with elders: respectful, deep understanding of time, process and needs. This reinforced the importance of ‘know thyself’ when embracing the role of facilitator. The more we know ourselves, the more we can model best practice, and “the medium is the message”.
Thank you National Center for Creative Aging: I have learned so much and hope to take much of it back home and ‘Dream Big’.

A reflection from Jean Houston which could relate to our present political, social, cultural, environmental situation

I have been working with Jean Houston Page (Official) a remarkable philosopher and guide, who creates change wherever she goes. Here is a quote from her work that seems to contextualise everything that is happening right now in our small world in Australia: and our ‘sufferings’ can be seen expansively to include our political and social environments: Jean says:

“What would your life be like if from this moment forth you regarded your sufferings as refinements?…The suffering, which is inevitable, would be the vehicle for the recasting of your nature. Then pathos might becomes mythos, and instead of suffering in the school of hard knocks, you would find yourself whipped into consecrated shape, becoming a Grail instead of a crushed plastic cup.”
Jean Houston, from The Search for the Beloved.

The culture of the arts in Queensland is changing with companies disappearing and new companies emerging as the funding culture changes… and i am hoping that we are “whipped into consecrated shape” and we become the Grail, rather than the plastic cup…thanks Jean…

sometimes i see a play and…

This is a blog post…I am not re editing, re-shaping or re-checking…i just want to write from the sense of satisfaction that I am feeling right now…I have just arrived home after watching the QUT Final Acting Students perform in Mnemonic, a beautiful contemporary performance directed by Adam Cook and designed my Jessica Ross. I wish i had a list of the final year acting students, because I would address every one…so you will be referred to as a wondrous ensemble…Dianne Eden has held you together for the last 2.5 years, nurturing and guiding you so that you would shine…and shine you did…sometimes but rarely I watch a play and say…yes, I could have written that…I don’t mean as good, or as profound…but the ideas in Mnemonic were ideas that I hold close: James Hillman, the father of archetypal psychology, talks about the individual not being made up of history, rather they are imagination…this was a strong message for me tonight…we are what we imagine…

The other theme I adored (and those of you who know me will know why)…the search for belonging, the search for HOME…

We began with a leaf. We finished with the world.

Thank you actors. I will not forget your storytelling tonight. The image that is still resonating with me is the rolling of time, bodies spilling over the stainless steel table, spilling, spinning time…

Thank you!


So as some of you may know, after four decades of theatre making, I am now training myself in the wild world of producing. My first attempt is to attend Artour and ‘sell’

HOME: A Story of Belonging

MARGI in the Redwood Forest

MARGI in the Redwood Forest


First of all, here is a glimpse of what HOME is: I wrote these notes as an introduction to the performance excerpt, twelve minutes of a collaged version of HOME: to remind some of you who have seen the show, and to whet the appetite of those who have not yet seen it. Due to time limitations it could not be used, so hey, I will publish them instead!

The idea of HOME, a story about belonging, began when my youngest daughter was living in Palestine, witnessing homes being bulldozed and people being removed from homes where they’d been living for generations.
It was in stark contrast to life in Brisbane: “the place we love to hate and hate to leave”…

And so in 2011, I gathered a team of dedicated artists and we began our journeys HOME.

• 3 creative developments in Chicago, Mexico and downtown Brisbane at Metro Arts Theatre
• An indie season up the hill at La Boite
• A Gold Matilda Award and multiple other nominations
• The creation of a new company “Force of Circumstance” – Queensland’s 1st specifically multi-generational theatre company
• Secret ongoing negotiations for another Brisbane season in 2015 (Shhh)
• The HOME team are ready to share their work throughout Queensland and to hear more stories of HOME from around the State: so here we are at ARTOUR SHOWCASE!


1. ARTOUR caters extremely well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Ab.Fab. Catering Team did a brilliant job at keeping the wolf from the door: and I was hard to please, being a coeliac. Thank you Ab.Fab!!! Brilliant!

2. JO CURREY, ARTOUR’s Tour Producer, was a terrific organiser of the event: Jo answered tens of emails, sometimes on a Sunday evening! I was researching in Greece until five days before the showing, so everything was arranged at the oddest times, yet Jo still managed to address each issue with enormous care and respect.

3. PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE: As a new producer, I think I needed to write to the Presenters of shows BEFORE the conference. The producers who had toured before had a HUGE advantage in that they knew who the folks were who presented work.

I had no idea!

Meetings were happening everywhere, except in my ‘own back yard’! I think this is easily rectified by getting a list of the presenters who are coming to Artour Marketplace, and sending them a friendly hello.

4. BE ON TIME: Due to ridiculous jet lag I missed the opening session. As a result I felt an hour or two behind all day! Make sure you are there early enough so you get the lay of the land BEFORE the action begins.

5. GET CARDS PRINTED, both postcards and business cards: these were a great asset. I went on line to Vistaprint. Being a newbie, it had to be simple. And it was: I selected a design, filled in my details and pressed send. In three days I had cards and postcards delivered to my door!

6. FIND A PRODUCING MENTOR: this is a hard gig, though extremely friendly. With colleagues supporting you, it is much easier for the Newbie. By email, I had approached two wonderful women who were very skilled at producing. Both of them offered very useful advice, not only beforehand but throughout the actual day.

7. DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALONE!!!!!! I have marvellous creatives who came on board to create HOME’s visual presentations, set up the selling table and the performance as well as ‘call’ the performance. Bring your theatrical community with you!!!! It means that you can just put on your performer hat when the performing time comes. Have your creative team help work the crowd!

8. FOLLOW UP IMMEDIATELY: again, work collaboratively. Leah Mercer, my working partner, and I write collaboratively: I write something, send it to her, she adds to it, sends it to me and this continues till we are satisfied. Theatre making is a collaborative art form, and I think producing has to be collaborative also!

9. DON’T PANIC: i think a lot of work can be done after the fact. Four companies (including HOME team) were chosen to show a short extract of their work in the evening after dinner break. This happened four hours AFTER the presenters had gathered together to discuss what they were interested in purchasing: now this was a difficult thing to hear! We had not even shown our work!

After voicing our concerns, we were assured that this would be addressed, and I feel confident it will be. I approached the creative broker of Artour, Luke Harriman after my showing, presented him with a hard copy of HOME: a Story of Belonging’s Presenters Pack (with all of the workshop material as well as the details of our performance: and will follow up within 24 hours.

10. ENJOY YOURSELVES!!!!! It really is a friendly crowd. Everyone is out to do a good job and Artour was so enthusiastic as they embraced this new approach to the marketplace. Because I am a newbie, I don’t know what used to happen, but I know now that with preparation, energy, enthusiasm and a sense of humour, only good can come out of this.

Congratulations Artour for a strong experience. You will be hearing from us!!!!!

Margi and the HOME TEAM