Students Experience Theatre of the Oppressed
Story by Shirley Slater (Media Relations Officer)
14 November 2005
Emilio and young Emilio (Nelson Viveros) relive experiences in the calabozo
Actors Nelson Viveros and Emilio Barreto, playwright Jennifer Hartley and Head of Drama Jim Morrisey lead the discussion after the performance
A wide range of students were privileged to spend time with actor and former political prisoner, Emilio Barreto for two days this week. As part of Citizenship Week groups including sociology, drama, Spanish, politics and amnesty students took part in workshops discussing Emilio’s experiences.
Arrested in 1965, Emilio Barreto spent thirteen years imprisoned without charge or trial in his native Paraguay. Students heard how he endured extremes of psychological and physical torture. He was imprisoned in a ‘calabozo’ – a windowless cell measuring just four metres by two and a half metres, which he had to share with up to twelve others. These included women, children and babies.
Barreto used his theatrical
training to remain sane
during his imprisonment.
When freed in 1978, no reason was ever given for his arrest and none offered for his release. Barreto used his theatrical training to remain sane during his imprisonment and on his release helped develop a theatre of the oppressed. Based on techniques developed by Brazilian actor, Augusto Boal, this is a type of interactive theatre which aims to transform the monologue of traditional performance into a dialogue between audience and stage. Barreto continues to use these techniques in workshops and projects with deprived classes, street children, homeless, prisoners and in the countryside in Paraguay. He usually works for nothing believing that the best way to prevent atrocities recurring is to educate and empower ordinary people.
The play he performs is called The Art of Silence written by Dr Jennifer S Hartley, a Scottish director/playwright who, while working in Paraguay, founded a theatre company called Fingers and Thumbs. Barreto was a major influence on her work and so she sought his permission to write a play about his ordeal.
The play aims to show the effects of imprisonment and torture on an individual; the means used to survive and the price paid mentally. In keeping with Barreto’s theatre style the performance was followed by a talkback session where comment and reaction were invited from the audience.
Head of Drama, Jim Morrissey said, “Emilio Barreto is a passionate and inspiring performer who has transformed his terrible experiences at the hands of a brutal dictatorship into a lesson and a warning for the rest of us. His philosophy is based on optimism and forgiveness and our students are privileged to have this opportunity”.