Domestic Violence in Interactive Theater

Ingrid Schröder (born 1963) is a director, actress, creative therapist and co-founder of Buro Impro, an organization that implements interactive theater in the field of social work.

Hoezo, terug in je mand? (What do you mean, time for beddy-bye?) is an interactive theatre performance about violence in the home that you prepared. How did this piece come about?
Inspired by the World’s Women Conference held in Beijing in 1995, which included, among its most important advances, the condemnation of violence against women as a human rights violation, the Noord Brabant Office of Emancipation got in touch with the Buro Impro and asked us to perform a theater piece about domestic violence. We suggested interactive scenes, wrote them and directed the actors and participants.

“We are all actors” is a phrase formulated by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian artist who developed a new form of theater during the 1950s and 1960s that he called the Theater of the Oppressed. This interactive form of theater was intended to give the oppressed the chance to change their own situation by playing out examples of their situation live on stage. Were Boal’s ideas about theater the starting point for your interactive performances?
The performance has several starting points. First of all, it is intended to pick out violence against women as a central theme. Secondly, it is about the victim’s recognizing and admitting their situation, as many women often keep quiet about it because they fear not being understood. The interactive part of the performance is aimed to show the participants that communication is a possible preventive remedy for dealing with situations that could lead to violence. One looks for ways to improve one’s situation or for support for a possible decision to break up with a violent partner. One takes control of one’s life again – the oppressed get a voice again.

How does the piece function and who makes up the audience?
The performance has the effect of breaking a taboo. It wants to set a perception process for victims, perpetrators, helpers and interest groups into motion. Performances for helpers and interest groups have the advantage that men as well as women can be reached. The first performances were given in front of women’s organizations and in homes where victims of violence are helped. The various scenes have the effect of holding up a mirror to the women and are often considered intense and confrontational. Performances reflecting women’s experiences are important because they are almost always ashamed of them and they cannot or do not wish to speak about the physical and often very subtle psychological violence they have experienced. Especially for community representatives, the performances are often an eye-opening experience. They also serve to support the work of professionals in this field. The scenes clearly show that there is a connection between violence „behind closed doors“ and the violence that occurs elsewhere in society.

Are there also performances for victims of domestic violence?
Not yet, but we would like that. The government’s interest in it is growing.

There are various forms of interactive theater, for example radical theater, legislative Theater, Playback Theater, social drama and dramatic therapy. Which forms do you utilize and to what aim?
In our form, a typical situation from daily life is played out and then repeated. One can then intervene when someone wants something changed. Along with the participants, one looks for signs at which everyone can say… yes, that is the way we feel too, or… that is effective. The scene is worked through systematically, taking special attention to pose, pitch, literal meaning and decisions. Our work is not primarily intended to be therapeutic. Drama is also used as a means to depict change in the working situation of an employee or an employer. It can be performed individually or interactively and it is often followed by a discussion. In addition, simulations of specific situations are rehearsed in order to recognize and to practice one’s own competencies. The actor plays the „opposing role“, giving the participant feedback. This provides insights into how the participant functions and makes it easier to learn from this experience. It naturally has a conscious or an unconscious effect on private life.

Is interactive theater an art form or is rather an aid for social and political activists?
Actually, it is applied art with social objectives.

Printed in: Kunstverein Hannover: Ingrid Calame, Mathilde ter Heijne, Jörg Wagner, pages 130-132