Ensemble-Made Chicago

About Face Youth Theatre

<a href="/items/browse?advanced%5B0%5D%5Belement_id%5D=50&advanced%5B0%5D%5Btype%5D=is+exactly&advanced%5B0%5D%5Bterms%5D=About+Face+Theater+Exercise">About Face Theater Exercise</a>

"Moment of Oppression"

By About Face Youth Theatre; Taught by Ali Hoefnagel

The exercise is clearly influenced by Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in that participants are asked not just to perform an experience of oppression, but to consider possible interventions. The technique of creating tableaux from a story is connected to Boal’s use of still images to identify important moments, where change could occur. By enacting these moments, rather than simply discussing them, the participants have a chance to use their bodies expressively, and to practice analyzing the way information is communicated non-verbally. Hoefnagel credits Megan Carney with teaching this exercise (see Carney’s version above). Hoefnagel’s version focuses on identifying the moment of allyship—or to imagine what allyship might have looked like in that situation.

From Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Collaborative Creation, by Coya Paz and Chloe Johnston, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press

1. Think of a story from your life.

Ask everyone in the group to think about a time they were mistreated or oppressed because of an aspect of their identity. Try to think of time when this happened and someone acted as an ally for them. Depending on the group’s familiarity with these concepts, it may be helpful to have the group discuss the definitions of identity and allyship and share some ways they identify. You may want to create group definitions of identity and allyship before you begin. 

2. Write.

Have them write about this event for five to seven minutes, being sure to include details such as what happened, who was there, how you felt. Make sure the participants understand they will be sharing this story, so they should choose one they feel comfortable sharing with a group. If you can’t think of time when someone was an ally to you, simply write about a time you felt oppressed or witnessed someone being an ally to someone suffering oppression.

3. Discuss the experience of writing.

Ask the group: Was it hard to recall a story? How did the writing make you feel? After everyone has discussed their experience of writing, then ask if anyone wants to read their story. Let a few people read--but don’t comment on the stories. This might be difficult for some participants, but emphasize that it is important for the stories to be shared without any judgement.

4. Get into groups.

Arrange the participants in groups of three. Each person should tell their story to the group—no need to read from the writing, simply tell the story. Ask each group to choose one story they want to embody--they should choose the story that they are the most drawn to, that they have clear ideas about how they could stage. Then ask each group to identify three moments:

  • The moment of oppression. In some stories, this might be an ongoing situation. Try to choose one moment that best illustrates.
  • The moment immediately after the oppression. This idea is to choose a moment where the oppressed feels the weight of what has happened.
  • The moment of allyship, when someone interrupted the oppression. It’s possible no one interrupted. In that case, describe an idealized moment of what allyship would have looked like. 

5. Stage the moments.

Ask the groups to stage each of these moments, creating a still image using just their bodies. Imagine someone took a snapshot of this moment—no words or sound or movement needed. 

6. Presentation.

Have each group shows their images. Ask each group to show images one at a time and solicit feedback from the audience about what they see. 


  • You may want to create group definitions of identity and allyship before you begin the exercise.
  • This is relatively high exposure exercise. No one is forced to share their personal story if they don’t want to do so--but they are all asked to consider oppression and allyship in their own lives.
  • To turn this into a short performance, the group facilitator can lead the group through the process of linking the images, cuing them on when to switch from one image to another.
  • This exercise invites participants to consider what allyship feels like—for both the oppressed and the ally. It also asks people to think about when they have the responsibility to interrupt oppression.