Theatre of the Oppressed Practices Shown in Activist Documentary Not Going Quietly

By Amanda Rabinowitz, Pace University Student and Fall 2021 Docbloc Fellow

Not Going Quietly (Nicholas Bruckman, 2021) is a documentary film that highlights the story of political activist Ady Barkan. Barkan was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 32, and fearing rising health care costs in light of the proposed 2018 tax form, heads for Washington as part of a group voicing its concerns. The documentary offers a voice to those who will not be silenced. As Ady loses his voice, the film showcases how he utilizes his limited time to fight for his life. 

While watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice how Augusto Boal’s Brazilian theatre practice (Theatre of the Oppressed) is applied while Ady and his gang are on the road. One scene in particular highlights Boal’s concept of “Forum Theatre.” On the road, Ady and his staff meet with local activists to practice what they would say, do, and act when allowed to confront legislative representatives. Ady and his fellow activists take turns in becoming spectators – one person would pretend to be a senator who refuses to listen to the activist. At the same time, the other would try to get the senator’s attention and response. 

By playing these games, the team of advocates was able to actively test multiple ways to approach the senator and get their points across. They placed themselves in various scenarios –where they get arrested (which did happen), where they were silenced, where they were avoided, where they were shunned, and where they were given excuses. This prepared them to approach these political figures, and in the following scenes, the audience can watch this Theatre of the Oppressed method in action. The results from this game were positive in many cities, harmful in others. Still, they allowed the activists to apply this practice and impact their communities and on a national scale. They became the voices for those who could not speak and ultimately accomplished what Boal taught. 

Learn more about the film here:

Watch Not Going Quietly

“20 Years Later” excerpt on HowlRound – Tomorrow!

On Friday, September 17th, at 3 pm EST, HowlRound will be live streaming an excerpt of our theatre piece “20 Years Later” that we performed at the 9-11 Village Gathering last Sunday with Rattlestick Theatre. “20 Years Later” is a documentary theatre piece that explores what it means to grow up in the wake of 9/11. Andrea Assaf and Heather Raffo will host the live stream event. Here is the link and information about the full event:  


20 Years Later: Trailer

Here is the first trailer for our upcoming virtual/hybrid theatre performance “20 Years Later.” This play explores what it means to grow up in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. We are currently in the process of editing the piece and look forward to announcing the performance date.

In the meantime, we will be presenting an excerpt of “20 Years Later” at “9/11″: A Village Gathering to Honor and Remember” hosted by Rattlestick Theater and the Greenwich House Music School on September 11th, 2021 at the West Village AIDS Memorial 5:00 pm. Details below.

9/11: A Village Gathering to Honor and Remember

Saturday, September 11th, 2021

NYC AIDS Memorial Park at St. Vincent’s Triangle

76 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011 

5:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Hope to see you there.

Reflections on 20 Years Later

This post is written by Kyla Jeanne, cast member in Docbloc’s “20 Years Later” debuting later this month.

When I first came onto this project I did not expect to write anything. I figured the script was set, cast dynamics formed, I thought I’d be expected to show up, memorize, perform, and leave. But from the very beginning it became clear that that was not the case. I was warmly invited into conversations they’d been having for months, and though I’m sure they’d heard thoughts I attempted to add time and time again they were graceful in their attention. The care and consideration my peers offered coming onto this project is reflected in the incredible work that’s come out of it. To be vulnerable and truthful in one’s experiences takes the cultivation of an extremely safe space filled with kind and caring individuals. That is the space I was welcomed into, and I am extremely grateful for it. These are the kinds of spaces we need to learn, especially regarding topics as difficult as 9/11.

I don’t remember learning about 9/11 in school. About who did it or why. I feel like the knowledge just came one day. “Osama Bin Laden sent 2 terrorists on a plane, and they flew those planes into the Twin Towers.” From there I picked up more information randomly. The “you know airports weren’t this strict before,” the “you know The Pentagon was hit too,” and the, “I heard Bush knew it was gonna happen.” Random things, unsure of which actually could be considered true information. It wasn’t until I visited the 9/11 memorial that I felt I learned anything. I listened to the phone calls, I watched the videos and read the blurbs. You can feel the weight of the souls there. And it’s heavy.

So after having the privilege of thoughtful conversations in a safe environment
and realizing that my actual knowledge regarding 9/11 was scarce, I began to wonder what exactly we as a country should teach about 9/11. The takeaway pushed on many of those who are too young to remember the event is, “Never Forget,” and I understand this. Never forget the atrocities committed throughout history, because though history never repeats it often rhymes. I do not think we should forget 9/11, but I do think we need to shift the way in which we remember and respond to it. The response of our government and our culture was an “Us v.s. Them,” the alienation, harassment and avoidance of anyone and anything that was deemed unAmerican. Instead of reflecting on the history that lead America to being subject to an act of terrorism and attempting to avoid future global contentions and conflicts, we doubled down. We decided that America could do no wrong, that the American people were more valuable than any other peoples, and our government took it upon themselves to infringe on our rights to “protect us.” Not from itself and the affects of the harm it perpetuates, but from “the other,” the “dangerous outsiders,” the “danger of the unknown.” This approach will only ring the bells of rhyming history. Going to the 9/11 memorial and seeing the amount of damage, both emotional physical, had an affect on me that reading numbers in a text book cannot. Perhaps what we cannot forget are the human lives and stories that were lost, and the incredible humanity that was shown afterwards. To show that even when humanity has tumbled down a road dark enough to produce such an atrocious event, that empathy, love, and understanding can heal and prevent future horrors.

Rehearsal photo from Docbloc’s “20 Years Later” at Manhattan Plaza, NYC.

Growing up and 9/11

This post is written by Jason Wang, devisor and company member with Docbloc’s upcoming performance “20 Years Later.”

I’ve been working on “20 Years Later” for more than two years now. Every time I come back into this work, I realize that the person I am and the things I care about have changed. In many ways, 20YL” is this evolving time capsule of how I’ve come into my own voice, especially when faced against this big, intimidating conglomerate of things that is 9/11. What am I supposed to think about this? This thing that happened when I was 0 years old that changed everything? This thing that is the intersection of safety, immigration, incarceration, mental health etc, but was never truly broken down for what it is, and never fully passed on to my generation. Working on 20YL is like confronting this big, echoey empty space, where we confront the questions we’ve always had since our first 9/11. What are we supposed to say about this? What are we supposed to think about this? The answer: “Never forget”, but what does that even mean? 

I feel held by my cast who feels so so similarly lost, as well as the cast of 10YL before us. Anything 9/11 related has always been like walking on eggshells, and I feel relieved to be building this piece with castmates who are down to delve into difficult questions, make some mistakes, but always hold each other in all our humanities. 

That being said, I hope to tell a story that is messy: reflective of what we’ve done, and what 9/11 really is. I hope to tell a story of my own growth through this process, the questions I’ve been asking, as well as the issues that I’ve been forced to reckon with as I come into my voice and identity. Above all, I look forward to our truths resonating with others like us, as well as bridging the generational gap when it comes to feeling and thinking about 9/11. 

Jason Wang headshot.

About Jason Wang: I am a Chinese-American playwright, actor, activist, and student. My work (and play) is an active investigation of the methods, power-structures, and ideals embedded in my communities that waste our time, drain our resources, and make us believe that our freedom is not connected. If you love something, you want it to be better. I work from a place of interrogation in generating bold questions and experimental solutions that embrace change and cultivate solidarity. Hit me up at @Flybippo on IG to cause trouble!

ground floor

It’s a bad time to launch a theatre company. 

I don’t know if there’s ever been a “good time,” — but right now seems particularly awful for myriad social, political, and financial reasons… many of them, the same as in the “before times” (i.e., pre-coronavirus) now exacerbated. In the fall, amid the pandemic, when I first started thinking about Docbloc, the idea scared me. I immediately wrote my concerns about starting a new theatre company:

Does the world really need another theatre company … and why am I the one to do it? 

What exactly can theatre do at a time like this? 

The NY “market” is saturated with small arts organizations that are all clamoring for some same scraps of resources (if that’s what you even want to call it), so why knowingly participate again?

Nonprofit arts systems are archaic and broken at best, toxic and destructive at worst – and a whole lot of mess in between. So how can I make something that doesn’t feed the system, and what would that look like? 

The list continued…

The truth is, during the pandemic, I was hellbent on not returning to the NY theatre in any capacity. I spoke with colleagues about it, many of whom felt similar. Before the pandemic, I was seriously questioning my place as an artist in NY, what is next, and feeling caught up in the cycle of staying busy as a status symbol without the feeling of actually accomplishing much of anything. Many mid-career artists identify with that experience of spinning in circles with no clear trajectory, either upwards or parallel (and there are plenty of structural reasons for that, which can be unpacked in future posts). Finally, I met with a creative coach, and we talked through these concerns. I raised the idea for Docbloc and she asked me to write down the reasons I wanted to create a theatre company again. 

I care about this work… documentary theatre, documentary genre, bringing together documentary artists across disciplines (ie: Docbloc’s mission) 

I want to make a space to create this work.

I want to make a space to support others in creating this work. 

Above all else, I truly believe we have to do the work to build the world we want to see, which means creating the “organizations” and “structures” that work for us (I put these words in quotes because maybe the things that work for us lack organization and structure in the ways we’ve been conditioned to think of them…) There is no “one size fits all.”

The purpose of this blog is to document Docbloc’s process – in making theatre, live performances, creating collaborations, and social practice. I intend for this blog to feature the voices of artists in our projects, notes, thoughts, photos, and videos, thinking through some big questions about art making, practice, and engagement. Docbloc is also an extension of and public component of my Ph.D. research (and I’ll talk more about that in a future post as well… as my timing for starting Docbloc has everything to do with the available resources at the moment.) I hope Docbloc will be a space to explore some of the questions above and create some space for new, innovative collaborations between makers of documentary theatre, film, and photography.

Ash Marinaccio

July 2021