Posts Tagged ‘Activism’

This post falls under the heading: This is why I do what I do

August 15, 2016 Leave a comment

This post falls under the heading:

This is why I do what I do.


Received the amazing email message below from Kac Young. She fell under the influence of a dynamic group of radical feminists at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood, California of all places during the late 1960s. These were provocateurs who challenged all kinds of conformity and many of them were the nuns who taught there. These women were unafraid to challenge the status quo when it came to the Catholic Church, higher education, culture and society. They were known as the Rebel Nuns of Hollywood. They brought cutting edge figures to the campus, including activists and artists. Among the resident artists was Megan Terry, a major figure in the New York and national experimental theater scene then. Kac Young appeared in the original production of Terry’s “The Tommy Allen Show” at the college. Kac found a Reader cover story I did on Megan and Jo Ann Schmidman, who together forged compelling, socially relevant work at their Omaha Magic Theatre. Kac wanted to make sure Megan knew that one of those cheerful subversives at the college, in fact the very woman who brought Megan there, had passed away.



Megan Terry


You can linl to that Reader story at–

I have also included, thanks to Kac, links to some content about the places, the figures and the times she references in her message.

Kac says some very nice things about my writing but you should know she enjoyed quite the career as a television director before changing careers a few years ago. She’s also an author. Check out her website at and her LinkedIn page at

Kac Young

Here is the message she sent that made my day yesterday and that I think you will enjoy too (that’s Kac on the right).

“Dear Leo: I was in the original play The Tommy Allen Show that Megan Terry wrote and directed at Immaculate Heart College in 1969.  I was searching for her and found your incredible interview with her and Jo Ann Schmidman. I’m now following you and what you write about because you are terrific and there are no accidents. Thank you for a great piece on Megan.  I am writing to you because I want to get in touch with Megan. The beautiful nun who hired her to come to our drama department passed away two summers ago. She was Sr. Ruth Marie Gibbons that we all called “Ruth.” She was one of the leading drama teachers and persons of theatrical merit in the 60’s and 70’s having worked with Joe Papp, The Bread and Puppet Theater and La Mama. She graduated from the then Carnegie –Mellon and was way ahead of her time and vocation. Ruth brought Megan to our campus for the experience of having a radical playwright in residence at Immaculate Heart College which was frequented by The Berrigan Brothers and other anti-war protestors. These are the nuns who rebuked the Vatican and left the church because the powers that be in Rome wanted them to get back in their habits after a two-year experiment without them. The nuns found that being out of the habit made their work in the community more effective and in line with their purpose which was to serve humanity. The uniform habits proved to be a barrier and they wanted to be effective not quaint.  They were a feisty lot and they were smart. They owned the deed to the property at Western and Franklin in Hollywood, where AFI now sits, and were able to subsidize their mission statement with the proceeds from the sale of the College land.  They formed a lay community and have been doing good in the world ever since.

“I wanted Megan to know Ruth died. I thought maybe you could connect me with Megan. Or at least forward my info to her.  It was 47 years ago that we worked together. I became the 4th woman to join the Director’s Guild in 1973 and have three Doctorates to my name and other rabble-rousing credits.  It would be great fun to speak with Megan and let her know what an impact she had on all of us and the theatrical world. She probably already knows that, but it never hurts to tell her again.

“I love your writing Leo and I thank you for anything you might be willing to pass along to Megan on my behalf. Thank you…Your help is much appreciated. Thank you and I’ll be reading what you write from now on.  Thanks a zillion.” -kac

Love and Heartlight


The Mary’s Day Parade at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles,1964

The Mary’s Day Parade at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles,1964
Reproduction permission of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles


The Immaculate Heart College silkscreen room in 1956. Corita Kent is in the middle in the back, standing and pointing.

The Immaculate Heart College silkscreen room in 1956. Corita Kent is in the middle in the back, standing and pointing.
Courtesy of the Corita Art Center


Here are some links about the times and the place that was so alive in the 60’s.

The most famous of them all: Sister Corita Kent.

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine was performed first in LA at The Mark Taper Theater and was based on the Berrigan work.  Those were the people who gathered at the college along with Megan Terry, our playwright in residence.

Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action

June 3, 2011 8 comments

I love University of Nebraska at Omaha theater professor Doug Paterson’s passion. In the following story for The Reader ( I profile how he’s melded his art and his social activism in a seamless way through Theatre of the Oppressed, a theater form he’s mastered under founder Augusto Boal. My story appeared in advance of the international Theater of the Oppressed Conference that Paterson and UNO hosted a couple years ago. I am posting the story here to highlight different aspects of Omaha theater in the wake of the 2011 Great Plains Theatre Conference, which wraps up June 4.

Hey, you, get off of my cloud

Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of  art as social action

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (


Doug Paterson’s always used theater as an instrument of his insurrectionist principles. As a student in the 1960s he actively protested against the Vietnam War and other burning social issues and gravitated to progressive theater that challenged the status quo.

But it wasn’t until he saw Brazilian Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in action that his social activism and his art merged into a philosophy and a way of life. Seventeen years later the University of Nebraska at Omaha professor is a leading adherent, practitioner, facilitator and teacher of T.O., as much a political movement dedicated to social change as a form of theater.

Much of T.O.’s work involves developing scenarios with audiences around the issues of racial, gender and class inequalities. The idea is to spark dialogue among citizens in a living or social theater environment. The end goal is to generate dialogue with decision-makers in the real world as a framework for addressing these matters with concerted action, even legislation.

It is meant to be an empowering process.

“We see something that affects us. Some oppression or injustice or wrong and we identify with it, we understand it and we yell, ‘Stop.’ To Boal the very act of saying we can stop this is by itself important,” Paterson said.

The premise of T.O., he said, is that the oppressed are “dictated to” by a privileged, power-wielding elite. “They’re not in the loop of determining what’s going to be the agenda of their life. They’re told what it’s going to be and often through force of violence.” What T.O. helps people do, he said, is “learn techniques and methods to interrogate the world. It’s developing a critical sensibility so they can talk to power and demand dialogue.”

Why theater as a device to elicit participation in the political process?

“Boal’s phrase is, ‘We’re all theater.’ We can all do this. We’re all doing it all the time because we’re all actors who can change the world,” Paterson said. “In Theatre of the Oppressed we just give it a little bit of shape — to help draw the power out of a person or a community, because it’s already there.”

Theater also provides a well-founded structure for protagonist-antagonist conflicts.

The UNO educator has studied with Boal, a short-list nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and “jokered” dozens of workshops with him and his son Julian Boal. Paterson’s led T.O. workshops in about a dozen states as well as in Canada, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Africa.

T.O.’s organic, democratic system for giving the disenfranchised a voice is the focus of the May 22-25 International Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Omaha. Both Augusto and Julian Boal will give workshops using exercises and games that lead into T.O.’s Forum, Image, Invisible, Cop in the Head, Rainbow of Desire and Legislative theater.

The public’s invited to a free demonstration of Legislative Theatre at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22 in the Omaha City Council Chambers.

Six area elected officials will convene a mock legislative body to hear a set of scenes developed over three days of Forum workshops. These scenes built around local issues will be enacted and the floor thrown open for anyone to discuss, intervene, offer solutions. By the end of the session “legislation” will be devised and presented to the “council.” Paterson said Boal will then pose a question to the panel: “Would you support this legislation proposed by this temporary community?” That’s when the real dialogue and debate begins.

Paterson said to expect “a room “humming with activity,” lively discussion, laughter. “Nothing is coerced,” he said.





The dynamic interplay needs no formal introduction or explanation.

“If you see it you understand it immediately what it is and you can participate,” Boal said by phone from New York.

For Boal, T.O.’s not about finding solutions to problems but engaging people in exchanges that at least explore ways to combat or relieve oppression.

“I always say we should strive to have peace but the worst enemy of peace is passivity,” Boal said. “We must abolish passivity to try to do things in order to have real peace.”

True believers like Boal and Paterson believe in fighting oppression in whatever form it takes — violence, discrimination — through “the solidarity of the oppressed.” It is a movement of individuals and groups banded together in the belief that change is possible.





Paterson, who’s previously brought Boal to Omaha for this same conference, is a founder of the P.T.O. organization that puts the event on. This makes the seventh time Omaha’s hosted the event. It may also be the last, as Paterson plans to let new leadership take over.

The Omahan’s first direct exposure to T.O. came in Seattle in 1991. He was familiar with the tenets of Boal’s work but merely reading about it didn’t captivate him the way a demonstration did. Although Paterson had engaged in grassroots theater through the Dakota Caravan in the Black Hills and the Diner Theater in Omaha, he was still largely bound to traditional theater and its imposed world view that offer no mediation in or deviation from the end result.

Standing in stark contrast to that approach is T.O., which does not respect any fixed narrative or resolution. It’s all about inviting audiences and participants to intervene in and alter the story as a means for confronting and, if possible, ending oppression. Where traditional theater’s a monologue, T.O.’s a dialogue.

“I never got it,” Paterson said. “It sounded too serious. But then I saw it and it was so much fun and so interactive and so liberating that I said, ‘That’s it — I found where I’ve been heading for all my life.’ It just opened up possibilities. It’s asking through educational theater is it possible to transform the world to an equitable place economically, socially and politically.”

In Paterson’s view T.O. provides a structure for affecting change.

“Dealing with oppressed populations requires real dialogue…negotiation,” he said.

The goal, he said, is creating “a fair, equitable, humane world, a rational world where people have enough food and safe shelter, where crime is not encouraged by the economy, such as it is here, where poverty is not enforced, where violence is not the way of life. That’s what we want and all of us believe it’s possible.”

More than an academic or aesthetic construct, the work’s designed with real life applications in mind. Boal applies its techniques and forms to all kinds of community organizing, including his early-1990s bid for and election to the Rio de Janeiro city council as a member of the left-wing Workers Party. He used T.O. as an on-the-streets forum that gave people a sounding board to tell him what they wanted changed and he introduced legislation to try and bring about that change.

The more Paterson immersed himself in this new theater the more committed to it he became. The better he got to know Boal his conversion only deepened.



Augusto Boal



“I know Augusto as a mentor and quasi-father figure,” Paterson said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with him and we’ve talked far into the night. I really admire his work. I admire the mind that conceived of this and just kept relentlessly developing it. By continuing to work he made a path.”

Boal overturned his own traditional theater background in the ‘60s in response to oppressive military regimes in Brazil. At the time he headed the country’s national Arena theater, whose members began to resist the censorship and other government imposed strictures. Caught up in the struggle, Boal became politicized to a more militant, even radical stand. Branded a troublemaker, he was arrested, interrogated and tortured. Pressure from the West got him released but he soon became a political exile in Argentina and France.

He devised T.O. while in exile, drawing much inspiration from the late educational theorist Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Boal was little known in the U.S. outside “a very narrow circle” when Paterson first contacted him and brought him to the states for the 1992 Association for Theatre in Higher Education national conference in Atlanta, Ga.

“Boal came to the conference and just carved a whole new channel for how to make theater and who to make theater for in the United States,” said Paterson. “It was a wonderful experience and we had a wonderful connection.”

T.O. is now practiced around the globe. It operates centers in several countries. Where the movement got scant media notice a decade ago it’s well covered today.
Paterson said there’s some resistance to the movement because “the word oppressed scares people.”

In Boal’s homeland, where he lives once again, the Workers Party-controlled state government has a program called Cultura Viva (Culture Alive) that, Boal said, “helps us spread the Theatre of the Oppressed all over Brazil.” The program enables T.O. to work with schools, mental health facilities, prisons and other entities.

“This is the first time the government has supported the work that we do,” said Boal, an outspoken critic of Brazilian government since the ‘60s.

Just as for Boal the work is not an abstraction, neither is it for Paterson or for conference registrants, who include theater educators and community activists from across the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

Locally, Paterson hopes it’s a model groups adopt for presenting grievances to local elected officials that address some of Omaha’s long-standing oppressions. He referred to African Americans’ disproportionate poverty here.

“We’ve really violated their human rights and we need dialogue,” said Paterson, noting Omaha’s high incidence of black on black crime and sexually transmitted diseases and the ongoing segregation that divides blacks and whites. “There’s so much to do.”

%d bloggers like this: