OMAHA – “So you’re my partner and I’m going to put my hand in front of your face and your task […] is to keep your face six inches from my hand.”
And just like that, Dr. Doug Paterson begins a theatre exercise during what started as an interview about his upcoming trip to Iran. What better way to explain what he’ll be doing?
Paterson left for Iran Thursday. In the coming week, he’ll be leading workshops and doing demonstrations at a street theatre festival in Marivan, Iran, a city on the far west end of the country, next to the Iraqi border.
Paterson has no idea how the organizer, The Dramatic Arts Center, got his name.
“Literally out of the blue, I received an email in mid-July,” Paterson said. “It was an invitation to come over and do the kind of workshops I do, which is a theatre approach out of Brazil.”
The approach is called the Theatre of the Oppressed. Over the course of Paterson’s career, it’s taken him to Australia, Brazil, Croatia, India, Israel, Liberia and Palestine.
The Theatre of the Oppressed came from a method of educating marginalized people. It promotes dialogue and can act as a facilitator for social and political change.
Paterson said he’ll focus on one particular branch of the Theatre of the Oppressed: forum theatre. Activities get the audience involved, encouraging them to make suggestions, ask questions and discuss their emotions.
“This has so many wonderful advantages,” Paterson said. “It demystifies theatre. It shows that we are capable of embodying our own ideas for proposals. It shows other people in our community are thinking about this.”
While Paterson will have a translator, most of the activities will be non-language based. Take the game with the nose and the hand. The simple activity quickly gives one participant a feeling of power; the other feels like a puppet on a string.
After the activity, it’s time for dialogue, which is what the Theatre of the Oppressed is all about.
“You’re talking to people you’ve never met before - but really engaging how that was- and you’re making a connection, even though you don’t know the person.”
Paterson is traveling with his wife Marghee, who has joined him on many of his other global adventures. He says they were both initially concerned debate over the nuclear deal could cause discomfort among festival participants, but now believe that’s less likely with the deal in place.
They’re just looking forward to experiencing Iran and meeting new people, even if that involves a 10-hour drive from Tehran to Marivan.
“We’re really excited about it,” Paterson said. “We don’t know that much about Iran. We’ve been trying to learn a little Persian. I’m going to be 70 next month, so I don’t pick up languages real quickly. You’re supposed to do that when you’re four.”
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