‘Corporations in our Heads’ by Theatre for Living
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
I entered a room packed full of chatty people at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House last Friday. I noticed a good number of young people there as well, which I always find to be a good sign when attending a theatrical event. All gathered to partake in Corporations in our Heads, presented by Theatre for Living. The company is touring the piece through British Columbia and Alberta until the end of November.
When I read the synopsis, I knew exactly what I was in for: “Theatre without a net. No actors. No play. No script.” This was Forum theatre, originally developed by Augusto Boal as a means of helping people change their world. In this style, the audience doesn’t just passively observe the action—they have a direct influence on it.
Hosted by David Diamond, the event was part theatre, part therapy, and full improvisation. The audience was asked to hop onto the stage and respond to whatever was going on. Three people were asked to offer their own stories of how corporations have negatively affected their lives. The rest of the audience was then asked to vote on which story resonated the most with them.
I was not completely surprised to find that I had raised my hand to offer a story. And I was not at all surprised to find that out of the 70-odd people in the room, 68 voted to have my story played out.
So this review is really as much a critique of the event as of myself.
I told the audience of my experience one day at American Apparel while browsing for clothing with my boyfriend.
A clatter of corporate messages was released in my head when, upon spotting a pair of colourful pants, he said, “Any girl wearing colourful pants is just… mmm!”
It was the word “any” that triggered the thoughts for me.
This word was lumping me in with all the millions of other women being told to look, think, feel, act, and be a certain way. It made me feel small, insignificant, and unsatisfactory.
My boyfriend was only voicing the thousands of message echoed by corporations influencing us every day.
Various audience members then volunteered to take on the roles of the corporate voices going on in my head in that moment. They were personified as Victoria’s Secret, Facebook, and LG Mobile. Audience members then came onto the stage to take my place in confronting the messages, creating some really poignant moments.
As one woman defended herself against the character of LG, both ended up staring at each other in tears. After combatting against the words “You’re not good enough,” the host then asked the woman what her innermost thought was. The room went silent as the woman admitted, “I only half-believe what I’m saying.”
This is a story that’s been told many times. People being told that they are not good enough without buying certain brands or beauty products.
I felt guilty for raising my hand and being chosen over the two other stories which I found much more interesting. One woman was in conflict over whether or not she should put a lock on her electricity meter—something far more politically charged.
But the fact that the majority of the room picked this story as the night’s subject tells us that this is a problem that affects everyone. The battle against the forces we want to change can seem insurmountable.
This kind of theatre aims to empower. It allows us to step away and gain some perspective on the factors influencing our life. For those two hours, that room full of people was united in learning how to fix the problem on a small scale, in hopes of transferring that knowledge to a big one.
If you’re looking to connect with a group and dip your toes into social activism, keep your eyes peeled for Forum theatre.