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Theatre of the Oppressed: Madalenas Nepal

February 6, 2016 , by Jerusha Rai, Leave your thoughts
 
 
Reading The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler left me in tears, that I had lived the 23 years of my life ignoring my own body, like I was almost ashamed of it. This collection of real women’s experiences of sex, love, rape, menstruation, genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasms gave me a much more complete sense of self, strengthened my friendships with other women, and I thought “Wow, everybody should hear these stories”, these stories we are not allowed to tell.

Madalenas Nepal, an all women theatre group, will be staging their first of many to come Vagina Monologues performance, translated in Nepali, this February 12 at the Mandala Theatre in Anamnagar, as part of their ongoing efforts for women’s empowerment through conversation and performance. Dreams presents an in-depth interview with the Madalena members, covering subjects like the “theatre of the oppressed”, male allies, women’s representation in the arts and the growing political activism among today’s Nepali youth.

 
Please tell us more about the vision of Madalenas Nepal and its members.
 

Madalenas Nepal is deeply connected with Madalenas International and Theatre of the Oppressed. With these roots, Madalenas Nepal understands itself as a theatre group where we don’t just talk about women’s empowerment, but are committed to practice and live it every day.

Within Madalenas Nepal, our 13 members aim to create a space where women’s empowerment begins and spreads. We aim to do that by claiming, offering and encouraging, first and foremost, female, safe, liberating and creative spaces to share, learn and grow together as artists and activists who are committed to promote peace and equality between all genders.

These spaces initially begin within us, within our own experiences as females and then within our group. Nepal is a rather restricted society when it comes to sharing feelings, sorrows or negative experiences. With Madalenas, we open up a safe space to talk about menstruation, questions about our sexual orientation or the violence we have experienced in regards to our gender – topics that society usually wants us to shut up about.

The next step now is to open this space up to others for example by potentially multiplying the method to other theatre houses, groups and beyond the area of Kathmandu, but also by developing relevant performances, such as ‘The Vagina Monologues’.

 
 
What are the activities Madalenas Nepal has been engaged in so far? How have these been received by the audience?
 

In July last year, we held our first Madalena-Laboratory, where we came together to share our stories and explore the various challenges women and girls face in Nepali society, which is still deeply influenced by patriarchal norms and values. Gradually, the formation of Madalenas Nepal as a regular group started. It was further accelerated when four of our members were able to attend the first International Ma(g)dalena Festival in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. At the festival, Madalena-groups from all over the world discussed the development of our movement and even worked on a shared performance, which we all performed as a Flashmob back in our respective countries for the International Day of no Violence against Women on September, 25th.

This Flashmob was our first performance as a group and it took place in a public space. We conducted it three times in Basantapur – one of Kathmandu’s oldest and traditional market space areas. At first, we were quite nervous about it and planned strategies in case the police came or people responded in a defensive and violent way. But it turned out to be a beautiful and empowering experience for both performers and audience. We received comments like, “Look, what these women are doing! They are trying to make the stereotypes imposed on Nepali women visible, so that we can break free of them!”

We were deeply moved and encouraged to continue with our work and currently we are rehearsing for “The Vagina Monologues” – including engaging in vagina-workshops to explore our own bodies, sexuality and related positive and violent encounters. We experience it as a deeply transformative and liberating process, but are also confronted with many stereotypes and contestations from people outside – especially males. Imagine – we live in a society, where holding hands in public is still considered as a scandal and where just recently a constitution was passed, that severely cuts down on women’s rights – we are considered second class citizens! So how dare we talk about sexuality, vaginas, about our own stories – and demand to be heard? How dare we claim spaces for women? And then of course, there is always the argument of ‘not all men’… Luckily, we also have wonderful male allies, who are encouraging and supporting us, being just as passionate about Madalena, as we are.

One of the major things Madalenas Nepal have done so far is to connect strong women. That has created a lot of positivity among women, but at the same time it has threatened some of the men, which we hope to curb. Ultimately, we want to live in a society that allows everyone to live in peace and equality with oneself and others.

 
 
Could you explain what the Methods of “Theatre of the Oppressed" are?
 

Theatre of the Oppressed is a set of techniques, such as Image Theatre, Rainbow of Desire or Forum Theatre as some of the most famous ones. However, Theatre of the Oppressed is much more than a box of tools – it is an international movement started by Augusto Boal in the 1970s and consisting of theatre-activists all over the world, who are committed to use their art in a way that encourages and enables society to be more peaceful and equal. This means, reaching beyond actors or the theatre hall; developing workshops and performances which create empowering and open spaces for interaction and dialogue on topics, we usually find hard to talk about. And through this, we develop connections with ourselves, our counterparts, our environment… We develop empathy, compassion and solidarity and then together we learn to find opportunities to dismantle oppression, violence and injustice, where usually we would have felt powerless and paralyzed. One of our members described it like this:

‘Theatre of the Oppressed is a theatrical space where oppressed groups or individuals get an opportunity to open up, to tell how she or he feels, when being oppressed and what kind of oppression she or he is facing. People don’t even know what oppression actually is! So when one shares a personal experience, then maybe the audience and/or other actors are able to understand and acknowledge that this is happening and that it is not right. So Theatre of the Oppressed is finding out what oppression is, whether we are oppressed or not, whether we are oppressing someone or not and once we get into it, we can explore solutions to move forward, we can heal together…so Theatre of the Oppressed in its essence is a space to get open’.

 
 
Was there any particular reason for creating a separate women’s collective? What do you think of women’s representation in Nepali theatre?
 

Experimenting with female spaces within Theatre of the Oppressed even before Madalena was developed, was partly initiated by many experiences the Jokers, the facilitators of the Theatre-Workshops had. Women’s stories and challenges are rarely heard, considered important or acknowledged at all. These female workshops were more successful in bringing out stories of violence against women and girls in these workshops. Madalena comes in as a place, where it is safe to share and where your experience is being heard, understood and acknowledged, instead of you having to defend yourself or your experience.

Similarly, when you watch dramas, films and other art-works not only in Nepal but pretty much across the world from a feminist perspective, you will realize that the power of writing, narrating, directing, producing stories and other artistic expression is still majorly in the hands and the perspectives of men. That means, that the stories are being told from a certain perspective, that the characters are being designed from a certain perspective, and we want to change that; contemplate these certain – male – perspectives with our own stories and perspectives – re-produce arts and culture in a way, which is able to integrate, appreciate and celebrate diversity.

You know, before we learned about Madalena, hardly anyone of us thought stereotypical roles would be a problem – or stereotypical for that matter – and we believed those ‘cops in our heads’ that told us, that women couldn’t be light or sound designers, producers, directors or whatever. Learning about Madalena and meeting other artists we started thinking: ‘Why not? Why didn’t we even consider this before?’ And with that realization comes the desire to also counter the lack of female directors, producers and technicians in Nepal, because even though lots of people in Nepali theatre still think that female artists just can’t do these jobs, we are here to learn and to prove them otherwise.

 
 
Would you say that political activism among Nepali youth is rising today? What kind of impact has it had on women’s empowerment in Nepal?
 

We discussed this in our group and our feelings and impressions are mixed. Yes, there is political activism amongst youth – we ourselves are quite a young group with members being between 19 and 28, and we ourselves have strengthened our activism through Madalena. What was also really helpful is the rise of social media. Most of the people at least here in Nepal just demonize social media as a place for youth to watch porn or upload profile pictures, but we experience it as incredibly useful in being able to access a variety of resources, to get information, to discuss and connect with others. At the same time in Nepal there is only limited access to social media, to information, to activism and so only some of us are able to voice our opinions and demand our rights.

 
  Tell us about the upcoming event: “The Vagina Monologues”.
 

‘The Vagina Monologues’ or shortly TVM is a script written by American play writer Eve Ensler after interviewing approximately 200 women and girls about their view on sex, relationships and violence against women. To our knowledge it is the third time that the Monologues are being staged in Nepal and the first time that the majority of the script was translated into Nepali.

For the past three months, we have met weekly, sometimes even daily. We have rehearsed together, but beyond that we engaged in related vagina-workshops, we laughed and cried together, learned about our sexuality, shared our positive and negative sexual experiences, questioned our identities as females, felt liberated, have grown and at least in parts also healed together.

 

Some of us say that they feel more connected to their vagina, which was almost like a distant place and unknown territory before; others share that for the first time they are being able to talk with their husbands about sex. Some of us experience TVM as a revolution, so that future generations do not need to face the same struggles as we do and so that they can do whatever they desire and dream of; others encounter a religion, a catalyst, a trigger within it for women to break their guards, their shells and become themselves.

And another interesting side-effect is that even without actually performing it yet, without throwing the proverbial stone, it has already created ripples. While we have grown stronger and closer within our group, our activities have also exposed us to harsh comments and attitudes from males in our scene and society. However, we have been tackling them as a team and were supported by many others – males and females – and somehow, we started to understand that such comments and instances are obstacles we need to pass in order to become Madalenas both individually and as a group – they push us to reflect on why we really want to do this, be this and why it is necessary.

In fact, the last months have given birth to so many stories of our own lives that we are already thinking about next year’s Monologues and potentially collecting and using our own stories to talk about our experiences of being females in Nepal.

 
 

The Vagina Monologues on February 12 will be the first of many interactive performances, and the Madalenas plan long term projects to spread the movement beyond Kathmandu. The young women are currently paying for the productions out of their own projects, but have launched a crowd-funding campaign to cover hall rent, technical equipment, workshop materials. Any profits from ticket sales will go to organizations supporting women’s living situation in Nepal.

 
 
To fund The Vagina Monologues, pls click below:

https://www.gofundme.com/63j6ct8k

 
 
 
Words by Jerusha Rai.
Follow Jerusha on Twitter @rjrusha
Read more from Jerusha here.
 
Photos from Vagina Monologues Facebook Group.
 
 
 

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