The Power of Theatre

‘Today, I am so happy – I understand that we can be so different, but at the same time we are the same. We are women’. This was what one of the women in my group shared with Liviana Coranda, my dear friend and a fellow Kuringa from Germany, after she facilitated a two-hour session with them in Mahipalpur, an urban slum in South Delhi.

This afternoon was rather special – Livi was meeting and spending time with my group of warrior women, who she had heard so much about from me. Isis Violeta, her friend from Mexico, who was also meeting the group for the first time, won everyone’s hearts with her warm, radiant smile. In no time, everyone mingled and made friends with Livi and Isis.

Before coming to Mahipalpur, Livi and I discussed the various possibilities for her session and we decided to explore the rights of women to occupy ‘space’. In India, we grow up being taught that public and private spaces – with the exception of the kitchen – do not belong to us. We train ourselves to shrink, to occupy as little space as possible, to keep our heads down and walk fast and to be as invisible as possible in our homes.

The idea was to use the language of theatre to enable women to share their experiences, discuss and recognise how the disparity between men’s and women’s experiences of spaces creates limitations on their ability to make choices. How the lack of access to public spaces leads to their exclusion in the society. How women have to justify their access to public spaces, whether for education or work or buying groceries for home. We facilitated games and exercises to build trust and confidence and to make them experience their right to occupy as much space as possible unconditionally and uninhibitedly.

It was after playing a game called ‘Collective Body’ that one of the girls articulated how times are changing. Her grandmother was not sent to school, but she is sent to school. At the grandmother’s home there was no electricity, but at her home, there is electricity. The toilet was outside, today the toilet is inside the house. India is changing. Yet, women’s lives have remained the same. As she explained, ‘My grandmother and my mother were born in Delhi. They were only allowed to wear sari, and had to do all the household work. My grandmother used a fireplace to cook. My mother runs a tailoring shop and continues to do all the household work over a gas stove. Nothing has changed. The women continue to do all the household work alone.’

We discuss how strong patriarchal domination is embedded in us and how much it impacts our choices at every level. How the idea of limiting women’s access to certain spaces is strongly connected with limiting their choices. To choose what she wants to wear? To choose what she wants to study? To choose where she wants to work? To choose who she wants to love and to marry? To choose at what age she wants to marry or even marry at all? To choose when she wants to have children, determine the number of children or even to use contraception if her husband or in-laws are opposed to it? To choose to give birth to the girl child even if her husband or in-laws do not want it? If married, choose not to cook or clean on any given day? Where does society’s right to control and regulate individual action end, and the personal right to determine one’s own destiny begin?

The session ended on a very high note with a game titled, ‘Stop and Go’. The loud voices of women shouting, ‘Yes, I want this’ or No, I don’t want’ boomed throughout the building. Yes! we can construct a new reality and change our daily lives. It is very important to speak up about our right to make choices.

We shared moments of great joy with one another. It was very heartwarming to see the women keep the game going with some of them leading it and thereby multiplying warrior women.

We became aware of palpable high energy and a powerful force that had filled the space, emanating from the determination and courage of the women, to create their own path. Yes, we can change our reality. Such is the power of theatre – to get into hearts, to connect each other, to enable women to discover that they are enough if they are together!






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