9th Mar 2012: Tackling Internal Oppression by Emily Steedman

Forum Theatre

Name of speaker and subject:

Emily Steedman
Augusto Boal’s Rainbow of Desire Theatre Techniques: Working in the context of mental health and community

Title of talk:

Tackling Internal Oppression

Bullet points of what you would like to cover:

  • Overview of Theatre of the Oppressed and Rainbow of Desire techniques
  • A look at how I see those techniques being used in the context of challenging deeply rooted stigma and discriminatory beliefs about mental health and mental ill-health

Suggested you-tube links, websites and / or texts where further information may be found:


A few words about you and your passion:

I strongly believe mental health and well being are issues that affect everyone and that one of the fundamental oppressions I encounter is the idea that there are people who are mentally ‘well’ and then other people, who are mentally ‘ill’. Many people with a diagnosis of a ‘mental illness’ live predominantly mentally healthy lives, while other people experience periods of struggle with their mental well-being while having no diagnosis of a ‘mental illness’.
The very categorisation of some states of mind being ‘good’ while others are seen as ‘bad’ is a limiting perception. Culturally we are expected to be ‘well’ in ourselves or we need to be made better. This has led to and perpetuates an unbalanced system of people who are ‘well’ in positions of expertise and ultimately power, treating/supporting/caring for people who are living with the experience of often troubling and uncomfortable mental states. Their own knowledge and understanding of themselves can often be ignored or seen as symptomatic of their ‘illness’, if not by others then by themselves
Rainbow of Desire concerns itself with the oppressions that individuals and groups internalise, effectively becoming the ‘cops’ in our own heads for the oppressive systems that limit us. The techniques were devised to make the systems of oppression and the dynamics that help us internalise and therefore enforce them on ourselves more visible. It also creates space to develop Forum pieces to tackle these oppressions collectively
‘Together we locate and examine the Cops in the Head knowing well that, if those Cops are there, they have come from some Headquarters outside ourselves. We try to discover and address the ideology of each Cop and not concentrate our attention on the particular individual. Theatre of the oppressed NYC website

A few lines about the history of your subject:

Rainbow of Desire techniques have developed alongside Augusto Boal’s other Theatre of the Oppressed practices. It evolved in response to challenges that arose through this work in recognition of internalised oppression