The Making of a Theater of Social Art

Ricardo Dutra
3 min readMay 25, 2020

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by Arawana Hayashi

Social Art Performance, Yucatan. February, 2020.

Early in 2020 colleagues and friends of Presencing Institute and La Vaca Independiente gathered to explore “social art” as a profound vehicle for awareness-based social change. We were the guests of the founder of LaVaca, Claudia Madrazo. At this second Social Art Studio Residency held in the Yucatan Peninsula, we created a performance using Social Presencing Theater. This blog shares some reflections on the experience.

We call Social Presencing Theater a “social art” for several reasons. First, it is not something that is made by one person alone. It is co-created, made collaboratively, and within a social context. The underlying assumption is that every person is creative, has something to offer, and holds a vital piece of the whole. Second, it has a shared intention to be of benefit to others. Third, the process of making the performance is of equal value to the final “product,” the performance. The process is an expression of appreciation and has to include joy. And last, the performance mirrors back to us who we are as a community or society and enables us to reflect on our place in the bigger picture of humanity. The performance gives rise to reflection and dialogue.

In our studio space we created a loose structure by which a very diverse group of people could co-create the performance. The structure needed to allow enough space for people to settle into the natural beauty of the environment, to make spontaneous connections with one another, and to hold the contributions and inspiration of everyone, particularly the Mayan young people from 13 to15 years in age.

However, the structure also needed to hold a step-by-step process for creating, in 9 days, a final performance. Most of the participants had no experience creating theater. In the first few days the “adults” engaged in the basics of SPT in the studio space, and then offered a workshop with the young people in Izamal, the closest town. During the following days, we created the performance material, loosely using a Moment Work process (developed by Tectonic Theater Project). We got feedback from the young people on what we had made and invited them to also make “moments.” We integrated these moments together, arranged them in an order, rehearsed, and then adults and young people performed at the town plaza. After the performance, the young people and other performers sat in clusters with audience members to reflect on the experience.

The elements of “social art” were present — co-creation, collaboration, inclusion, and an emphasis on a creative process based on mutual appreciation. We held the intention to deepen understanding and relationships across cultures, languages, and ages, and to make visible the genuine gifts and concerns of the Mayan young people. This experience deepened our sense of the potential for social art as an agent of profound social change.

Special thanks to the residency guests, young people participating in the project, Presencing Institute, and La Vaca Independiente. For video, please see: https://vimeo.com/422470365/9cb01e5fb1

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Ricardo Dutra

Social designer. Ph.D. candidate at Monash University. Associate Researcher at the Presencing Institute. www.ricardo-dutra.com.