“That’s not fair!” is often a plaint you hear from young children when things do not go their way or if a sibling receives the bigger half of the cookie. But Ma’yan, an organization dedicated to turning young women into critical thinkers and leaders, has transformed the phrase from an immature sounding whine to a rallying cry for fairness and justice with their political theater workshop program. Back in April, Repair reported on this particular work when the apprentices performed at the Manhattan JCC. But what if you were not fortunate to attend one of their four shows? Or what if you’d like to bring their work and method to your city or town?
Enter the That’s Not Fair! Handbook. Ma’yan has compiled their political theater program into a free, downloadable document so that groups all over the country can implement it with young women. One of the key issues that the Ma’yan works to confront with participants is the impact of privilege. Ma’yan defines “privilege” as “a system of unearned advantages that benefits some individuals and groups at the expense of others.” Privilege, for those fortunate enough to possess it, clears obstacles and makes it easier to reach certain milestones, such as graduating high school, attending a good college and getting your first job.
The hope is that over the course of the program, students will be able to identify and analyze privilege — how it impacts their lives and those of others. They will also get a chance and a space to talk about what they perceive as unjust (or “not fair” to use the title of the handbook) in their communities.
But Ma’yan doesn’t just want to show the girls what is wrong and broken in the world. They want to instill in them the confidence that they can confront these ills and help to correct them. And Ma’yan’s primary tool for social change is political theater.
Why political theater? According to artistic director Jenny Romaine, political theater is “a form of public dialogue in which we use the expressive tools of art and the imagination to seek answers to difficult questions.” But these are not high end productions with overbearing adult oversight. The real drivers of the action are the teens and Ma’yan emphasizes a “do it yourself” approach to the work so young people realize that they don’t need special gear or expensive materials to create puppets, props and costumes. This is not just an important lesson in theatrical production but for life, too. To be involved in service and social change sometimes means being resourceful when your budget falls short of your needs.
The handbook is replete with activity suggestions for each session, such as “Explosion Tag” or “Race to the Well Paying Job.” Each activity in the guide is intended to help the students learn to better work together, think analytically about a societal problem and then come up with ways to creatively engage with it. Also, the games are easily adapted to your setting and your particular needs.
You can download the entire handbook for free at Ma’yan’s website.