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Voice Body Dialogue

han yu's picture

       As we read through Fraden’s investigation of Jones’ techniques in facilitating the Medea Project, it is hard for us to miss a salient characteristic of Jones of being mighty, tough and directive. There is even a whole section discussing her rants toward the women in their project. While some people may doubtfully question her toughness toward those women who are already in a disadvantaged position, I genuinely want to praise the courage and effectiveness of her style. Principles, disciplines and directions are essential in the formation of a dialogue. Principles can help equalizing people’s opportunities of voicing themselves. It is usually the truth that, breaking into a speech or conversation of someone else’s is one of the hardest thing to do. However, no matter in a classroom, or in a performance project, there always exist some people who are expressive, unwittingly dominating the space, and some other people who may be reluctant to voice and therefore fade out from our vision. In the Medea Project, as Fraden depicts, “Jones means to give everyone an equal chance to perform, by leading with their own story. This is an important principle, this equalizing the forms of participation, creating the circle model of the classroom rather than student rows with the teacher’s desk elevated in front”.

       The “circle model”, and “principle” reminds me of both my experience in this 360, and our weekly trips to the literacy group. In all three classes of this 360, we, the students, are always sitting in a circle, with the teacher, the facilitator, being one component of our circle, rather than in a separate, superior space, overseeing our performances. This form is the same in our literacy groups. To maintain this, we always need several minutes before our lesson to move all the chairs and tables (which were originally organized in a traditional parallel-rows style of a classroom), to form a triangle, or a circle for everyone to face each other while exchanging ideas. Sometimes we also have some creative ways of forming our circle. For example, the “fish bowl” once introduced by Jody in our education class allowed us not only the equal chances of speaking up, but also the necessary intermittence of focusing on our own thoughts and purely listening to others.

       Another congener of principle, is discipline. In our literacy group’s lessons, we set up a list of guidelines which includes several reminders for maintaining the possibilities of smoothly going conversations, such as only one person to talk each time, no judging, to have mutual respects, etc. One of my favorite is that we want everyone to say their names first before voicing their opinions. Even though we have already made and been wearing our name tags, saying their name to the whole class again helps enhance the body of existence, significance and further leads to self-esteem.

       With the principles and disciplines as basis, comes the essential body of dialogue, community. In the Medea Project, two major techniques Jones is using for creating real communities are setting up the connections among those women, and providing multicultural elements in their performances. After everyone learn to behave in a disciplined way which allows equal chances of exchange, people start to be able to notice the voices from others. “She (Jones) fundamentally teaches how to work in an ensemble, how to listen to others, how to move in synchrony. […] The Medea Project wants to revive community”. In a real community, people can listen to others, make connections, move, maybe not in the same direction, but move simultaneously with each other and exchange ideas, but cannot impose their own opinions upon others in a way like solo performance. Other than setting up these connections, Jones also introduces multicultural elements into the community. “Her(Jones’) use of Greek, African, and Asian myths and of folk stories is one way she insists on making her theatre inclusive”, “She has long worked with difference - different disciplinary structures, people from different cultural backgrounds - and her performances incorporate many different artistic traditions”. As in our 360, even though the main topic is about the social injustices from racial inequalities in the US society, and the mass incarceration from some flaws in the US justice system, the class is still inclusive to have students from different cultural backgrounds, rather than only limited to students who are raised in the US social structure. Different cultures reflect different perspectives and discourses. Our diverse background in this 360, also provide the women in literacy groups some novel experiences. For example, as we are discussing the Pope Francis Visit in America, not every one of us in this 360’s Thursday group are personally or faithfully connected to the pope and Catholicism. We start our discussion, as a community, with already existing differences among ourselves. This sense of inclusiveness may also enlighten the women to realize their own distinctiveness and at the same time respect other people’s opinions. As I observe, the women in our literacy group were also not all positive toward the Pope that they seem joyful to see our members from 360 were voicing different degrees of insights and understanding about this topic. They were then encouraged and willing to voice their questions. I could not imagine, if we were a group of Catholics students, provided them with only information and opinions worshipping the Pope, refusing the multicultural elements that are essential for dialogues, therefore set up a false, coercive “community”, how many of them would be silenced? 


jccohen's picture

Han yu,

Such a thoughtful piece.  Your description (and appreciation) of Jones’ approach – which, as you say, some may be more critical towards – leads you to articulate an interesting set of principles that you then apply to the practice settings of the 360 classes and the literacy class.   I’m especially compelled by your recognition that in any setting some people tend to be more expressive, and that for this reason the “discipline” that Jones exercises is necessary to create equal opportunities for participation/voice.  This reminds me of Dewey, from the very beginning of our semester, who also argues that “freedom” does not mean the lack of discipline but rather is arrived at through the exercise of certain principles of what he talks about as social interaction.

 One way in which our 360 and literacy classes seem different from Jones’ classes is that while we all use structured approaches, Jones is much more explicitly in charge; and I’m thinking too that the 360 teachers may be more explicitly in charge than the student facilitators in the jail.  What do you think about this?

 Finally, I like a lot what you say about how Jones works with listening and community, and how that’s connected with multiculturalism/diversity in both Medea and the literacy class.  And I’d love to hear also where you think the work is unfinished: what about the cracks, difficulties, work still to be done – in Medea and also in our 360 and the literacy class?  Looking at Freire on dialogue, love, and hope might help you think critically while still appreciatively about what still needs work…