NET/TEN Shareback: Looking for Lilith - Theatre-Based Workshops in Guatemala

2013 Spring Seed Grant Recipient

Looking for Lilith (Louisville, KY) sent three artists to Guatemala in June 2013 as part of their Faith Stories Project. The artists worked with a group of both Ladina and indigenous women, using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to assist the group in creating theatre workshops that deal with domestic violence in their communities.


Working in a cross-cultural setting requires a different level of planning and awareness.  After working with women in Guatemala for 10 years we have learned some important tips about leading theatre-based workshops in cross-cultural settings.  Most of this we learned “the hard way”. If we could save others some stress and struggle we would like to do so.  These tips especially apply to groups that have little to no theatre experience and may have limited literacy skills.

Jennifer Thalman Kepler
Community Outreach Director, Looking for Lilith

Things we’ve learned about leading theatre-based workshops in Guatemala


o Find out as much as you can about your group, and about performance traditions in the host culture.

o Listen carefully to each other’s stories, thoughts and feelings, AND share your stories and yourself.

Much of our work is based on oral history. When taking oral histories for devising a play as part of our ensemble process in the states, we try to keep the interviewer’s voice out of the story as much as possible. But when working with our partners’ in Guatemala, we have found that sharing our own stories builds trust. If we are asking a group to tell a story around a sensitive subject, it is really powerful for us to share stories as well.

o Practice and teach reflective/active listening

We learned early on that cell phones are regarded differently in Guatemala—for many of the women who have traveled for days to be with us, they are a lifeline to family, and might be answered at any moment. To start discussion on how this impacts the culture of the group, we began sharing 2 short scenes before starting story-circles: one in which both partners practiced looking at one another and using facial expressions and para-language to respond to what they were hearing, and another in which one of the partners was not looking at the person talking and answered her phone and walked away during someone’s story. We then asked the group for observations, and together the groups came to agree on parameters for how they would hold and respect one another’s stories.

o Let them help you learn words in their language. - It is empowering to them.

This is all about shared expertise! If you are teaching an international group a new exercise, you may be the expert on how the game is played—but the group is the expert on the language. When you feel embarrassed at not knowing how to explain something, it can be really empowering to turn it over to the expertise of the group—and it helps everyone to “own” the game, exercise, or rehearsal.

o Share meals together and ask about different foods.  Be open to trying new things.

Also, if you are working with women, it can be helpful to think through food prep so that they don’t have to prepare the food and clean up. In Guatemala, the women are responsible for food prep, service, and clean-up in their own homes 365 days/year. We learned through experience what a gift it could be to offer to “host” and clean up the meal while the women relaxed, AND how bonding it is to all clean up a meal together!

o Play lots of theatre games. Start with really simple ones and build from there. Goofiness can be a great tool!

 o Be willing to do what you are asking participants to do:  Modeling, modeling, modeling!

You can think through how to explain a tableaux until you’re blue in the face, and can translate the concept several different ways. OR you can ask the group to count, “1,2,3 freeze,” and SHOW what you mean. The second is more effective 100% of the time. It also breaks through shyness and reluctance, and makes the task more fun, less scary!

o If leading in a second language, think through instructions in language of participants before workshop.

If working with a translator – make sure you leave a lot time for the translation.  Everything takes twice as long when it has to be said twice and there may be more need for clarification of instructions.

Translating is exhausting – it can be helpful to have more than one translator especially if you are working over several days or planning a lot of small group work.

We also found that in some situations, translation is superfluous. In a workshop a few summers ago, small groups were working on scenes, and there weren’t enough translators for each group. One group, consisting of a native English speaker, a native Mam speaker, a native Quiche speaker, and a native Spanish speaker, were without a translator. Before we as facilitators could problem-solve, the four had started working vigorously on their scene, using their bodies and what shared words they knew to communicate. Language is only one form of “talking,” after all!

o Take care of yourself – the way your body feels is not an opinion.

This is a big one. On one of our long trips to Guatemala, all three Lilith facilitators became very ill with parasites/amoebas over the course of our 6 weeks there. Regardless, we didn’t cancel any workshops or rehearsals—we just had whoever was least sick lead them. In retrospect, that was crazy! When you are ill, it’s not about work ethic, it’s about what your body needs. Respect that!

o Baby steps are still steps forward.

Devising and rehearsing cross-culturally feels very different than it does in either ensemble’s “home” space. You might’ve planned to spend an afternoon’s session devising scenes dealing a topic—and instead the whole day is spent in conversation about that topic, with not a single thing ready to perform--because that’s what the group needed to do in order to move forward. Revel in what is accomplished, not what isn’t!




Exit interviews from previous visit (50 second clip, YouTube)

Full Interview (15 minute clip, YouTube)

CEDEPCA – Women’s Ministry website 

Las Poderosas Theatre Company – Website in Spanish

Itinerary for Guatemala visit and Faith Stories Project


Jennifer Thalman Kepler – Community Outreach Director

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Friday, January 24, 2014

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