UK Theatre and Dance builds a "Tunnel of Oppression"

The Social Action Theatre class in the University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance, led by Professor Nancy Jones, has devised their first “Tunnel of Oppression” interactive theatre project for the UK campus community. On Saturday, May 1st at 2 p.m., they invite you to an interactive event in Holmes Hall. 

Attendance is limited and registration is required: Sign Up Here

The Tunnel of Oppression is an interactive event that highlights contemporary issues of oppression. It is designed to introduce participants to the concepts of oppression, privilege, and power. Participants are guided through a series of scenes that aim to educate and challenge them to think more deeply about issues of oppression. At the end of the tour, participants are provided with the opportunity to discuss their experiences with each other. Facilitators help participants reflect on their experiences and put their newfound knowledge to use in their everyday lives. 

Freshman Jazmin Rose is majoring in writing, rhetoric and digital studies while minoring in Spanish and is part of the Creative Arts LLP in Holmes Hall. After writing on social justice issues during Nancy Jones’ Introduction to Acting course in Fall 2020, Jones recommended Rose take TA 286: Social Justice Theatre.  

Rose says now is the perfect time for audiences to experience Social Action Theatre. “I feel like now was the perfect time to create the Tunnel of Oppression, because as this pandemic has surged, so has our awareness for social issues. We have seen racism manifest itself as police brutality and hate crimes, and as the effects of a pandemic play out in front of our very eyes, we have been desensitized.”  

TA 286: Social Action Theatre emerged out of a desire to create theatre that impacts students and the community in a deep and powerful way. It is taught each spring semester and is open to all undergraduate students as part of the UK Core offering in U.S. Citizenship. This important initiative is supported through a grant from Engagement Initiatives.  

“We hope to shine light on forms of oppression that we may have not seen via Internet or heard of through Tik Tok. One of our goals is to bring humanity and empathy back into our minds, as acts of oppression don't just stay behind our phone screens. They happen to people around us, every day, whether we realize it or not,” Rose said. “Working on this social action theatre project with members of UK's campus community was extremely important to us, so we could get resources and support to UK students who may have experienced a scenario like the ones we discuss in the Tunnel of Oppression. We want our work to encourage students to utilize all the amazing support centers on campus, like the VIP Center, MLK Center, to show the tremendous amount of support available on campus for all students of any race, sexuality, sex or religion.” 

Social action theatre has a long history. It was part of Greek drama, evident in Shakespeare's themes, and embedded in the comedies of Molière. It was an important part of the Federal Theatre Project, a national relief act that was a branch of the Works Progress Administration, in the Living Newspaper Plays that brought focus to important social issues like housing inequities and political injustices.  

But social action theatre as we know it now was born out of the tumult of the 1960s and grounded in the work of Augusto Boal. Social action theatre is a broad term that includes a range of performance practices from political theatre staged in mainstream venues and guerilla or invisible theatre staged on streets to issue-based site-specific performances, and community devised pieces staged without actors. In general, it is art that utilizes performance to communicate ideas that seek to influence political or social change. 

Professor Nancy Jones sees social action theatre as art that utilized performance to communicate ideas that seek to influence political or social change. “Theatre for social change has far-reaching implications. It can be used as a teaching tool, a vehicle for self-reflection, as a problem-solving technique for groups and as community building method. The techniques that we use in the class can be used to facilitate social change using the medium of theatre in a variety of spaces. They enhance students’ abilities as artists, teachers, and as a catalyst for social change," says Jones.

The History of Tunnel of Oppression 

Tunnel of Oppression is a campus grassroots diversity program that originated in 1993 at Western Illinois University. Using the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California, as a model, the program strives to give people a way to experience oppression in a hands-on way. By engaging emotions of the participants, it allows the accounts expressed in the program to be truly effective. People may have never been placed in these types of situations, and they obtain a sense of what it feels like to be oppressed or discriminated through the sights and sounds they experience. While it may be disturbing, it is an effective tool used to teach people about how it really feels to be in the various situations.  


Contact nancy.jones@uky.edu for questions and follow on Instagram for news and progress on the project @uktunnelofoppression