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From Spectators to Spect-actors

Off the Cuff with Milwaukee Public Theatre’s Carolina Soza

Sep. 20, 2016
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With nearly 30 years as an actor, director and social justice activist in Milwaukee, Carolina Soza brings a wealth of ideas and experience to her new job as executive director of the Milwaukee Public Theatre. Soza got started in the theater while growing up in Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. “Theater was the way I chose to express myself and channel the rage,” she said. After coming to Milwaukee, Soza continued working to meld the performing arts and social justice, seeking to transform the arts from a privilege to an everyday right and an essential part of a “holistic” upbringing. Recently, Soza sat down with Off the Cuff to talk about the arts, giving voice to the oppressed, and theater as a part of the healing process.


The Milwaukee Public Theatre calls art “a part of the healing process.” With all that has been happening locally and national recently, what role do you see for the arts for healing here in Milwaukee?

I think that it’s part of the rituals. Protest has a lot of ritual and it’s a lot of sort of puking emotionally, letting go. Catharsis is very important in the arts, too. Because, in a way, that’s what you do. The only difference is that you create a process where it is some sort of…organized puking. It can be a wonderful tool to approach young people, to open the dialogue and to listen to them and to start healing. Coming from a dictatorship, I know that you cannot oppress those expressions forever. They are going to come out somehow.


What is the Toolbox Theater?

Toolbox Theater is mainly Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatre of the Oppressed was created by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian. It’s interactive. We use usually the forum form. How it works is that you in the community create a piece, something that is important to your community. And one person in that play is the protagonist and is the oppressed, meaning their voice has been taken away. When you present the play, the scenes end up bad. Then, you start it again and the spectator becomes the “spect-actor.” So, when they see that the protagonist with no voice could have done something different, the spect-actors stop the play and take his place and you start again. It’s a way of answering questions collectively to our common problems.


How do you make the arts geographically accessible?

We’re going to have to come up with a creative way to fund the arts and bring them to the people. If we have to roll the stage to them, we put it on wheels. It’s not so much, ‘OK, you have to come to this place,’ especially when we are talking about the pain of the inner city. Because when you bring those young people to a play and talk about trauma, you open up a can of worms. If you don’t have a good follow-up and good support, you are not really helping. You might be re-traumatizing.


You grew up under a dictatorship in Chile. In trying to do what you do, how does working in Milwaukee compare to Chile?

I think there are a lot of similarities. I think that the difference with a dictatorship like we had, it’s very blatant, the privilege of some. And here maybe it’s not seen as blatant as it is in a dictatorship. But it is present. And I think historically, everywhere has the right to the arts or beauty. So, we need to make it a daily thing. That is just basic to growing up holistic.


For more information on Milwaukee Public Theatre, including upcoming shows and events, visit milwaukeepublictheatre.org


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