The theatre, which changes laws and saves life.

Nina Khodorivska told about the project Theatre for Dialogue: its initiatives, experience and resources.


Yulia Kostereva interviewed Nina Khodorivska

January 24, 2015
Kyiv, Ukraine


Nina Khodorivska – performer, culture researcher, journalist and volunteer of Theatre for Dialogue

The project Theatre for Dialogue appeared as an alternative to the violent clashes that began on the Maidan in Kyiv in January, 2014. Group of activists works according to methodology of theatre of the oppressed to change the society. Last year leaders of the Theatre for Dialogue conducted more than 20 events in six cities around Ukraine, where about 1200 people took part. On meetings activists covered next topics: protests on Maidan, migrants, problems of youth, role and place of women in Ukrainian society, corruption in higher education system and many others.

Theatre as a tool of activism

Yulia Kostereva: How did the idea of project appear?

Nina Khodorivska: Since 2010 Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn – professional joker (joker – facilitator and practitioner in the theatre of the oppressed) held theatre activities in different parts of Ukraine. During the protest on Maidan Hjalmar together with the activists he met in Kyiv decided to begin big international “Joker Tsunami” campaign. Six jokers from all over the world came to Ukraine and conduct six workshops in five cities of the country. They worked on topics that concerned people, using theatre of the oppressed techniques as the main tool. Activists, familiar with this methodology united around this idea, thus Theatre for Dialogue appeared.

Gradually, the project is gaining a temp. From the start it was separated workshops, now it includes regular meetings. In February we are going to launch an open laboratory to work at certain controversial topics. We expect to find the people who are concerned in specific problems of society rather than methodology itself. In this process we’d like to see people who aren’t acquainted with participatory practices. Also, these are the people who are not reached by open call. That’s why we are going to advertise the events through the newspapers, informational leaflets on the poles, etc.


Yulia Kostereva: What is the structure of the Theatre for Dialogue? How do you share responsibility?

Nina Khodorivska: It’s a young initiative which is formed by eight participants, each of whom is co-founder. The responsibility is shared horizontally. Our work is based on project method. If someone has a contact to work with or any idea, it’s discussed at the common meeting. If someone formulated the specific proposal, he or she takes responsibility for this project. Decisions are taken collectively. Voices of all members are equal. But each has to explain the position, why he or she considers that this particular solution should be accepted. The dialogue mentioned in our title exists within the collective as well.


Yulia Kostereva: How do different social groups influence the activity of the initiative?

Nina Khodorivska: We don’t work with a particular social group, perhaps, because we haven’t had long-term projects yet. So far, we worked with mixed groups: people who oppose the majority, Maidan activists. We tried to work with migrants as a social group, visited them in Pushcha-Vodytsia, organized meetings in Kyiv, but there was no solid team created. Though some of them attended particular events, nobody wants to feel as a migrant and strengthen himself in this identity.


Yulia Kostereva: What events Theatre for Dialogue realized?

Nina Khodorivska: We’ve done the project with migrants. It finished on the level of volunteer assistance: to play with children, to bring blankets. We made the project with the Museum of Maidan, we were working with images associated with that period. Now, a year after those events, people are able to rethink it. We visited different youth organizations in Mykolaiv and Zhytomyr, but it was rather for popularization of the theatre like ours, theatre as a tool of activism. On Saturday together with Visual Culture Research Center we hold a laboratory for people who want to develop the theatre. This is a long-term program that deals with certain topics.

Grants and “barter”

Yulia Kostereva: Is it necessary for cultural organization to have the political overtone or to articulate its political position?

Nina Khodorivska: I guess that everything has its political overtone. The way how we define one or another word is a political decision. I cannot say that everyone in Theatre for Dialogue would think so, but many my colleagues would agree that recognizing of the fact that politics is everywhere, is basic for the Theatre for Dialogue.

Fortunately, we don’t have the clear political position in terms of ideology, which we translate outside. Hope, we won’t have it in the future. It seems to me meaningless, it’s like a distribution of ready-made formulas. While the essence of participatory art, and particularly the theatre of the oppressed can be described so: if you think that some solution is better than others, invite people who don’t determine the decision on this issue yet, and work together on this theme using different images. It is necessary to be in dialogue with people and not to impose the position, giving only choose between “yes” or “not”. In such process, if people don’t flee after first or second meeting, crystallizes a group with clear position, which can make some steps in the field of direct action, for example, by proposing the legislative initiatives.


Yulia Kostereva: What are the mechanisms to ensure financial independence of your organization? How the society could support your structure?

Nina Khodorivska: People help us with accommodation, also we have informational support. Various media wrote about our initiative, we’ve never paid for premises where we conduct our workshops. Now we’re collecting money to translate the book of Augusto Boal “Games for Actors and Non-actors” where there is a theory, and also a lot of practice: how to create the theatre of the oppressed. There are no books in Ukrainian and Russian languages about participatory art, and particularly about the theatre of the oppressed. I think it’s important to translate books about contemporary performance art into Ukrainian and Russian languages. Before I started reading English, I had a completely different notion of performance art.

On the one hand, now we apply for different projects with funding, so that at least a few people could fully dedicate themselves to our initiative. On the other hand, we push ourselves so that in a few months would be able to claim for additional funding and engaged only in Theatre for dialogue the entire team.

I cannot say from what sources we can fund our theatre of the oppressed, because the process is not established yet. But we see it as a fundraising and “barter”, for example, a room for services.

Baby in a sling as a sign of culture

Yulia Kostereva: What is the ideal institution for you?

Nina Khodorivska: It is institution that operates regularly and achieves its goals. I believe that it should be organized horizontally. In ideal institution one could combine parenthood and work. It seems as a small aspect, but for me it’s important. Not so difficult to organize things in the way, that the person could work and carry baby in a sling at the same time. Rather, it depends on cultural norms than on the aspect that a child could disturb. And, of course, transparent accounting would provide confidence in the organization and prevent corruption.


Yulia Kostereva: How does your organization affects the cultural policy of the state? Is it possible for small organization to influence the cultural policy of the country?

Nina Khodorivska: Of course, yes, but now I don’t know how. In principle, large-scale projects, such as legislative theatre influences. Actually, it looks like this: skits or plays based on workshops of the theatre of the oppressed are performed, it’s like a forum theatre. During the skits spectators are invited to replace one of the characters and propose own variant of solving the problem. At the same time there are lawyers and politicians in the auditorium. They try to deal with this problem, as well as journalists who write about this thing, providing media support. Then the lawyers reflect in laws what they saw in the theatre. But it’s a large work. It’s impossible to announce that we need a law that will act around Ukraine, on the basis of sessions with one group, even if this work would last three months.

Hjalmar, one of the founders of our initiative, took part in the project of legislative theatre in Afghanistan. He worked with amending the legislation about women rights. The project lasted one and a half year, activists visited different cities and communicated with different groups of women. There was lasting work with each group. Results were like a set of amendments to law, which were passed to the women’s committee at the parliament. This committee is lobbying these amendments now.