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Living Theatre

David Diamond, Director, Headlines Theatre, Vancouver, BC

David Diamond, Director Headlines Theatre, Vancouver, BC

This weekend I attended a Theatre For Living workshop with David Diamond, the Director of Vancouver’s Headlines Theatre, and Canada’s leading protagonist of a theatre form that evolved out of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.

As Diamond explained in the workshop, his Theatre For Living was born out of the recognition that the traditional dichotomous split of ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ (or ‘us’ and ‘them’) fails to recognise that there are always two (if not more) sides to every story and that dialogue between the sides is only possible when desires and fears of both sides are acknowledged (but not necessarily legitimized).

Or, in Diamond’s own words, “When will we finally realise that there is no ‘them’?“.

The workshop, in which we explored the use of theatre exercises, games and techniques such as image theatre, ended with a three hour exercise in which we (the participants) created (and enacted) a Rainbow of Desire.

The entire event, incidentally was organised by my colleague Pamela Brett-MacLean , Director of the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry’s Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine Program, and took place in the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI)-funded theatre research laboratory (a fully equipped theatre space), which, unbeknownst to me, happens to be located right across the street from my office.

What has any of this to do with obesity or my work?

Readers familiar with the work of Brazilian theatre director, writer and politician Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, a theatrical method based on Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book by the Brazilian educator and writer Paulo Freire (who was also a good friend of Boal), will immediately see where my interest in exploring this language and art form to address the many issues relevant to obesity come from (and may lead to).

Those, who have never heard of ‘image’ or ‘forum’ theatre, and think that I should perhaps go back to coaxing cell cultures in my lab or tending to the patients in my clinic, may be in for a surprise.

I have no doubt that my recent venture into exploring the primal and universal language of theatre and how its vocabulary can be used to address the issues that I so deeply care about, will lead me down roads that are as new (and daunting) as any of the roads that I have ever turned into in my research or clinical work.

Prepare to see Sharma the ‘mutt’ take yet another turn off the beaten path (some readers will know exactly what I mean).

Stay tuned…

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. I have worked with David Diamond on a number of occasions. His brilliant work represents a direction that can be developed as a means of addressing many serious social and health problems. As a society we tend to see obesity and many other health concerns as problems situated within the person. Examining problems with a theatrical lens makes it possible to shift how we understand a problem. Through performance the problem identity is moved. We begin to see obesity and other problems as socially constructed. The problem reflects and is a product of the social environment in which it occurs. If we are to make meaningful change on obesity we need to transform the beliefs, relationships and behaviors of society and of the culture as a whole. Theatrical engagement provides the opportunity to do so and the performative means to raise awareness at the same time.

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  2. Thanks Andrew for pointing this out and I could not agree more – certainly look forward to exploring this medium for addressing the beliefs, relationships and our culture as they contribute to obesity and life in general.

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  3. Hi Arya – thanks so much for the kind words and again, a pleasure to meet you. I got an email from Andrew Burton in Prince George, who I guess you know, alerting me to the blog. Just to clarify a small thing…it is Theatre for Living (not ..for THE Living – as opposed to for the Dead…). I am running into this a lot.

    Hoping that the days continue to resonate and that this finds you well.
    All the best, David

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  4. Great to see you continue to open doors and venture out Dr. Sharma! Thanks for also making this part of your blog and your work. Lot’s of room for reflection. I wonder what Freire would have said about the “staging system of obesity” – what would he have said about a “staging system of oppression”? And how might might “staging systems” impact upon a grass roots “all us – all in” movement?

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  5. Paulo Freire’s classic work, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” has been on my top 5 list for close to 20 years. I lived in Brazil during the formative years of my childhood and will never forget the vast chasms–and lack of communication–between rich and poor. My experiences there, and my exposure to Freire’s writings, have forever shaped my worldview. I’m so happy for you, Dr. Sharma, in your new adventure to explore these issues through art and theater. Freire believed in the possibility for transformative social change. He is one of my heroes. I hope he too will become one of yours!

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  6. Dear Dr. Sharma,

    It would be lovely to hear a current update about your adventures with this undertaking…


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