Hi, I am Pavla Uppal and here is my journey from passion and a clear vision through searching, dead ends, and a revolution, leading to my personal transformation to passion and a renewed vision.
I am celebrating the point in my life where I combine my diverse paths and passions into one – helping you find transformative ways of becoming courageous agent of change.
My strength lies in the knowledge and experience as an applied theatre practitioner and professional development consultant who is passionate about community building through theatre. I believe that theatre has the power to change the world. And I’m not referring to theatre as a form of entertainment, but rather a way to rehearse how to bring about positive change, create a platform for dialogue, and explore our human condition and our place in the world.
From Acting and Directing to Drama in Education
I started my journey in the world of theatre as an actress, director, and acting coach. While I was passionate about theatre and its powerful ways to inspire human beings, the traditional hierarchical structure of a theatre company didn’t satisfy my passion for community building through the arts. So, I moved on to studying Drama in Education at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic and later at the Ontario Institute for Studied in Education at the University of Toronto. I worked in educational programming of theatre companies – Theatre Direct in Toronto and Childsplay in Phoenix, Arizona. I designed training for teachers in the use of drama in the curriculum core subjects in Arizona school, and taught drama in high schools in the Czech Republic and Quebec.
Along the way, I was inspired and fascinated by the power of theatre-based methodology to become a platform for in-depth dialogue about what it means to be human and how to best participate in our human family. I continued to use role playing and storytelling as two main strategies of inquiry striving to support my students’ shifts in understanding and new insights.
The success I encountered lied in the capacity of theatre to work with varied modes of expression, to cater to multiple intelligence and different learning styles, and to offer creative play-based learning. As a contrast to this success, when I was a high school teacher, I was part of the educational system and found myself the tool of oppression – real or perceived by many of my students. This dynamic opened my eyes to social structures and power-hierarchy that was counter-productive to learning and community-building.
Applied Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed
I was fortunate to transition into the Masters in Applied Theatre program in New York City, where I was introduced to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a liberatory teaching philosophy coined by Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, whose work gave rise to critical pedagogy. Further, I trained in the Theatre of the Oppressed, a system of theatrical strategies based on Freire’s philosophy and designed by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal to break the cycle of oppression. These two years of graduate school and training turned out to be an intensive time of self-reflection and integration of applied theatre philosophy into my practice.
I was hooked and had found my niche in applied theatre. I now share the benefits of theatre arts, which I’m so passionate about, in community building and social and environmental justice. Some of the applied theatre projects I facilitated include working with elementary teachers in Arizona, theatre artists in the Czech Republic, ESL immigrant groups and environmental activists in New York City, addiction recovery centre residents and art teachers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and peace builders in Toronto. For information about my past and parallel projects, visit Community or click on my full resume.
As my journey is coming full circle and I’m realizing my vision – I’m presenting you with Your Story Matters, a professional development training to help you be the change you want to see in the world. My expertise lies in designing and facilitating theatre-based, holistic strategies that balance heart, mind, body, and intellect, and that help you align your vision and beliefs with your practice. You can find more on my methodology here.
The Power of Applied Theatre During the Velvet Revolution
I mentioned a revolution in the beginning. You may be wondering, what does it have to do with applied theatre? As a theatre student at the Performing Arts Academy in Prague in 1989, I joined thousands of other university students to support the Velvet Revolution, which overturned the oppressive communist regime and achieved the non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The revolution started on stage: Actors stopped regular shows, came onto the stages and invited the audience to engage in an open, uncensored dialogue about the status quo, about change and about the possibility of living in a society that we co-create. It might seem removed or banal to someone living in a free democratic society, but it is fundamental to change and growth.
Having experienced an actual, non-violent, revolution, I was inspired by Augusto Boal, the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed. Boal calls theatre a “rehearsal for revolution”. While I do not advocate for revolution as a form of change, as it usually involves violence, I strongly support the idea of transformation as a form of change. And in my work, I use theatre as means to rehearse that transformation.
If my story inspired you on your own journey as a change-maker, I’d be glad to connect and discuss ways how I can help you and your group rehearse for transformation through the Your Story Matters workshops and coaching.
“Theatre is a language through which human beings can engage in active dialogue on what is important to them. It allows individuals to create a safe space that they may inhabit in groups and use to explore the interactions which make up their lives. It is a lab for problem solving, for seeking options, and for practicing solutions.”
— Augusto Boal