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Axel Hughes
Axel Hughes

Theater of the Oppressed: An Introduction to Augusto Boal's Revolutionary Method


Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed: A Revolutionary Art Form




Introduction




Theater is not only a form of entertainment, but also a powerful tool for social transformation. This is the idea behind theater of the oppressed, a radical approach to theater that aims to challenge oppression, injustice, and discrimination through participatory and dialogical performances. The creator of this approach was Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director, writer, activist, and educator who dedicated his life to using theater as a means of liberation and empowerment for marginalized groups.




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Theater of the oppressed is more than just a theatrical technique; it is a philosophy, a methodology, and a movement that has spread across the world since its inception in the 1960s. It is based on the belief that everyone can be an actor, a spectator, and a creator of their own reality. It is also based on the conviction that theater can be a space for dialogue, reflection, action, and change. By engaging people in theatrical exercises, games, and scenarios that reflect their own experiences and problems, theater of the oppressed invites them to explore alternative solutions, challenge dominant narratives, and transform themselves and their society.


In this article, we will explore the origins, development, methods, techniques, applications, and impacts of theater of the oppressed. We will also provide some resources for those who want to learn more about this revolutionary art form. Whether you are a theater lover, a social activist, or simply curious about how theater can make a difference in the world, we hope this article will inspire you to discover more about Augusto Boal's legacy and vision.


The Origins and Development of Theater of the Oppressed




Augusto Boal was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931. He studied chemical engineering at Columbia University in New York, where he also became interested in theater. He returned to Brazil in 1955 and joined the Arena Theater in São Paulo, where he directed several plays that addressed social issues such as racism, classism, sexism, and colonialism. He also developed his own style of theater that incorporated elements from Brechtian epic theater, Stanislavskian realism, Artaudian cruelty, Grotowskian poor theater, and Freirean pedagogy.


Inspired by Paulo Freire's concept of "pedagogy of the oppressed", which advocated for a dialogical and participatory approach to education that would enable people to critically analyze and transform their reality, Boal created his own "theater of the oppressed" in the late 1960s. He applied this approach to his work with peasants, workers, students, and activists who were fighting against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. He used theater as a way of raising awareness, consciousness, and mobilization among the oppressed classes. He also encouraged them to become active agents of their own liberation by creating and performing their own stories and solutions.


However, Boal's theater of the oppressed was not well received by the authorities, who saw it as a threat to their power and control. In 1971, Boal was arrested, tortured, and exiled from Brazil. He moved to Argentina, where he continued his theater work with political prisoners and exiles. He also traveled to other Latin American countries, such as Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, where he shared his theater of the oppressed methods with various groups and communities. He also wrote several books on his theory and practice, such as Theater of the Oppressed, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, and The Rainbow of Desire.


In 1976, Boal moved to Europe, where he settled in Paris. There, he founded the Center for Theater of the Oppressed (CTO), which became a reference point for theater practitioners, educators, activists, and researchers from all over the world. He also expanded his theater of the oppressed methods to include new forms and techniques, such as forum theater, invisible theater, image theater, legislative theater, newspaper theater, analytic theater, and rainbow of desire. He also adapted his methods to different contexts and cultures, such as Africa, Asia, North America, and Oceania.


In 1986, Boal returned to Brazil after the end of the dictatorship. He resumed his work with the CTO in Rio de Janeiro, where he also became a city councilor in 1992. He used his political position to promote theater of the oppressed as a way of engaging citizens in participatory democracy and social justice. He also created legislative theater, which involved using theater as a way of generating proposals for new laws and policies that would benefit the people. He also continued to travel around the world to teach and practice theater of the oppressed until his death in 2009.


The Methods and Techniques of Theater of the Oppressed




Theater of the oppressed is not a fixed or rigid method; it is a flexible and creative one that can be adapted to different situations and needs. However, there are some common principles and objectives that guide its practice. These are:



  • To use theater as a language that can be spoken and understood by everyone.



  • To use theater as a means of knowledge that can help people understand themselves and their reality.



  • To use theater as a rehearsal for action that can help people prepare for real-life situations.



  • To use theater as a weapon that can help people fight against oppression and injustice.



  • To use theater as a dialogue that can help people communicate with each other and create collective solutions.



To achieve these goals, theater of the oppressed employs various types of theater that have different purposes and formats. Some of the most common ones are:



Type


Purpose


Format


Forum theater


To present a problem or conflict that affects a group or community and invite spectators to intervene and propose solutions.


A short play is performed by actors that shows a situation of oppression or injustice. The play is then repeated and spectators are invited to stop the action and replace an actor to try a different course of action. The other actors improvise accordingly. The process is facilitated by a "joker" who mediates between actors and spectators.


Invisible theater


To provoke public reactions and discussions on a social issue or problem by performing an improvised scene in a public space without revealing that it is a theatrical intervention.


A group of actors plan a scene that relates to a social issue or problem that they want to address. They perform the scene in a public space such as a street, a bus, a park, or a mall. They act as if they are ordinary people involved in a real situation. They try to engage bystanders in the scene or elicit their reactions. They do not reveal that they are actors or that it is a theatrical intervention.


Image theater


To express ideas, feelings, opinions, or situations through body images rather than words.


own bodies or with other participants. They can create images that represent a word, a concept, a situation, a feeling, or a problem. The images can be static or dynamic, individual or collective, realistic or abstract. The images can be analyzed, discussed, modified, or transformed by the participants or by the facilitator.


Legislative theater


To generate proposals for new laws or policies that address a social issue or problem and present them to decision-makers or authorities.


A forum theater play is performed by actors or participants that shows a situation of oppression or injustice that relates to a social issue or problem that needs a legal or political solution. The play is followed by a debate among spectators, actors, and decision-makers or authorities who are invited to attend. The debate aims to produce concrete proposals for new laws or policies that would prevent or resolve the situation. The proposals are then voted on by the spectators and presented to the relevant institutions.


Newspaper theater


To critique and transform the dominant narratives and discourses presented by the mass media.


A group of participants select a newspaper article that relates to a social issue or problem that they want to address. They analyze the article and identify its biases, omissions, distortions, or manipulations. They then create a theatrical performance that exposes, challenges, or subverts the article's message. They can use different techniques such as reading the article in different tones, changing the order of the sentences, adding new sentences, creating dialogues between characters, using images or symbols, etc.


Analytic theater


To explore the psychological and emotional aspects of oppression and oppression.


A group of participants create a play that shows a situation of oppression or injustice that affects them personally or collectively. They perform the play for themselves or for an audience. They then analyze the play and identify the internal oppressions or oppressors that are present in the characters' attitudes, behaviors, feelings, or thoughts. They also identify the external oppressions or oppressors that are present in the social context or structure. They then try to find ways to overcome or resist both types of oppression.


Rainbow of desire


To identify and transform the desires, fears, fantasies, and emotions that influence our actions and relationships.


A group of participants share their personal stories or problems that relate to their desires, fears, fantasies, or emotions. They select one story or problem to work on. They create a scene that shows the situation and the main character's desire. They then create other scenes that show the obstacles, conflicts, pressures, or influences that prevent the main character from fulfilling their desire. They assign different colors to each scene according to their emotional intensity. They then perform the scenes in order of color intensity (from red to violet) and try to find ways to change or satisfy their desire.


These are some examples of theater of the oppressed exercises and games that can be used for different purposes and situations. However, there are many more techniques and variations that can be created and adapted by the participants themselves according to their needs and creativity.


The Applications and Impacts of Theater of the Oppressed




Theater of the oppressed has been used for various applications and impacts in different fields and contexts. Some of them are:



  • Education: Theater of the oppressed can be used as an alternative pedagogy that fosters critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and citizenship among students and teachers. It can also be used as a way of addressing topics such as human rights, diversity, democracy, peace, environment, health, etc.



youth, indigenous people, refugees, etc. It can also be used as a way of facilitating dialogue, healing, and reconciliation among groups in conflict or post-conflict situations.


  • Health: Theater of the oppressed can be used as a tool for prevention and promotion of health issues such as HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health, etc. It can also be used as a way of supporting people who are living with illness or disability.



  • Art: Theater of the oppressed can be used as a tool for artistic expression and experimentation that challenges the conventional forms and norms of theater. It can also be used as a way of creating new aesthetics and languages that reflect the diversity and complexity of human experiences.



  • Politics: Theater of the oppressed can be used as a tool for civic engagement and participation that enables people to voice their opinions, demands, and proposals. It can also be used as a way of influencing decision-makers and authorities to enact social change and justice.



Theater of the oppressed has had various impacts on different levels and dimensions. Some of them are:



  • Individual: Theater of the oppressed can help people develop their self-awareness, self-confidence, self-expression, and self-empowerment. It can also help them cope with their emotions, fears, desires, and conflicts.



  • Interpersonal: Theater of the oppressed can help people improve their communication, cooperation, empathy, and solidarity skills. It can also help them build trust, respect, and mutual understanding among themselves.



  • Group: Theater of the oppressed can help people create a sense of belonging, identity, and collective agency. It can also help them strengthen their social bonds, networks, and movements.



  • Societal: Theater of the oppressed can help people raise their awareness, consciousness, and critical thinking about social issues and problems. It can also help them challenge and transform the structures and systems that produce oppression and injustice.



Conclusion




Theater of the oppressed is a revolutionary art form that was created by Augusto Boal to use theater as a means of liberation and empowerment for oppressed groups. It is based on the principles and practices of participatory and dialogical theater that invites everyone to become actors, spectators, and creators of their own reality. It employs various types of theater that have different purposes and formats to address different situations and needs. It has been used for various applications and impacts in different fields and contexts such as education, social work, health, art, and politics.


Theater of the oppressed is not only a theatrical technique; it is a philosophy, a methodology, and a movement that has spread across the world since its inception in the 1960s. It is inspired by the vision and legacy of Augusto Boal who dedicated his life to using theater as a tool for social change and justice. It is also inspired by the experiences and stories of countless people who have participated in theater of the oppressed workshops, performances, and projects around the globe.


If you are interested in learning more about theater of the oppressed or joining its community of practice, here are some resources that you can check out:



  • The International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation: https://www.theatreoftheoppressed.org/



  • The Center for Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro: https://ctorio.com.br/



  • The Cardboard Citizens Theatre Company in London: https://www.cardboardcitizens.org.uk/



  • The Mandala Center for Change in Washington: https://www.mandalaforchange.com/



  • The Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed in India: https://janasanskriti.org/



We hope this article has inspired you to discover more about theater of the oppressed and its potential to transform yourself and your society. Remember, theater is not only a form of entertainment, but also a form of empowerment. As Augusto Boal said, \"The theater is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield it.\"


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about theater of the oppressed:



  • What is the difference between theater of the oppressed and conventional theater?



The main difference between theater of the oppressed and conventional theater is that theater of the oppressed is participatory and dialogical, while conventional theater is passive and monological. In theater of the oppressed, the audience becomes active participants who can intervene and change the course of the performance. In conventional theater, the audience remains passive spectators who can only watch and applaud the performance.


  • Who can participate in theater of the oppressed?



Anyone can participate in theater of the oppressed, regardless of their age, gender, race, class, culture, or background. Theater of the oppressed is designed to be accessible and inclusive for everyone, especially for those who are oppressed or marginalized by society. Theater of the oppressed does not require any previous theatrical experience or skills; it only requires a willingness to engage and learn.


  • How can I start practicing theater of the oppressed?



The best way to start practicing theater of the oppressed is to join a workshop or a group that is already practicing it in your area. You can also read some books or watch some videos that explain the theory and practice of theater of the oppressed. You can also try some simple exercises or games that introduce you to the basic principles and techniques of theater of the oppressed.


  • What are some benefits of practicing theater of the oppressed?



Some benefits of practicing theater of the oppressed are:


  • It can help you develop your creativity, imagination, and expression.



  • It can help you improve your communication, cooperation, and problem-solving skills.



  • It can help you increase your self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-empowerment.



  • It can help you explore your emotions, fears, desires, and conflicts.



  • It can help you create a sense of belonging, identity, and collective agency.



  • It can help you raise your awareness, consciousness, and critical thinking about social issues and problems.



  • It can help you challenge and transform the structures and systems that produce oppression and injustice.



  • What are some challenges or limitations of practicing theater of the oppressed?



Some challenges or limitations of practicing theater of the oppressed are:


  • It can be difficult to find a suitable space, time, and resources to practice it.



  • It can be difficult to find a facilitator or a joker who is trained and experienced in theater of the oppressed.



  • It can be difficult to deal with resistance, conflict, or tension that may arise among participants or with authorities.



  • It can be difficult to measure or evaluate the impact or effectiveness of theater of the oppressed.



  • It can be difficult to sustain or scale up theater of the oppressed projects or initiatives.



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