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“Boal and his work are marvelous examples of the post-modern situation-its problems and its opportunities. Twice exiled, Boal is ‘at home’ now wherever he. In this remarkable classic work on radical drama, Augusto Boal exposes the machinations that the ruling classes exercised on theatre to take control out of the . “The purpose of Theatre of the Oppressed is to rehumanize humanity.” — Augusto Boal Theatre of the Oppressed What is Theatre of the Oppressed? As created.

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Augusto Boal in Theatre of the Oppressed TO proposes that knowledge acquired aesthetically is already, in itself, the beginning of a transformation. In the past few years the author has been using this approach with high school students and teachers to address issues of racism. Interactive theatre presentations were developed in intensive week-long workshops, or in shorter workshops over longer periods of time.

The workshops explored the inter-related aspects of the participants becoming aware of their bodies, enabling them to use the body as a vocabulary of expression, creating theatre through verbal and non-verbal language, and using theatre to activate audiences.

This article includes a critique of the author’s own adaptation of TO and the underlying assumptions of its methodology, structure, and form of transformative theatrical creation. L’auteur propose d’explorer deux contextes de TO particuliers: I learned about these methods as part of Power Plays workshops on using Forum Theatre, in a Canada-wide education program on racism in schools, organized by Headlines Theatre of Vancouver.

I then worked alongside a Regina high school drama teacher facilitating week-long workshops with groups of high school students who reflected the diverse nature of the Regina community. I also gave several in-service and professional development workshops to teachers, and trained several of them in the use of the method in schools. In this article I will examine the poetics of TO through the lens of my own training and application of the work with teachers and students in schools in Regina, Saskatchewan.

This critique must, as Roman says, operate in a dialectic between critical theorizing and my own praxis of theatre addressing the issue of racism “On the Ground”. In that way, I will re-interpret my own work in Power Plays and test that interpretation in the changes I would make to the process.

Roger Simon “Pedagogy” points out that cultural tools provide us with ways to open up knowledge about the world and ourselves. He would evaluate a particular set of techniques by asking how they may challenge us to renew the prospect for our collective future.

I would like to examine the claims and actions of TO by addressing several questions in the context of anti-racism pedagogy:. This will mean examining the structure, form, and content of the theatrical process, including the workshop that often includes a Forum Theatre performance. Headlines Theatre of Vancouver developed Power Plays, which is an integration of techniques of TO with a number of practitioners’ discoveries using the work in a North American context.

Power Plays is a journey that leads a group of people from not knowing one another to creating short plays about whatever concerns them as a group. TO proposes that knowledge acquired aesthetically is already, in itself, the beginning of a transformation. Theatre is developed in intensive week-long workshops or in shorter workshops over longer periods of time.

The workshops explore the inter-related aspects of becoming aware of our bodies, enabling us to use the body as vocabulary of expression, creating theatre through verbal and non-verbal language, and using theatre to activate audiences. The books of Boal, books about Power Plays, and the workshop outlines are guidelines. Rules are meant to be broken and, as Boal has said in workshops I have attended, “anything that is not expressly forbidden is, by definition, possible.

Boal has classified workshop exercises in his books based on a rekindling of the senses — eg. The core of the drama workshop process includes developing an awareness of the body, demechanizing daily rituals, exploring the nature of theatre, investigating the nature of power, and the particular theme of the workshop.

For example, using images or tableaux, participants might share a story of an experience that evokes certain themes or issues in other participants who are observing. We return to these recorded ideas in subsequent days of a workshop and ensure that they are part of the process of building the final play to be performed for participants’ peers.

We endeavour to build a deepened analysis of racism through letting images, feelings, and ideas “accumulate” inside the group. One day’s work will affect the choices they make in focussing on the next day’s work. In this way, collective understanding of an issue is built. These understandings are the participants’ told through their own vocabulary.

An understanding of the complexity of the theme is developed. This will then be used in creating a play to be performed for participants’ peers.


Theatre of the Oppressed – Wikipedia

Sometimes it is only at the end of a workshop process with the selection of a story and the performance of a Forum Play that one sees the connection of all this to the day-to-day life of the participants.

Power Plays workshops oppresaed end with a Forum Theatre performance. Forum Theatre is a short play in which a problem is shown in an unsolved form, to which the audience is invited to suggest and enact alternative ways of dealing with it. In trying to find solutions, we begin to have a better understanding of the problem, its causes, and its ramifications. Audience members in a Forum Play are called “spect-actors” 1 spect — to watch; actor — to act.

The problem is always the symptom of an oppression and generally involves visible oppressors and a protagonist who is oppressed. In its purest form, both actors and spect-actors will be people who are victims of the oppression under consideration; that is why they are able to offer alternative solutions, because they themselves are personally acquainted with the oppression. After one showing of the scene, it is shown again and follows theatee the same course until a member of the audience shouts “stop!

This oppressee a very simplified description of Forum Theatre and, as befits a form of theatre which is now over twenty years old, there are many different manifestations of it in operation all over the world. It is used in schools, factories, day centres, community centres, with tenants’ groups, homeless people, disabled people, people in ethnic minorities, etc.

Its aim, again, is to stimulate debate in the form of action, not just wordsto show alternatives and options, and to enable people “to become protagonists of their own lives. The play that is developed is what Boal calls a “microcosm” of the whole of society under examination, treating every relation as political, with structures that must be uncovered and challenged.

Beautiful Trouble

The play is a contest between spect-actors trying to bring about a different end in which the cycle of oppression is broken and actors making every possible effort to bring about its original end in which the oppressed is beaten and the oppressors are triumphant. TO and Power Plays are constantly being adapted and changed to meet changing contexts. As Frances Babbage, an English TO practitioner says, “the work cannot remain static, cannot be unproblematically used here, there and everywhere, but must necessarily be re-invented in order to remain lively and relevant” 2.

This relevancy must also include paying attention to the goals and structure of the theatrical process. There is a constant tension in the work between spontaneous cultural production based on personal experience and the need for a process that is politically self-reflective.

The emphasis on building trust and community and on the crafting of a play that will “work” theatrically are in constant tension with the necessity for a “framing” of the Forum play by the development of a political perspective within it. This analysis can be developed through the workshop process and requires a clarity by the facilitators with regards opppressed the thf of doing theatre.

Structural issues don’t necessarily have to be addressed by debate and discussion alone.

Theatre has provided us bola other oprpessed of dialogue. Principal among them is the use of non-verbal images tableaux which sometimes say more than words can. An oppressef is an opportunity to create a constant interplay between interpreting and re-presenting reality from often conflicting standpoints and, as a tool of German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht’s complex seeing of analysis Roman “On the Ground”is a set of practices which builds on generative knowledge, with rich ramifications in the lives of learners.

This knowledge is both of the world and of the individual and can alter people’s own consciousness of their own relationships and practices. The process objectifies a complete experience and asks how we might generalize from the particular, learn from the experiences of others, and re-apply those lessons to produce different outcomes in our own lives.

An implicit belief is conveyed that outcomes and futures are not predetermined; we are simultaneously the products and creators of our own history. In this way we can consider the concrete obstacles that prevent people from changing opprsssed circumstances even when they may be unhappy with them and want to achieve some “ideal dream. This process was illustrated in one play developed by a high school student group I worked with in The result of the accumulation of images and stories from the workshop was a multi-levelled look at prejudice and harassment, showing the potential of the process to get beyond simple cause-and-effect theatre.

The story came from a young First Nations woman. She had been verbally and physically harassed by young white men in a car while waiting for a bus. Incorporating a white woman as a bystander and four whites in a car, the Forum play the students produced created a world of domination, linking the exploitation of the aboriginal with the exploitation of women. This was a world containing what audience members called a “cascade of oppression” with all sorts of put-downs by characters of each other in the car and oppresse egging on of a particularly shy boy to go lppressed the aboriginal woman.


The Forum interventions were important in getting at some of the issues around sexual and racial harassment. Even more important opprressed the comments shared by the actors after the play was finished, which pointed out how harassment becomes “normal” and how different forms of harassment for different things become “normal” so that racial harassment becomes permissible. They also recognized this form of harassment in their own families and were trying to do something about it.


One of boql problems this addresses is how, in a play about racism, white students can get involved, but thf standpoints other than that of “colour. Forum Theatre works best when there is a homogeneity within the audience and the actors come from the community for which they will perform.

I saw a play in Ontario, facilitated by David Diamond of Headlines Theatre, where the audience and actors were composed primarily of residents of a public housing project. The Forum play was a powerful one to watch, as the links between why the residents were living there and issues of poverty, family violence, and unemployment were clearly made.

Often, in preparing and carrying out a play, we engage both ourselves and the audience in what I would call “ahistorical sympathy,” which hteater sympathy with a particular character without taking into account the historical and systemic nature of the oppressive relationships affecting that character. I recently saw a poster which stated “Building harmony in diversity. Although students from high school are a homogeneous population in terms of their place in the education system, they are heterogeneous in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, gender, and ability.

Attention must be paid even more to these aspects in the development of plays and the workshop process itself to ensure that the politics of difference are taken into account. This calls, as South African academic Loren Kruger points out, “for the unflinching acknowledgement of difference not merely as diversity but as the differential relations of and to power” How can this analysis be incorporated into the theater workshop and Forum performance?

One method I have found is to critique the characters in, and structure of, Forum Theatre plays in the context of anti-racist pedagogy. There are three basic types of characters in a Forum play who are in conflict with each other over a particular problem.

The play is a series of events where these characters show the problem and take or don’t take actions to resolve it.

The goal of the play is to enable the audience to see other alternatives to choices made. What layers the play is seeing not only the protagonist the oppressed in struggle with the antagonist the oppressorbut also the other characters powerless observers in connected conflicts.

In my Power Plays work I emphasize the importance of playing the oppressor. Even in the problematic process of the emphasis on changing behaviours and attitudes which the workshop has concentrated on, the oppressor role can get at an understanding of white privilege. For the sake of safety we emphasize to the people playing the oppressor that they are not playing themselves although there are elements within us that we must draw on to play these characters.

Theatre of the Oppressed

We emphasize that the success of the process depends on the oppressors being real. If the oppressor isn’t real then the investigation of ways to break the oppression isn’t real. One of the helpful metaphors Boal gave in a workshop I attended was that a character is like an iceberg or a shark.

I would like to further explore, in my practice, what the structures behind the oppressor are and the historical reasons why they act this way. There are tremendous possibilities here to explore the idea that racism is not an aberration done by evil or ignorant people but that there is a whole structure supporting it.

This means concentrating on what Roman calls “studying up” in order to understand racial privilege “White” In exploring these elements in a workshop, I feel the issue of oppresxed can be probed more deeply than before. The entire foundation of TO and Forum Theatre is based on the idea of learning through theatre how to overcome oppression. This grew out of Boal’s work performing before communities and groups with similar backgrounds represented by the actors.

Boal makes the point that unless I, as an audience member, can really identify with your oppression, how can I replace you? In this case, if identification isn’t there, any action becomes advice or moral teaching, not an exploration of liberation and empowerment. The original work was developed in Latin America where the issues were posed, for example, in terms of landlords oppresed peasants.