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Theatre of the Oppressed

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Title: Theatre of the Oppressed  
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Subject: Theatre of Burkina Faso, Theatre, Atelier-Théâtre Burkinabé, O meu marido esta a negar, TO
Collection: Brazilian Society, Pedagogy, Political Theatre, Social Movements, Theatre of the Oppressed, Theatrical Genres
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Theatre of the Oppressed

The Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) describes theatrical forms that the Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal first elaborated in the 1960s, initially in Brazil and later in Europe. Boal was influenced by the work of the educator and theorist Paulo Freire. Boal's techniques use theatre as means of promoting social and political change. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as "spect-actors" they explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living.

Augusto Boal presenting a workshop on the Theatre of the Oppressed in New York City. Riverside Church, May 13, 2008.


  • History 1
  • Terminology 2
    • Joker/Facilitator/Difficultator 2.1
    • Spect-actor 2.2
  • Major branches of Theatre of the Oppressed 3
    • Image theatre 3.1
    • Forum theatre 3.2
    • Invisible theatre 3.3
    • Newspaper theatre 3.4
    • Rainbow of Desire 3.5
    • Legislative theatre 3.6
  • Other techniques 4
    • Analytical theatre 4.1
    • Breaking repression 4.2
    • Photoreceptor 4.3
    • Rituals and masks 4.4
  • Organizations 5
    • International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation 5.1
    • Centre for Community Dialogue and Change 5.2
    • Medical Humanities Group, UCMS 5.3
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The Theatre of the Oppressed, a term coined by Augusto Boal, is a series of theatrical analyses and critiques developed in the 1950s. Boal is an avid supporter of utilizing interactive techniques, especially in the context of theatre. Many of his ideas are considered as "a new media perspective", despite the relatively early birth of these ideas. Since then, these ideas have been developed more, giving them meaning in a modern-day context. The creation of the Theatre of the Oppressed is largely based on the idea of dialogue and interaction between audience and performer. Moreover, these ideas have served as a framework for the development and evolution of stronger ideas.[1]



Much of Augusto Boal’s theatrical process requires a neutral party to be at the centre of proceedings. This individual is usually called the "facilitator". In Boal’s literature this role is referred to as the "joker", in reference to the neutrality of the Joker card in a deck of playing cards.

In most cases, but not all, this would be a drama workshop leader. This person takes responsibility for the logistics of the process and ensures a fair proceeding, but must never comment upon or intervene in the content of the performance, as that is the province of the "spect-actors".


This is a term created by Augusto Boal to describe those engaged in Forum theatre. It refers to the dual role of those involved in the process as both spectator and actor, as they both observe and create dramatic meaning and action in any performance.

Equally, the term "spect-actor" can be attributed to the participants in invisible theatre (who are unaware that they are part of a theatrical production, but nevertheless contribute to the discussion) and image theatre (who, upon viewing the image created, may alter it to reflect their own ideas).

Boal emphasizes the critical need to prevent the isolation of the audience. The term "spectator" brands the participants as less than human; hence, is necessary to humanize them, to restore to them their capacity for action in all its fullness. They must also be a subject, an actor on equal plane with those accepted as actors, who in turn must also be spectators. This will eliminate any notions of the ruling class and the theatre solely portraying their ideals while the audience being the passive victims of those images. This way the spectators no longer delegates power to the characters either to think or act in their place. They free themselves; they think and act for themselves. Boal supports the idea that theatre is not revolutionary in itself but is rehearsal of revolution. (Wardrip-Fruin, 352)[1]

Major branches of Theatre of the Oppressed

During the development of Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal worked with many populations and tried many techniques. These techniques eventually coalesced into different theatrical styles, each using a different process to achieve a different result. Boal often organized these theatrical systems as a tree, with images, sounds and words as the roots, games, Image Theatre and Forum Theatre ascending up the trunk, and then other techniques represented as limbs stemming from these.[2] As more T.O. systems evolved, Boal and others have made slight modifications to which techniques appear on various limbs, but the Tree of Theatre of the Oppressed has mostly remained consistent:

Image theatre

Boal claims this form of theatre to be one of the most stimulating because of its ease of enactment and its remarkable capacity of portraying thought in a concrete form due to the absence of language idiom. Each word has a denotation common for all as well as a connotation that is unique for each individual. Each will have his own interpretation of "revolution", and to demonstrate such idea provides a clearer understanding of their intention in definition when shown rather than told. (Wardrip-Fruin, 344). For instance, one can "embrace" another in many ways (in a tight, harassing manner or a loose soft manner), however the word has the same definition of clasping another person in the arms.[1]

Forum theatre

Participants in a workshop on the Theatre of the Oppressed in New York City. Riverside Church, May 13, 2008.

While practicing in South America earlier in his career, Boal would apply 'simultaneous dramaturgy'. In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a typically chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience could propose any solution, so long as they conveyed it on stage, working, acting, and directing not from the comfort of their seat. This was an attempt to undo the traditional audience/actor partition and bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching. Through this process, the participant is also able to realize and experience the challenges of achieving the improvements he/she suggested (Wardrip-Fruin, 344).[1]

Forum theatre was born from 'simultaneous dramaturgy' when, according to Boal this concept of the 'spect-actor' became a dominant force within Boal's later Forum theatre work. The audience were now encouraged to not only imagine change but to actually practise that change, reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action.

Augusto Boal presenting a workshop on the Theatre of the Oppressed in New York City. Riverside Church, May 13, 2008.

Thus, Boal's current manifestation of Forum theatre is as follows: the actors (either professional actors or non professionals drawn from oppressed communities) perform a play with a scripted core, in which an oppression relevant to the audience is played out. After reaching the scripted conclusion, in which the oppressed character(s) fail to overturn their oppression, the actors begin the production again, although often in a condensed form. At any point during this second performance, any spect-actor may call out "stop!" and take the place of the actor portraying the oppressed individual (this actor stays on stage but to the side, giving suggestions to the spect-actor who has replaced him/her).

If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again: the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to be dialectic, coming to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than didactic, in which the moral argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance of reply or counter-argument.

Boal clarifies that this practice is not intended to show the correct path, but rather to discover all possible paths which may be further examined. The theatre itself is not revolutionary, instead a rehearsal of revolution. The spectators learn much more from the enactment even if done in a fictional manner, since it stimulates the practice of the art in reality. When encountered in reality with a similar situation they've rehearsed in theatre, forum theatre evokes a desire in people to be proactive since they feel much more prepared and confident in resolving the conflict. The practice of this form creates an uneasy sense of incompleteness that seeks fulfillment through real action. (Wardrip-Fruin, 346) [1]

Invisible theatre

A form of theatrical performance that is enacted in a place where people would not normally expect to see one, for example in the street or in a shopping centre. The performers attempt to disguise the fact that it is a performance from those who observe and who may choose to participate in it, encouraging the spectators to view it as a real event. The Brazilian theater practitioner Augusto Boal & Panagiotis Assimakopoulos developed the form during his time in Argentina in the 1970s as part of his Theater of the Oppressed, which focused on oppression and social issues.

Newspaper theatre

A system of techniques devised to give the audience a way to transform daily news articles or any non-dramatic pieces to theatrical scene. The strategies are as follows (Wardrip-Fruin, 346):[1]

  • Simple Reading: news item read, detached from the context of the newspaper (which makes it false or controversial).
  • Crossed Reading: two news item are read in alternating form, complementing or contrasting each other in a new dimension.
  • Complementary Reading: information generally omitted by the ruling class are added to the news.
  • Rhythmical Reading: article is read to a rhythm (musical), so it acts as a critical "filter" of the news, revealing the true content initially concealed in the newspaper.
  • Parallel Action: actors mimic the actions as the news is being read. One hears the news and watches its visual complement.
  • Improvisation: news is improvised on stage to exploit all its variants and possibilities.
  • Historical: data recurred from historical moments, events in other countries, or in social systems are added to the news.
  • Reinforcement: article is read accompanied by songs, slides, or publicity materials.
  • Concretion of the Abstract: abstract content in news is made concrete on stage, i.e. hunger, unemployment, etc.
  • Text out of Context: news is presented out of context in which it was originally published.

Rainbow of Desire

Rainbow of Desire is a technique and also a family of techniques explained by Boal in his book of the same name. Rainbow techniques stem from Image theatre and tend to focus on forms of internalized oppression played out by a protagonist in relation to an antagonist. While in his earlier work Boal eschewed the use of Theatre of the Oppressed as "drama therapy", he later began to espouse these more introspective techniques as a form of "theatre and therapy."[3]

Legislative theatre

When Boal was a Vereador (city councilman) in Rio de Janeiro, he created a new form of theatre called "legislative theatre" to give his voters the opportunity to voice their opinions. The objective is to open up a dialogue between citizens and institutional entities so that there is a flow of power between both groups. Boal calls this type of legislative process a "transitive democracy," which lies in between direct democracy (practiced in ancient Greece) and delegate democracy.[4] It is similar to forum theatre; however, the subject of the production is based on a proposed law to be passed. Spect-actors may take the stage and express their opinions, thereby helping with the creation of new laws. Some 13 laws were created through legislative theatre during Boal's time in government. The technique has since been used overseas in countries including Canada and the United Kingdom.

Other techniques

Analytical theatre

A story is told by one of the participants and immediately the actors improvise it. Afterward each character is broken down into their social roles and the participants are asked to choose a physical object to symbolize each role. For instance for one community the head of the symbol for the head of the family may be a piggy bank, since that individual is the one who controls the finances (power). Having analyzed the characters, a fresh attempt to tell the story is made, however this time removing some of the symbols from each character, and consequently some social roles as well. For example, the story would be perceived differently if the robber had the police uniform and the hostage possessed a revolver. Through this method, the participants will realize that human actions are not the exclusive and primitive result of human psychology: the individual speaks of their class as well. (Wardrip-Fruin, 351)[1]

Breaking repression

Boal explains that the technique of breaking repression involves asking the participant to remember a particular moment when he or she felt especially repressed, accepted it, and submitted to act in a manner contrary to his or her own desires. It is necessary, he explains, that the choice is a particular incident rather than a general sense of oppression. The participant describes that incident, which is then reconstructed and re-enacted with other participants of his choosing. This performance is repeated, except that this time the repressed is asked to fight to impose his or her will while the others involved are invited to maintain the repression.

The conflict that results helps to measure the possibility one has to resist in situations where one fails to do so, as well as to measure the true strength of the enemy. Having rehearsed a resistance to oppression prepares the individual to resist effectively in similar situations that may be encountered in the future.(Wardrip-Fruin,349)[1]

Boal states that the process to be realized in doing this type of theater is the one that ascends from the phenomenon toward the law; from the phenomena presented in the plot toward the social laws that govern those phenomena.(Wardrip-Fruin,349)[1]


Photoreceptor is a romantic narrative illustrated with sequential photographs in the style of a comic strip, usually published in magazines and such. The technique involves introducing to the participants the general plot without revealing the source of the photo romance. Then, the participants are asked to act out the story, which is then compared to the actual story as described in the source. The differences are discussed thereafter.

A particular story interpreted and acted out may be a predictable, pathetic one, however at the same time this result served as a magnificent example of ideological insight. Boal argues that if they first act out the story themselves then afterwords read the original version, the participants will no longer assume a passive, expectant attitude, but instead a critical, comparative one. They as well be prepared to detect the poison infiltrating the pages of those photo-stories, or the comics and other forms of cultural and ideological domination. This technique is also useful to analyze television programs, a dominant source of poison directed against the people. (Wardship-Fruin, 349)[5]

Rituals and masks

This technique attempts to reveal the ideological super-structure of a society in the form of its rituals. "Rituals" in this sense describes the patterns of human relationships and the masks of behaviour that those patterns impose on the participants according to the roles that they play in society. For example: a man goes to a priest to confess his sins; despite the individual identities of the man and priest (i.e. the priest and the parishioner are landlords, the priest is a landlord and the parishioner is a peasant, and etc. ) the pattern of behavior will remain the same as other examples of this interaction. This will cause different scenarios to play out even though the confession is the same. Boal argues that this is an extraordinarily rich technique that has many variants: for example, the same ritual may be explored by its participants exchanging masks or it may be enacted by people from different social classes.[1]


International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation

Inspired by Augusto Boal, this Organisation links other Theatre of the Oppressed groups to one another. The idea is that others will help groups organize themselves and create new centers for Theatres of the Oppressed. There are links to other organisations involved with this projects so anyone can contact anyone else involved.[6] This online Organisation allows others to share information about the Theatre of the Oppressed.

The largest single organisation in the Theatre of the Oppressed network is Jana Sanskriti. Set up by Sanjoy Ganguly in the Sunderbans, a rural area outside Calcutta in the Bay of Bengal, Jana Sanskriti has a membership of over 40,000, 30 theatre teams, and an impressive record of art and activism which has resulted in major improvements in health, infrastructure, welfare benefits, education and social awareness through the region.[7] Boal's ideas have been widely accepted and used by theatre groups in O meu marido esta a negar (My Husband is in Denial), documented as a film by Rogério Manjate, which discusses HIV/AIDS avoidance and treatment. This play is presented in public places - markets, schools and businesses - and the public is invited to attend and present their own solutions to the unequal power relations shown in the play. The result is more effective than a lecture in Portuguese or distribution of written material to a largely illiterate population.[8]

Centre for Community Dialogue and Change

Centre for Community Dialogue and Change (CCDC) is an organisation based in Bengaluru, India which is dedicated to the promotion of Theatre of the Oppressed chiefly in education as well as medical humanities. CCDC has conducted many workshops among diverse population in India as well as abroad.[9]

Medical Humanities Group, UCMS

  • Glossary of Theatre of the Oppressed terminology
  • Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Inc. - PTO holds the largest annual Theatre of the Oppressed conference
  • The Forum Project - Sliding scale Theatre of the Oppressed training and facilitation
  • International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation
  • Cardboard Citizens - The UK's leading practitioners in Theatre of the Oppressed Training
  • Giolli Cooperativa sociale - Centro di Ricerca e Sperimentazione teatrali sui metodi Boal e Freire - Italy
  • Parteciparte Rome-Marseille
  • Preview of Theatre of the Oppressed
  • Centre for Community Dialogue and Change, India: Breaking Patterns, Creating Change - Conducting Theatre of the Oppressed Workshops and Research especially in Education and Healthcare

External links

  • Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. ISBN 0-262-23227-8.
  • Augusto, Boal (1993). Theater of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group. ISBN 0-930452-49-6.
  • Rodgers, Mandy. 'McBuck' to open tonight. Red and Black 2/21/08
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort. "From Theatre of the Oppressed." The NewMediaReader. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003. ISBN 0-262-23227-8, p. 339-52. Print.
  2. ^ "What is Theatre of the Oppressed?". Tree of the Theatre of the Oppressed. The Forum Project. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Boal, Augusto (1996). The Rainbow of Desire : the Boal method of theatre and therapy (Reprinted. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge.  
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Sanjoy Ganguly, Forum Theatre and Democracy in India, London, Routledge, 2010
  8. ^ "MOÇAMBIQUE: A arte imita a vida" (in Portuguese). World Health Organization. February 19, 2008. Retrieved 2012-03-10. 
  9. ^ "Centre for Community Dialogue and Change". Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Singh, S (May 2012). "Broadening horizons: looking beyond disability.". Medical education 46 (5): 522.  
  11. ^ "Exploring medical humanities through theatre of the oppressed. in 1598". Indian J Psychiatry. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 


See also

Greek Funeral Rites In the Sophocles play Antigone, Creon stopped Antigone from seeing and grieving over the body of her dead brother Polynices. Creon thought that Polynices was a traitor, so Polynices wasn’t allowed a proper burial unlike his brother Eteocles. Antigone would find this act unbearable because she loved her brother very much. In Greek culture funeral rites are very important. When someone died Greek women would prepare the body by washing it and putting oil on the body. After the body was prepared, it is laid out on the second day. Before dawn on the third day, the dead body would be carried in a funeral procession (it’s also called ekphora) to where it would be buried. This ritual was followed for every death but it wasn’t followed for Polynices. I think Antigone thought that she wouldn’t be able to say goodbye properly. It would also be an insult to Polynices because he is being treated like an animal rather than being treated like a royal person. When a person in ancient Greece died they were meant to have a proper burial to prepare them for the afterlife and Antigone would expect a funeral for Polynices as well. The Theatre of the Oppressed Augusto Boal was a Brazilian theatre director, writer and politician. Augusto Boal was born on March the sixteenth 1931 and he died on May the second 2009. Augusto Boal was the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed. Augusto Boal wanted the whole world to recognize oppression and to change it (in which ways?). He set up the Theatre of the Oppressed so the people in the audience would go away thinking that oppression is wrong. One day, a brave person from the audience interrupted the scene that was just going on and said that what was happening there wasn’t right and he changed it to make it better. After that performance Augusto Boal thought of letting other people say the word “magic” (which is the word to stop the play) then the spect-actors would go on stage and change the play to the way they think is right. Augusto Boal is teaching people through his style of theatre by making people think then they go up on stage to change the oppression. After the play Augusto Boal wanted the members of his audience to change oppression in their lives. Forum Theatre Forum Theatre is a place where people get together to talk about to change the world. The purpose of Forum Theatre is for people to think about how to change oppression in the world. Forum theatre is still being used today because people like to be involved in lots of stuff like strictly come dancing and it hasn’t been long since forum theatre was invented by Boal. In Forum Theatre the facilitator is a person who encourages everyone to do their best thinking but doesn’t participate in the conversation. The audience are called spec-actors because they watch and when they shout “magic” they go on stage. You might call out “magic” when you want to stop the action when you think somebody is being oppressed. Forum theatre When Antigone went to Ismene and told her that their uncle Creon would not let them bury their brother, Ismene reacted by saying she didn’t want to break the law or she might get killed by Creon. The oppression shifted in the scene when Ismene said she didn’t want to do what Antigone says. I think the reason why we replayed the scene several times with different spect-actors is because we had to find out how to change the oppression. Forum Theatre Group work. [11][10]

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