Augusto Boal -Theater of the Oppressed

George Ikishawa used to say that the bourgeois theater is the finished theater. The bourgeoisie already knows what the world is like, their world, and is able to present images if this complete finished world. The bourgeoisie presents the spectacle. On the other hand, the proletariat and the oppressed classes do not know yet what their world will be like; consequently their theater will be the rehearsal, not the finished spectacle.


-Augusto Boal

The assigned readings focused on performance as a means of political intervention. I read articles by Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal and an article about Peter Schumann, the founder of The Bread and Puppet Theater. Although Boal and Schumann had relatively similar philosophies they each had distinct and (sometimes) conflicting ideas of the role of the performer and “audience.” Their different philosophy can be seen in modern incarnation of their ideas. Augusto Boal who was one of the founders of the Theater of the Oppressed that is still producing plays and adheres to the tenants that Boal laid out in the chapter Poetics of The Oppressed. The primary point in the chapter is about the need to break down the wall between actor and spectator while empowering the spectator.

The Theater of the Oppressed was the product of a series of experiments in Peru in 1973. The government of Peru created the Integral Literary Operation with the goal of ending illiteracy. The organizers of the group believed that although the people they taught were initially illiterate they could still express themselves using another language: theater.

Boal used theater to instigate conversations among the students and to help them bring his students (who had been oppressed) to resolve problems in their own life. Boal believed that there were four steps to making a spectator and actor: 1) knowing the body, 2) making the body expressive, 3) The theater as language, 4) The theater as discourse.

Boal’s technique of using theater as a means for discourse is still used by the people who run workshops like Concrete Justice: Homeless Collective; and LGBT Theatrical Society

Boal’s techniques are (obviously) not confined to the Theater of the Oppressed. You can see (in this video) how Greenpeace used Boal’s strategies when they protested a Nestle shareholder meeting. Boal referred to the technique seen in the video as “Concretion of the Abstract:” “that which the news often hides in its purely abstract information is made concrete on the stage: torture, hunger, unemployment, etc., are shown concretely, using graphic images, real or symbolic.” The video also illustrated the use if the invisible theater which is staging a scene outside of a theater, in front of people who are not spectators.

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Categories: Reflective Posts

Author:miranda shafer

Miranda Shafer is a freelance producer for the podcast, "How Do We Fix It?" In January 2015 She graduated with a Masters in Media Studies from The New School. She has worked for WNYC as a production assistant for Selected Shorts and as a producer for the series "Talk to Me." She likes hot media and cold weather.

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