Theater of the oppressed

Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is a methodology developed by the Brazilian Augusto Boal. It uses theater forms to promote social and political change. In Theater of the Oppressed (TO), the audiences become active and they explore, show, analyze, and transform the reality which is being presented.

Important roles in TO are the joker (facilitator) and the audience (spect-actors). The joker is responsible to run the process facilitating discussions and being neutral at all times. Spect-actors both observe and create dramatic meaning and action in the performance. In image theater, upon viewing the image created, the audience may alter it to reflect their own ideas. In forum theater, the audience has the power to stop the performance and offer alterations according to their ideas.

What is oppression? Abuse of power. What can power be? It can mean or come from aggression, violence, money, community, circles, family, love, vulnerability, resources, threat, education, secret societies, authority, support, inner peace, etc.

There are many forms of Theater of the Oppressed – image theater, forum theater, invisible theater, newspaper theater, legislative theater, the rainbow of desires. In the “Artitudes to Attitudes” training course, we focused on image and forum theater.

But why do we do Theater of the Oppressed? To empower the oppressed and their allies, potentially activate neutral to the oppression people. TO is about activating the oppressed and their allies from the spect-actors audience, not so much about raising awareness (audience is specially selected so they are aware of the oppression in question), and definitely not to change the oppressors. A side effect might be but is definitely not the goal, to raise awareness about certain issues and oppressions that happen.

In the forum theater we created above, we tackle the topic of bullying. After gathering stories and examples of bullying from all the actors in our group, we chose one to present and work with using TO.

Why would we use Theater of the Oppressed for bullying? To empower the bullied and their friends (in this play – the friend of the bullied, the mother, the sister), also kids at risk of being bullied, to activate neutrals (in this play – the teacher, the principal). As a side effect, we might raise awareness about bullying.

Where can we do a TO on the topic of bullying? In schools, youth centers, at parent/student meetings, summer camps, universities.

Who will be the audience? Youth and children at least 10-12 years old, need to have some critical thinking developed to be an active part of the process.

Are the actors related to the story? If the actors had experienced this kind of oppression in their real lives, this may give more power to the performance. Did you notice how powerful the above play was? All of the actors had experienced bullying in their lives.

If it’s not possible to have the real story in the team of actors, then we consult people from the oppressed.

Generally, it’s always best to inspire the topic from the group you plan to work with.

I recently facilitated image theater with a group of volunteers as a training course activity. The issue we tackled was financial and intergenerational oppression in a “traditional” family.

Theater of the oppressed: image theater in Slovakia