Theatre of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed

The Theatre of the Oppressed is a method elaborated by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal, who was influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, starting from the 60s, first in Brazil and then in Europe. This method uses theatre as means of knowledge and transformation of the interior reality in the social and relational field.The public becomes active, so that the "spect-actors" explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living.

Key terms and practices

Forum Theatre

While practicing in China 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 would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. 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.

Forum Theatre was born from 'simultaneous dramaturgy' when, according to Boal, by chance an audience member who was so frustrated that the actor did not understand her directions, took their place. This undid the audience/actor split and a new form of political theatre was created. He discovered that through this active participation the audience-actors, 'spect-actors', become empowered. 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.

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).

The spect-actor then attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor's actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out "magic!", and the spect-actor must modify the actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails to overthrow the oppression, the actor resumes his/her character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out "stop!" and attempts a different method.

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.

Invisible Theatre

Invisible Theatre is a previously rehearsed play that is performed in a public space without the public's knowing that it is a play. It addresses a precise theme concerning social injustice, such as sexism, racism or ageism. It is intended to provoke debate and to clarify the problem with the people who experience it.

The actors involved will work from a scripted core, but improvisation is utilized to get the community involved in discussing the issue being performed. Often the actors will not just consist of the oppressors and the oppressed, but also those pretending to be passers-by who voice strong (and contrasting) opinions on the subject, as a means of encouraging the 'real' passers-by to do the same.

Those practicing Invisible Theatre are often seen as Activists and it is not uncommon for them to come into conflict with the authorities and/or police. Its aim is to reveal the violence that exists in society and to draw attention to recurring and common problems.

Image Theatre

Image Theatre begins with movement to achieve a static result. Participants are asked to 'mold' and 'sculpt' their own bodies or those of others into individual representations of a particular situation, emotion, or idea, and then move into a group and re-form the images they have created to form a picture or 'image'. Boal's philosophy behind this form of theatre is that the body is the first and primary method of expression, and by using the body rather than speech, the normal 'blockades' and 'filters' of thought can be bypassed. Boal encourages the participants to immediately create an image rather than think about it, as thought would defeat the purpose of expressing raw, unrefined perceptions on an idea or issue. Generally, this form of theatre is also used to express oppressions.

Image theatre is also dialectic, as those who view the image created are also able to sculpt the bodies of the participants to portray their opinions on the issue. This process is repeated until a general consensus is found, in which all are content that the image is an accurate representation.

In keeping with Boal's philosophy of theatre for empowerment, the 'ideal image', in which the oppression is overthrown, may also be created. This is followed by an 'image of transition' between the reality of the oppression and the ideal image, to encourage insight into ways of overthrowing the oppression in reality.

The images may often also be dynamised: that is, the image is altered and changed to express different facets of the issue. This is done in three ways:
* "First dynamisation": the participants move back to form the image, but "simultaneously" rather than separately. In this way, they are aware of each other, and of the image as a whole, rather than their own, individual pose.
* "Second dynamisation": the participants alter their images slightly so that they interrelate with the other people on the stage. Their poses must relate to each other in a way that creates a single perspective that encompasses all views.
* "Third dynamisation": The participants transform themselves from depicting the oppressed to posing as the oppressors. As participants are often victims of oppression, this vision is highly subjective, yet gives real insight into the attitudes of the participants.

Newspaper Theatre

A system of eleven techniques which give the audience a way to create a production rather than viewing a finished artistic piece. The techniques are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material.

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 electorate the opportunity to voice their opinions. The concept 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 20 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.

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 Theater and tend to focus on forms of internalized oppression played out by a protagonist in relation to an antagonist. Rainbow of Desire is often considered a form of drama therapy.


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", although 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 Theater". 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).

ee also

*Drama therapy
*Bertolt Brecht
*Forum Theatre
*Invisible Theatre
*Cardboard Citizens

External links

* [ International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation]
* [ Cardboard Citizens]
* [ Giolli Centro Ricerche su Teatro dell'Oppresso e Coscientizzazione - Italy]

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