our influences - Augusto Boal


A Brief Introduction to Augusto Boal

By Douglas L. Paterson


Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal developed The Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) during the 1950s and 1960s. In an effort to transform theatre from the "monologue" of traditional performance into a "dialogue" between audience and stage, Boal experimented with many kinds of interactive theatre. His explorations were based on the assumption that dialogue is the common, healthy dynamic between all humans that all human beings desire and are capable of dialogue, and that when a dialogue becomes a monologue, oppression ensues. Theatre then becomes an extraordinary tool for transforming monologue into dialogue. "While some people make theatre," says Boal, "we all are theatre."

From his work Boal evolved various forms of theatre workshops and performances that aimed to meet the needs of all people for interaction, dialogue, critical thinking, action and fun. The workshops are virtually a training ground for action not only in these performance forms, but for action in life.
The "typical" Theatre of the Oppressed workshop comprises three kinds of activity. The first is background information on TO and the various exercises provided by the workshop facilitator (or "difficultator," as Boal prefers to describe it). Such information begins the workshop, but is also interspersed throughout the games and exercises. Moreover, the group is brought together periodically to discuss responses to games and to ask questions of the various processes.

The second kind of activity is the games. These are invariably highly physical interactions designed to challenge us to truly listen to what we are hearing, feel what we are touching, and see what we are looking at. The "arsenal" of the Theatre of the Oppressed is extensive with more than 200 games and exercises listed in Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors alone. Several years ago Boal's Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Paris (CTO - Paris) proceeded methodically through all the TO activities; the inventory took two years to cover. Ultimately, these games serve to heighten our senses and demechanize the body, to get us out of habitual behaviour, as a prelude to moving beyond habitual thinking and interacting. We also become actively engaged with other participants, developing relationships and trust, and having a very good time.

Finally, the third area of activity involves the structured exercises. Although there is a kind of grey area at times when one might call an activity a game or an exercise, the exercises are formulated so as to infuse a given structure with genuine content.

These activities are designed to highlight a particular area of TO practice such as Image Theatre, Forum Theatre, Rainbow of Desire, etc. Thus we are invited not only to imagine new possibilities and solutions, but to actively participate in them, Forum style. Group problem solving, highly interactive imagining, physical involvement, trust and fun combine to create vigorous interpersonal dynamics. As a result, we learn that we are, if not the source of our difficulties, at least the reason for their maintenance. More importantly, we are clearly the source of our mutual liberations.



Augusto Boal teaches at Harvard