Theatre of the Oppressed

Statue Theatre II

Some partners work with ‘free’ theatre methods following the concept of the Theatre of the Oppressed developed by the Brazilian Augusto Boal (1931-2009). The idea is that people of all social and cultural backgrounds or level of education express their own experiences and perceptions of themselves and their world in a playful way. At the same time, they ‘train’ to act and to be active in order to change society, to overcome oppression and to liberate from everyday constraints. Theatre of the Oppressed does not mean that professional actors play something to a passive audience. It invites “people like me and you” to reflect their situation and to try new opportunities. The term Theatre of the Oppressed encompasses several methods. It came into being as Newspaper Theatre in Brazil in 1971. Later the Forum Theatre has been developed (Peru, 1973), then the Invisible Theatre in Argentina. Moreover, the Image Theatre has been created and rapidly practiced in Columbia, Venezuela and Mexiko. Influenced by the experiences which Augusto Boal has made in Europe, the “Rainbow of Desire” was born. Back in Brazil, the idea raised to strengthen people’s capacity to transform their wishes and needs into law. That was the starting point of the Legislative Theatre. All these methods can be applied and developed by people all over the world. The several methods in short descriptions from Augusto Boal:

Newspaper theatre – This system of 12 techniques represents the first attempt that was made to create the Theatre of the Oppressed, by giving the audience the means of production rather than the finished artistic product. They are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material, like reports of an political meeting, texts from the Bible, from the Constitution of a country, the Declaration of Human Rights, etc.

Forum-theatre — Music is the organization of sound in time; plastic arts, the organization of colours and lines in the space; theatre, the organization of human actions in time and space. Theatre is a representation and not a reproduction of social reality. Forum-theatre presents a scene or a play that must necessarily show a situation of oppression that the Protagonist does not know how to fight against, and fails. The spect-actors are invited to replace this Protagonist, and act out – on stage and not from the audience – all possible solutions, ideas, strategies. The other actors improvise the reactions of their characters facing each new intervention, so as to allow a sincere analysis of the real possibilities of using those suggestions in real life. All spect-actors have the same right to intervene and play their ideas. Forum-theatre is a collective rehearsal for reality.

Invisible theatre – To be a citizen does not mean merely to live in society, but to transform it. If I transform the clay into a statue, I become a Sculptor; if I transform the stones into a house, I become an architect; if I transform our society into something better for us all, I become a citizen. Invisible theatre is a direct intervention in society, on a precise theme of general interest, to provoke debate and to clarify the problem that must be solved. It shall never be violent since its aim is to reveal the violence that exists in society, and not to reproduce it. Invisible theatre is a play (not a mere improvisation) that is played in a public space without informing anyone that it is a piece of theatre, previously rehearsed. Invisible theatre is the penetration of fiction into reality and of reality into fiction, which helps us to see how much fiction exists in reality, and how much reality exists in fiction.

Image-theatre – Words are emptiness’s that fill the emptiness (vacuum) that exists between one human being and another. Words are lines that we carve in the sand, sounds that we sculpt in the air. We know the meaning of the word we pronounce, because we fill it with our desires, ideas and feelings, but we don’t know how that word is going to be heard by each listener. Image-theatre is a series of Techniques that allow people to communicate through Images and Spaces, and not through words alone.

Rainbow of desire – Many concrete oppressions provoke deep damage inside our subjectivity and psychic life. Under the general title of Rainbow of desire, there are fifteen Techniques – complex, but not complicated! – which help us to visualize theatrically our oppressions, and deal with them more clearly: no one interprets anything, but all participants offer the Protagonist the mirror of the multiple regards of the others. We try to locate the Cops in our Head knowing very well that, if those Cops are there, they have come from some Headquarters outside us that spread them all around, into the heads of many more citizens. We try to discover the ideology of each Cop and not concentrate our attention on the particular individual.

Legislative theatre – Theatre is not enough to change reality, we all agree. LEGISLATIVE THEATRE is the utilization of all forms of the Theatre of the Oppressed with the aim of transforming the citizens’ legitimate desires into Laws. After a normal Forum session, we create a space similar to a Chamber where laws are made, and we proceed to create a similar ritual of law making, following the same official procedure of presenting Projects based on the spect-actors interventions, defending or refusing them, voting, etc. At the end, we collect the approved suggestions and try to put pressure upon the lawmakers to have those laws approved.

All descriptions of the Theatre of the Oppressed forms are from Augusto Boal, Rio de Janeiro 2004. Source:

The International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation explains some crucial points about the philosophy of these methods:

Theatre of the Oppressed is the Game of Dialogue: we play and learn together. All kinds of Games must have discipline – clear rules that we must follow. At the same time, Games have absolute need of creativity and Freedom. TO (Theatre of the Oppressed – the author) is the perfect synthesis between the antithetic Discipline and Freedom. Without Discipline, there is no Social Life; without Freedom, there is no Life.

The Discipline of our Game is our belief that we must re-establish the right of everyone to exist in dignity. We believe that all of us are more, and much better, than what we think we are. We believe in solidarity.

Our Freedom is to invent ways to help to humanize Humanity, freely invading all fields of human activities: social, pedagogical, political, artistic… Theatre is a Language and so it can be used to speak about all human concerns, not to be limited to theatre itself.

We believe in Peace, not in Passivity!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s