Theater of the Oppressed
“The theater itself is not revolutionary: it is a rehearsal for the revolution.”
— Augusto Boal
Theater of the Oppressed provides tools for people to explore collective struggles, analyze their history and present circumstances, and then experiment with inventing a new future together through theater. (see Beautiful Trouble for wonderful resources “Beautiful Trouble exists to make nonviolent revolution irresistible by providing an ever-growing suite of strategic tools and trainings that inspire movements for a more just, healthy, and equitable world.” Also check out their other site Beautiful Rising)
Theater of the Oppressed is an arsenal of theater techniques and games that seeks to motivate people, restore true dialogue, and create space for participants to rehearse taking action. It begins with the idea that everyone has the capacity to act in the “theater” of their own lives; everybody is at once an actor and a spectator. We are “spect-actors!” — a term which Boal coined.
Theater of the Oppressed encompasses many forms, including the following:
Image theater (see TACTIC) invites spect-actors to form a tableau of frozen poses to capture a moment in time dramatizing an oppressive situation. The image then becomes a source of critical reflection, facilitated by various kinds of interventions: spect-actors may be asked to depict an ideal image of liberation from that oppression, and then a sequence of transition images required to reach it, or to reshape an image to show different perspectives.
Forum theater (see TACTIC) is a short play or scene that dramatizes a situation, with a terribly oppressive ending that spect-actors cannot be satisfied with. After an initial performance, it is shown again, however this time the spectators become spect-actors and can at any point yell “freeze” and step on stage to replace the protagonist(s) and take the situation in different directions. Theater thus becomes rehearsal for real-world action.
Legislative theater takes forum theater to the government and asks spect-actors to not only attempt interventions on stage, but to write down the successful interventions into suggestions for legislation and hand them in to the elected officials in the room.
Invisible theater (see TACTIC) is a play that masquerades as reality, performed in a public space. The objective is to unsettle passive social relations and spark critical dialogue among the spect-actors, who never learn that they are part of a play. Augusto Boal said of one invisible theater intervention, “The actor became the spectator of the spectator who had become an actor, so the fiction and reality were overlapping.”[ref]Interview, Democracy Now! June 3, 2005[/ref]
A final point that perhaps can’t be stated enough: our movements need to be more strategic and community-led! Theater of the Oppressed offers arts-based strategy-developing exercises that foster collaboration and community-led engagement. What could be more awesome?
Beautiful Rising by Beautiful Rising, various authors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.