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Premier’s Lend Lease English Literature Scholarship From Page to Stage: Applying the Techniques of Brazilian Director, Augusto Boal Matthew Aris Waverley College Sponsored by PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 What is Theatre of the Oppressed? Theatre of the Oppressed is a name given to a form of theatre that was developed in Brazil by Theatre Practitioner Augusto Boal in the early 70s. Primarily, it is theatre that is created with the purpose of stimulating social and political debate and fostering democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among its participants. Theatre is emphasised not as a spectacle but rather as a language designed to: 1. analyse and discuss problems of oppression and power, and 2. explore group solutions to these problems It bridges the gap between actor and spectator. The latter is given the opportunity to both observe and engage in self-empowering processes of dialogue that help foster critical thinking. The basis of Boal’s work is the creation of the ‘spec-actor’. This is the observer who at a designated place within the action is invited onto stage to replace the actor and play out alternatives. This possibility of being simultaneously Protagonist and Principle spectator, affords the participant the possibility of combining memory and imagination to create ‘alternatives’ both on stage in and in their own lives. “I Augusto Boal want the spectator to assume her role as actor and artist, to invade the character ( and the stage ), taking his place and proposing ways and alternatives.” (74, Aesthetics…2004) The issues explored through Theatre of the Oppressed are varied and reflect the society from whence they originate. They include: racism, gender issues, alienation, ageing, family, poverty and corruption. Theatre of the Oppressed is an international organisation with groups world wide. They are especially well organised on the American Continent, Europe and the Sub Continent. In Brazil there are a number of groups and affiliations with links to the Centre of Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio. These groups are varied but all use a variety of the techniques associated with the ‘arsenal’ Boal and his followers have developed. They include News Paper Theatre, Legislative Theatre, Invisible Theatre, image Theatre, Rainbow of Desire and Forum PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 Augusto Boal began his Theatre revolution during the 70s with News Paper Theatre in Sao Paulo during the height of the Brazilian Dictatorship. He was imprisoned for inciting social dissent and was extradited to Argentina and later moved his family to France. It is during this time that he wrote his manifesto The Theatre of the Oppressed. He returned to Brazil following the collapse of the Dictatorship and started the Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio http://www.ctorio.org. He was a member of Parliament for Rio de Janeiro from 1993 to 1996. During that time he used a unique approach to discussing and deciding laws called Legislative Theatre. (Legislative Theatre 1998. Routledge ). When he is not travelling the world conducting workshops and sharing his techniques he is overseeing all the various activities of CTO-Rio. The Center of the Theatre of the Oppressed welcomes students from all over the world. The CTO-Rio is not a formal school; for this reason it does not offer a program with a strict curriculum. The international exchange of the CTO-Rio is a program of activities, during which, participants can follow and, in some cases, participate directly in rehearsals and presentations of the Popular TO Groups, theatrical Workshops and production of plays. Besides this, the exchange students may also participate in some of the Seminars and Theatrical Laboratories directed by Augusto Boal. A word of advice for those interested in undertaking such a study: be familiar with Brazilian Portuguese because, although many of the Jokers can speak English it is a ‘must’ for getting by in Brazil. Also, be prepared to ring three or four times before you get an answer and don’t be surprised when events/performances and workshops start late. Brazilians are renowned for being spontaneous and as with all differences in cultures there are benefits and challenges. I met with Augusto Boal in Rio Dec 2006. It was a Forum Theatre presentation in which Boal was to give a speech. A movie was played of the group’s recent visit to India where they conducted Forum Theatre Workshops in remote villages. Unfortunately, the image quality was so poor that Boal was forced to stop the presentation and publicly address his students on the value of preparation. The casts of the three plays were made up of CTO Actors and people with mental illnesses. Each play was introduced and explained by the Joker (The Actor who conducts the Forum). The Joker could stop the action and invite members from the audience to make suggestions on what should happen next. The audience member was then invited to replace the actor who played the role of the Protagonist. What the presentation lacked in technical preparation it made up for in colour and style. The set was made entirely from recyclable materials creating strong symbolic representations. The Jokers were masterful storytellers and communicators. If Boal is the face of CTO then his Jokers are the heart and soul. They are vibrant, youthful and give you the feeling when you are in their company that you are part of something very powerful. PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 CTO Actors engaged in Forum Theatre, Rio, December 2006. Boal’s Philosophy on Education “We are those that believe that every human being is an artist; that every human being is capable of doing what one human being can do. Perhaps we may not do it as well as each other, but we are capable of doing it- not better than each other but, each better than ourselves. And each time we do it, we are better and more capable. I am better than myself, I am better than I think and I can become, better than I have been” ( 84, Aesthetics…,2004). Boal’s philosophy on education is detailed in his text Aesthetics of the Oppressed (2004, Taylor and Francis). Programs have been developed and are now being trialled as a potential model within a number of schools in Brazil. It is a program intended to bring all the creative faculties together (Drama, Music, Fine and Manual Arts). A program designed specifically towards self actualisation of the individual, a self discovery tour that cultivates the creative aspect and potential within each student. Paulo Fiere, a close friend of Boal’s and one of Brazil’s fathers of education talks about the ‘transivity’ of true teaching: the teacher is not a person who unloads knowledge: the teacher is a person who has a particular area of knowledge, transmits it to the pupil and, at the same time, receives other knowledge in return, since the pupil also has his or her own area of knowledge. The ‘Aesthetics of the Oppressed’ is a project that believes that art is the most human characteristic of the human being; it is his or her capacity to recreate the world. Art is metaphor. Metaphor is the transposition of something, which exist within one context to another context. “ The Aesthetics of the Oppressed is a project about helping the Oppressed to discover Art by discovering their art, and, in the act, discovering themselves; to discover the world by discovering their world and in the act , discovering themselves, instead of receiving information from the media, TV., radio, foreign music, etc; to create their own artistic metaphors of their own world” ( 39, Aesthetics…, 2004). Theatre of the Oppressed is not a prescription. It creates within the student his/her own diagnosis of the problem. There is a distinction here in the value of making art as opposed to the finished product. The process of the aesthetic stimulates the development of perceptive and creative capabilities. It also develops within the group an appreciation and distinction in the forces that shape cultural attitudes and beliefs. “Unless we create our own culture, we will be obedient and servile to other cultures. And when we are creating our own culture, other cultures can only benefit from us expanding our PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 sensibility. The fact of being who I am, when I know who I am , does not stop me from admiring what others do. Unless I know who I am I will be a copy” (39, Aesthetics…, 2004). Using Theatre of the Oppressed Techniques in the Classroom The focus of this paper is to inspire better practice in the use of Augusto Boal’s techniques amongst Drama teachers in NSW by ‘lifting it off the page and putting it on the stage’. The major challenge associated with teaching Boal’s techniques to a group of HSC Drama students is in making his work accessible and relevant and diluting all the information into a practical application. There are a variety of detailed resources available to teachers and students in the form of books, websites and videos. Boal has written at least six texts on the subject. They are detailed in the reference section of this Report and are highly recommended. However, teachers may find these texts wordy and difficult to digest. It is suggested that those interested in undertaking a study of his work start with Boal’s most recent text Aesthetics of the Oppressed. It summarises his most important Theatrical concepts. The first place to find information is at www.theatreoftheoppressed.org. This is the organizations international website and is dedicated to the sharing of resources through a ‘virtual library’, related to Theatre of the Oppressed. Most useful are videos of Forum Theatre Productions which give potential facilitators of TO the most valuable experience prior to commencing their own productions. The experiential study of the Theatre of Augusto Boal will provide a forum to: explore social, cultural ethical and spiritual beliefs, including the diverse character of the Australian Culture develop units that promote cross curriculum participation with subjects and groups within NSW Schools that are concerned with social justice promote and improve critical thinking and verbal literacy within the whole school community (not only Drama students) promote a social ethic that values human solidarity, tolerance and cooperation move a student out of the recognisable framework of devising through exposure to a variety of new techniques develop an acute sense of audience and dramatic purpose within students be used to uncover and discuss in a democratic forum issues of oppression from within students own lives, and develop empathy for characters that are drawn from within the community rather than those drawn from popular media. Some Important Considerations The following is an in-exhaustive list of important considerations for Teachers considering conducting Forum Theatre and Image Theatre Practice in the classroom. Using exercises from Boal’s text Games for Actors and Non Actors Boal talks extensively about games that develop skills. He has even written a book on the subject, Games for Actors and Non Actors. Boal presses the importance of developing within the participant an attitude of both discipline and liberty, that is, although Drama games are fun, students should also be encouraged to accept and practice the necessary discipline inherent within the structure of the exercise. Boal suggest that the Games in the Arsenal of TO should be modified by the practitioner to suit the needs of the group. PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 Conduct discussion on Oppression By uncovering Oppression in the students own lives and then using the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed in the manner that they were created for, you and your students will gain the most from your study of Boal. Once we are able to recognise forms of oppression within our own lives then we are more likely to recognise other and possibly more severe areas of Oppression in the broader community. Using Image Theatre techniques (Games for Actors and Non Actors), to create strong visual representations of the Oppression. It is important here to allow the students freedom to describe their own representations of the Oppression and allow the group to explore a variety of solutions through freeze frames. Creation of a topic for a Forum Theatre experiment It is important that the group decides what the central topic is, what the subject of the play and what the subsequent forum is to be. Boal is clear on this subject: “ In our experience of Forum it is important that the will exercised by the Protagonist – the character who will be replaced in the forum by the spectator- is a desire which the intervening spectators feel and will be ready to exert themselves to achieve, since they must enter into a sympathetic relationship with her( they must share the same emotions, desires and ideas ) The will belongs to the Protagonist, but must be shared by the community; it must be simultaneously an individual desire and social will” ( 56, Legislative…, 1998). The nucleus of the conflict must always be the concentration of the abstraction which is the central idea or theme of the play. Boal’s system of laws for creating theatre: • Reduce dramatic action to the shortest space in time • The important thing is the ‘reality of the image and not the exact image of reality’ • Unity of dramatic action which should be a single action • Concentration of time/place and action is advisable but not prescriptive • Do characters construct their history or should the story construct the characters? • Strengthen the story, plot structure so that certain politically meaningful facts will be thrown into clear light. Set and costume should be made up entirely of recyclable materials from the participants own communities. Students will need to be encouraged to create a striking design. Scripting the story can be so overwhelming and problematic that they can overlook this crucial aspect. May I suggest that within each group some members are responsible for the gathering of physical resources for set and costume. Alternatively, a Forum Theatre Production may also work as an inter-department project with the Visual Arts Department. Teacher should at first play the role of the Joker. Although the Joker is only proposing questions they should, as Boal states, “already have taken sides;” that of the Oppressed. This can become very challenging for certain teachers as often they themselves may be targeted as the Oppressors. PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 Some personal reflections on Theatre of the Oppressed This is a new form of Theatre that, though exciting, is still in its early stages of development. Boal has developed a model for the use of its specific techniques and conventions. Theatre of the Oppressed is a theatre with a specific purpose. It is theatre about and for the Oppressed. Boal states that his theatre being used any other way is creative heresy. “There are however some unacceptable deviations – not adaptations of the mechanisms of Theatre of the oppressed to special conditions and local problems, but total treason to the philosophical basis of this form of theatre, which must be Theatre about, to and above all of the Oppressed. I have heard of some groups that use Theatre of the Oppressed in business, allegedly to help the workers to do their work better and in doing so to be more comfortable….and productive- they are usually sponsored by the bosses. This deviation is the same as using Wagner to stimulate workers to build trucks more quickly. WAGNER is not responsible for that and neither am I!” (9, Aesthetics, 2004). Using TO and understanding TO are one in the same. In order to understand we must do. Boal’s work was never meant to be read (although there has been a substantial amount written, probably due to the fact that Boal is theorist himself ); it is meant to be practised with this exclusive purpose in mind. If you are passionate about using Drama as a vehicle to engage students in dialogue about issues that affect them, then I believe that the promotion and use of this type of Drama is especially relevant in the current political and social environment in this country. I have been inspired by the work of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed, especially his work with non actors. I believe that this study and its implementation into the professional body of Drama teachers will have a profound effect on the role of the subject within NSW schools, especially in promoting and encouraging critical thinking and verbal literacy but most importantly providing a platform for the concerns and issues of the oppressed within our school community and beyond. On my return from Brazil I conducted Forum Theatre with a class of Year 12 students. My experiences in Brazil did not completely prepare me for this undertaking. I was forced to appropriate certain techniques and others I found could not be diluted. The scope of this Report doesn’t allow for a full investigation into the challenges associated with facilitating this unit. However, please contact me at the email address below and I would be pleased to forward you a copy of the Program and reflections for this unit. I also have video footage of the performances which may also be of assistance. [email protected] References Boal, Augusto; Games for Actors and Non Actors, 1992. Routledge Boal, Augusto; Theatre of the Oppressed, 1974. Pluto Press Boal Augusto; Legislative Theatre, 1998. Routledge Boal, Augusto; Aesthetics of the Oppressed, 2004. Taylor and Francis PREMIER’S TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP REPORTS, PART 1/2 www.theatreoftheoppressed.org. http://www.ctorio.org.