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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
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
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 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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
• 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.
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]
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
PART 1/2