Augusto Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed (TO)—a brief introduction

Augusto Boal Augusto Boal is a Brazilian theatre director, social activist, and author of Theatre of the Oppressed, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Rainbow of Desire, Legislative Theatre and Hamlet and the Baker's Son. His work includes several different types of dramatic forms including image theatre, forum theatre, invisible theatre, legislative theatre, and cop-in-the-head. Developed as a response to and embodiment of Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, TO allows homogeneous groups of people to problem solve through interactive theatre techniques. Central to Boal's approach is the anti-model—a short scene based on one participant's story of oppression presented to a group of people struggling with similar oppression—in which the protagonist fails to exercise his or her will in relation to a socially sanctioned authority figure. Participants, or spect-actors, have an opportunity to intervene into the anti-model, replace the protagonist, and in action deliver an alternative approach toward the antagonist, an approach that would turn the anti-model into a model. Through multiple interventions, the spect-actors "rehearse the revolution," exploring in a relatively safe space without real repercussions, possibilities (many of which prove dangerous and unadvised for the real circumstance that the protagonist will be returning to) for overcoming the power of the oppressor in the scene {new window}.

In Boal's terminology, the facilitator or director of Theatre of the Oppressed—the name he has given to the body of aesthetic techniques he invented—is called the joker. The joker is the facilitator of the workshop in which the techniques are tried. S/he is responsible for maximizing the benefits of the techniques for the participants, selecting which techniques would best serve the stories being offered up by the group, creating an atmosphere that encourages participation in stories/anti-models that are emotionally provocative, and improvising through the array of unpredictable interventions, re-actions, ideas, and feelings that arise willy-nilly.

I have come to believe that anyone who says they are prepared to joker a TO session is, fundamentally, fooling themselves.


External References [links open in new window]

glossary of Boalian terms
Community Arts Network
Excerpted from Playing Boal, edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz (Routledge, 1994)

A Brief Introduction to Augusto Boal
Community Arts Network

Formaat - Theater of the Oppressed bibliography

Formaat - Theater of the Oppressed yellow pages

Center of the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janero, Brazil

article with images of Boal
Ao! Espaces de la parole [Canadian site in French]