The Duality Dilemma

The roots of Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) and the role of the TO director, the joker, lie in carnival and circus, Brechtian theory, and the pedagogical philosophy of Paolo Freire. In carnival and circus Boal discerned a form of public engagement and merriment, a myriad of voices and interpretations, inversions and reversals, clowns, irreverence, and popular forms {new window} of comedic resistance. In Brecht there was political outrage, critical disengagement from and analysis of the roles we play as socialized beings, a call to exploit our alienation, and an invitation to live in the ambiguous and fertile terrain between thought and action, reality and illusion, the ordinary and the strange. In Freire, Boal looked to dialogue, the belief that the marginalized are not outside but central to the structure of society, a dialectical and interdependent nature of social existence, and a pedagogy situated in an everchanging, not motionless and memorized, reality. Finally, Boal shared with Freire an understanding of the indispensability of praxis—the inseparability of reflection and action, theory and practice—in pursuit of social change.

In the 1950s and in the spirit of all of the above influences, Boal designed the Joker System. It brought together carnival, Freire, and Brecht and is documented in Theatre of the Oppressed [Boal 1979]. But it hasn't been engaged by TO practitioners; in fact, the joker system is rarely mentioned by Boal himself. In it, I was particularly taken by ways in which indirectness, ambiguity, and imprecision, interruption and reversal served an agenda of resistance. How it moved away from a polarized and oppositional form of resistance. I liked this. As a TO practitioner, I am seeking alternatives to what seems to me to be a too rigid duality in the structure of forum theatre, the most popular of Boals' forms that relies heavily on clear distinctions between protagonist and antagonist and on a language of oppressed and oppressor. The very structure of forum theatre limits, in my experience, the kind of interventions that could happen in the anti-models; that is, forum is not as revolutionary in design as the theoretical wisdom that inspired it. Put another way, I don't think forum best embodies a kind of Brechtian-circus approach to resistance. Within the Boal's ouevre, I have been more attracted to Rainbow of Desire techniques [see Boal 1995].

Recently, I am particularly interested in returning to the joker system which hasn't been used or referred to for decades now, by Boal or TO practitioners.

I am also turning to the structure of jokes themselves and to joker characters of all kinds toward expanding the notion of jokering and fulfilling its comedic, paradoxical, and wild-card potential.


External References [links open in new window]

People You Should Know: Freire

Paulo Freire: A Homage

Instituto Paulo Freire
[site in Portugese]

International Brecht Society

Bertolt Brecht in Southern California

Bertolt Brecht's FBI file