What is Theater of the Oppressed?
Theater of the Oppressed is an arsenal of theater techniques and games that seeks to humanize 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 our lives; everybody is at once an actor and a spectator. We are all spect-actors!
It was created by Augusto Boal in practice over the last 40 years. In the 1970′s his Arena Theater company in Brazil realized that they should not use theater to teach workers about their problems and pose solutions for them (as most agit-prop theater seeks to do) – but instead use theater as a space for people to deconstruct problems and rehearse for taking action. Boal drew inspiration from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Liberation Theology, and practice in multiple countries around the world while in exile.
There are many theater forms that constitute Theater of the Oppressed. Here are the primary forms in use:
Image theater invites spect-actors to form a group of statues to create a moment in time dramatizing an oppressive situation. The image then becomes a source of critical reflection facilitated by various kinds of interventions. For example, the spect-actors can show the ideal image and the transition images required to reach it, or can reshape an image to show different perspectives.
Forum theater is a short play about a situation of oppression which ends poorly for the protagonist(s) After an initial performance, it is shown again, however this time the spectators become spect-actors and can at any point yell “freeze” and replace the protagonist(s) in an attempt to transform the situation and rehearse for real 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 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.” (Interview, 2005 with Democracy Now!)
Rainbow of desire is a series of 15 techniques used to explore the complexities of internalized oppression in order to more accurately understand the systems they come from. It includes, for example, “Cop in the Head” in which spect-actors give a voice and repetitive movements to the messages they have internalized that prevent them from taking action.
TO for activists and educators: An experiential workshop exploring the intersections of Theater of the Oppressed and Critical Pedagogy. Discover your creative self while learning dope new approaches to theater-based practice in the classroom. We promise you will have fun, build community and deepen your understanding of social justice teaching and learning.
Theater of the Oppressed as Intervention: Theater of the Oppressed is an arsenal of theater techniques designed to create participatory actions or rehearsal for action. In this workshop we will design and rehearse either a Forum, Image or Invisible Theater piece that can be used to engage a public audience in the streets, or in a store, restaurant, conference etc.
Practicing Freedom is also happy to tailor a workshop for your group, using any of the forms explained above.
Coming upUPCOMING EVENTS
Currently none scheduled
April 28, 6:30 PM PRESENTATION: Action Research Community Reception and Recognition, AERA conference. In the Grand Ballroom East, Grand Hyatt, San Francisco
Oct 6,7 WORKSHOP: Theater of the Oppressed 101 at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A follow up to Popular Education 101.
May 16,23 WORKSHOP: Participatory Action Research for educators and organizers at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. Registration is open here: www.politicaleducation.org
June 3 WORKSHOP: From Forum to Action; Participatory Action Research grounded in Theater of the Oppressed At the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference, Berkeley. Register here: http://www.ptoweb.org/
dates tbd, 11:00-5:00 April 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Practices in Youth-Led and Theater-Based Participatory Action Research" & PRESENTATION: Youth-Led Action Research to Heal the Streets 9th Annual Action Research Conference at the UCSD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences San Diego, CA
March 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Exploring the Intersections of Whiteness and Femaleness" White Privilege Conference Albuquerque, NM
Feb 21, 6:00-9:00pm White Noise Dialogue to explore why so many people socialized as white and female are in helping professions. San Francisco.
Feb 27 & March 3, 11:00-5:00 WORKSHOP: Popular Education 101: Theories and Practices for organizers. At the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A remixed and re-offered version of Paulo Freire 101 offered last Spring.
Oct 15, 10:30-12:00 Neighborhood Safety Summit, Laney College, Oakland. Last year's Heal the Streets youth fellows and OPD officers will talk about their mistrust of each other, and what to do about it.
Oct 18, 6:00-9:00 White Noise monthly dialogue, San Francisco. People socialized as both white and female talk about Cultural Appropriation www.conspireforchange.org
July 21 Chicago, IL, PTO conference Workshop: Harvesting Knowledge for Collective Action: Youth-Led Participatory Action Research at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference
July 23, 24, 30, 31 @ 4pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance: Popol Vuh, Heart of Heaven
August 4-7, 2011 Portland, OR, Aero Conference 2 Workshops: Participatory Theater for Educators & Youth-Adult Partnerships: Practicing Youth-Led Participatory Action Research
September 3, 4, 5 @ 1pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance:Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, Seven Macaw & the Magic Twins