The Theatre of the Oppressed is a participatory form of theatre developed by Brazilian drama theorist, political activist and theatre practitioner Augusto Boal. Originally developed to give poor and disenfranchised communities a more powerful voice, it soon grew into an international theatre movement. Importantly, it is a form of rehearsed theatre for non-actors. Multiple subsets exist under the banner including Forum Theatre, Image Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Legislative Theatre, Newspaper Theatre, and Rainbow of Desire. Although common elements often overlap, each subset has a different focus. Techniques involve games, exercises and prepared improvised performances with the aim of creating social and political change. – Justin Cash
Theatre of the Oppressed Resources
Augusto Boal Biographies
The Guardian obituary for Augusto Boal, his life and work in the theatre.
New York Times obituary for Augusto Boal outlining his legacy and work over several decades.
Wonderful timeline of Augusto Boal’s life and work in its various phases from the Augusto Boal Institute in Brazil (Portuguese > use Google Translate).
Biography of Augusto Boal from Wikipedia including his influences and published works.
Overview of Boal’s career in the Theatre of the Oppressed over several decades.
Boal biography and critique of the significance of his Theatre of the Oppressed.
Archival YouTube clips of August Boal’s work from the Augusto Boal Institute.
Outline of Boal’s work and trials during his career in Brazil and elsewhere.
Biography of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire, whose influential work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) is the theory upon which Augusto Boal’s methodology Theatre of the Oppressed is based upon.
Brief article from The Guardian newspaper about the legacy of Augusto Boal.
Overview of Theatre of the Oppressed
Music is the organisation of sound in time; plastic arts, the organisation of colours and lines in the space; theatre, the organisation of human actions in time and space. Theatre is a representation and not a reproduction of social reality. Forum theatre presents a scene or a play that must necessarily show a situation of oppression that the protagonist does not know how to fight against, and fails. The spect-actors are invited to replace this protagonist, and act out – on stage and not from the audience – all possible solutions, ideas, strategies.
Video of a workshop and keynote address by Augusto Boal (Brazil, 2000) examining the history of his Theatre of the Oppressed, culminating in a forum theatre performance. Duration: 3hrs 17 mins, Language: Spanish, Portuguese. English transcript.
Academic thesis and project employing Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to a first year public speaking class.
Academic paper discussing how Boal used his Theatre of the Oppressed techniques in context.
Conference workshop notes outlining Forum Theatre and image theatre games and exercises, plus rules for the audience and the Joker.
Excellent article detailing the methodology, purpose and aims of Boals’ Forum Theatre.
Excellent PowerPoint with activities and exercises for Forum Theatre, Image theatre and Newspaper Theatre.
Lesson plan Deconstructing Plot Structures and Systems of Power from Philadelphia Young Playwrights, introducing the principles of Theatre of the Oppressed.
From Learning for Justice Magazine, an article on bullying connected to a series of lesson plans using social justice theatre and the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed.
Article explaining the various functions of the joker in Boal’s Forum Theatre.
Academic paper exploring Theatre of the Oppressed and indigenous peoples in Brazil, the impact of Theatre of the Oppressed worldwide, and Boal’s legacy of theatre and social action in the classroom.
Overview of a ten-lesson unit mostly focusing on Boal’s Forum Theatre and Image Theatre.
Website of TOPLAB, the Theatre of the Oppressed laboratory in New York, who partner with organisations that struggle against social injustice.
Excellent academic paper intended to be a manual for educators using Theatre of the Oppressed methods in the classroom – mainly focuses on Image Theatre and Forum Theatre, suitable for middle school, but easily adapted. Includes many practical exercises and activities.
Article about Augusto Boal’s visit to Harvard University in December 2003 to run a series of Theatre of the Oppressed workshops with students.
Useful student PowerPoint on the different forms of Theatre of the Oppressed.
Part of the Human Rights Education Series published by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, Acting for Indigenous Rights: Theater to Change the World is a free online text with learning activities and practical exercises employing numerous Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. The book includes steps on how to write your own play or use the pre-written play scripts within.
Series of archival videos from around the world from the early 1990s to the early 2000s of Augusto Boal giving lectures and workshops with participants.
This excellent twelve-lesson unit of work on Boal’s Forum Theatre costs a small fee, but is worth it (includes sample pages for previewing).
Words are emptinesses that fill the emptiness (vacuum) that exists between one human being and another. Words are lines that we carve in the sand, sounds that we sculpt in the air. We know the meaning of the word we pronounce because we fill it with our desires, ideas and feelings, but we don’t know how that word is going to be heard by each listener. Image Theatre is a series of techniques that allow people to communicate through images and spaces, and not through words alone.
Explanation from Wikipedia of what constitutes Image Theatre.
Academic study with three primary school classrooms exploring the power of Image Theatre to foster student dialogue, develop empathic learning, and introduce conflict awareness techniques.
Academic paper examining how two groups of students from Belfast and Sarajevo used Boal’s Image Theatre to explore images of their respective cities.
Image Theatre activity that can readily be used with primary school students.
Very handy series of nine lessons plans on mostly Image Theatre and Forum Theatre for students.
Academic study involving several performance experiments using Boal’s Image Theatre as a tool.
Series of Image Theatre exercises previously used with young playwrights.
Lesson plan outlining the use of Image Theatre with students using the theme of social media.
Lesson plan for student participants to use Image Theatre in order to understand oppression and injustice.
Step-by-step instructions on how to use Image Theatre in a museum or art gallery setting (can be adapted for the drama classroom).
Explanation and instructions for how to use Image Theatre in the classroom.
Instructions on how to use Image Theatre with participants over Zoom.
Excellent series of instructions and exercises on how to use Image Theatre as a live storyboarding technique for non-actors.
To be a citizen does not mean merely to live in society, but to transform it. If I transform the clay into a statue, I become a sculptor; if I transform the stones into a house, I become an architect; if I transform our society into something better for us all, I become a citizen. It is a direct intervention in society, on a precise theme of general interest, to provoke debate and to clarify the problem that must be solved. It shall never be violent since it aims to reveal the violence that exists in society, and not to reproduce it.
Wikipedia entry on Boal’s concept of Invisible Theatre.
Lesson plan for students to write a script for implementing an Invisible Theatre performance in their community.
Article discussing Boals’ use of the Joker system in Theatre of the Oppressed, along with Invisible Theatre and Image Theatre.
Research findings of a study involving two participatory theatre ‘performances’ – an Invisible Theatre and an environmental theatre project, both borrowing from Boal’s techniques.
Theatre is not enough to change reality; we all agree. Legislative Theatre is the utilisation of all forms of the Theatre of the Oppressed to transform the citizens’ legitimate desires into Laws. After a normal Forum session, we create a space similar to a chamber where laws are made, and we proceed to create a similar ritual of lawmaking, following the same official procedure of presenting projects based on the spect-actors interventions, defending or refusing them, voting, etc. In the end, we collect the approved suggestions and try to put pressure upon the lawmakers to have those laws approved.
Video of Augusto Boal running a Legislative Theatre workshop in London with non-actors.
From Culture Plan B, an interview with Katy Rubin, one of the world’s leading practitioners of Legislative Theatre. They discuss Katy working with Augusto Boal and her founding of Theatre Of The Oppressed NYC.
This system of techniques represents the first attempt that was made to create the Theatre of the Oppressed, by giving the audience the means of production rather than the finished artistic product. They are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material, like reports of a political meeting, texts from the Bible, from the Constitution of a country, the Declaration of Human Rights, etc.
Conference workshop notes on how to use Newspaper Theatre in practice.
Lesson plans using artwork as stimulus for Newspaper Theatre performances
Academic paper discussing the use of Boal’s Newspaper Theatre and Forum Theatre with underprivileged students in the English classroom.
Newspaper Theatre Techniques
Simple reading: the news item is read detaching it from the context of the newspaper, from the format which makes it false or tendentious.
Crossed reading: two news items are read in crossed (alternating) form, one throwing light on the other, explaining it, giving it a new dimension.
Complementary reading: data and information generally omitted by the newspapers of the ruling classes are added to the news.
Rhythmical reading: as a musical commentary, the news is read to the rhythm of the samba, tango, Gregorian chant, etc., so that the rhythm functions as a critical ‘filter’ of the news, revealing its true content, which is obscured in the newspaper.
Parallel action: the actors mime parallel actions while the news is read, showing the context in which the reported event really occurred; one hears the news and sees something else that complements it visually.
Improvisation: the news is improvised on stage to exploit all its variants and possibilities.
Historical: data or scenes showing the same event in other historical moments, in other countries, or in other social systems, are added to the news.
Reinforcement: the news is read or sung with the aid or accompaniment of slides, jingles, songs, or publicity materials.
Concretion of the abstract: that which the news often hides in its purely abstract information is made concrete on the stage: torture, hunger, unemployment, etc., are shown concretely, using graphic images, real or symbolic
Text out of context: the news is presented out of the context in which it was published; for example, an actor gives the speech about austerity previously delivered by the Minister of Economics while he devours an enormous dinner: the real truth behind the minister’s words becomes demystified – he wants austerity for the people but not for himself.
Source: Boal, A., Theatre of the Oppressed
Academic paper from Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal discussing the virtual Newspaper Theatre approach – using Boal’s Newspaper Theatre with participants over Zoom in the online arena.
Rainbow of Desire
Many concrete oppressions provoke serious damage inside our subjectivity and psychic life. Under the general title of Rainbow of Desire, there are fifteen techniques – complex, but not complicated! – which help us to visualise our oppressions theatrically, and deal with them more clearly: no one interprets anything, but all participants offer the protagonist the mirror of the multiple regards of the others.
Detailed outline of Boal’s use of the Rainbow of Desire and the techniques involved.
Documentation and training material of Rainbow of Desire workshops and techniques from a project in Estonia.
Boal, A., Theatre of the Oppressed (1979)
Boal, A., Games For Actors and Non-Actors (1992, 2002)
Boal, A., The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy (1995)
Boal, A., Legislative Theatre (1999)
Boal, A., The Aesthetics of the Oppressed (2006)