Topic 4: Theater of the Oppressed/ Forum Theatre

Theatre of the Oppressed

The Theatre of the Oppressed is a participatory theatre that fosters democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among participants.

Theatre of the Oppressed invites people to become “spect-actors,” capable of taking action and using theatre as a rehearsal space for social transformation.

Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed

Boal believed that “we are all theatre” because, as human beings, we can all act, watch ourselves acting, and based on what we see, change what we do. Changes in our actions can, in turn, change the world around us.

Theatre of the Oppressed provides a process for testing actions which can transform the groups, communities, and social systems in which we work and live.

It is a rehearsal for change.

Watch Augusto Boal talking about Theatre of the Oppressed

Augusto Boal’s Image Theatre

In Image Theatrestill images are used to explore abstract concepts such as relationships and emotions, as well as realistic situations.  This technique was developed by Augusto Boal and is described fully in his book The Rainbow of Desire. 

  • Participants rapidly sculpt their own or each others’ bodies to express attitudes and emotions.
  • These images are then placed together and ‘dynamised’ or brought to life.

The method is often used to explore internal or external oppression, unconscious thoughts and feelings.

  • Image theatre is a flexible tool for exploring issues, attitudes and emotions both with groups who are confident with drama and those with little or no experience. 
  • No one has lines to learn or has to ‘act’ in front of others. Imaging can enable students to explore their own feelings and experiences in a less forbidding way than that offered by improvisational techniques.
  • In a circle, students create physical images in response to a given theme, for example, bullying. They should do this quickly, without pre-thought.
  • They are then invited to step into the centre of the circle and remake their image.
  • Other students can now add in their own still images.
  • This could lead to an abstract group image or a tableau that is “dynamised” or brought alive through thought tracking or by adding sound or movement.

Working with Tableau or Freeze Frame strategy in choral practice (1)

  • Freeze Frame is an accessible and popular strategy that may assist improvisation, build up confidence and encourage exchange of ideas and collaboration.
  • Performers are asked to start with a still image that represents a scene – their facial expressions, posture, position etc. are held still for a few seconds. The teacher with a signal (thought tapping) encourages conversation so that participants can express their views.
  • Moving to the next scene/frame, performers are asked to improvise for a few seconds after the signal “Go!’ or ‘Action!’ and stay still again when the teacher says ‘Freeze!’, ‘Cut!’ or rings a bell/musical instrument, and so on.

Working with Freeze Frame strategy in choral practice (2)

An activity devised by Prof. John O’Flynn (DCU Ireland)

Three scenarios (inspired by August Boal’s Image Theatre)

Freeze frame 1: A person or persons is/are excluded from your group

Freeze frame 2: Everyone is included

Freeze frame 3: Transition: process and agency towards inclusion for all

This is an activity that you can do with students/young people in your choir. When they have engaged in an activity like this, then it facilitates discussion and reflection on social inclusion (and exclusion), and has the potential to lead to positive actions and interventions among your group, and in other contexts.

Watch two short videos that illustrate the Freeze Frame strategy, yet, taking the activity a step further with the addition of musical utterances (from the In-Voice4Mpowerment Multiplier Event in Portugal,27.1.2024)

If you are new to Theatre of the Oppressed/Forum Theatre, this is a good start! We recommend that you consult and collaborate with a professional drama educator in order to introduce  and /or work synergistically using these strategies.

Forum Theatre

Another technique pioneered by Brazilian radical Augusto Boal.

  • A play or scene, usually indicating some kind of oppression, is shown twice.
  • During the replay, any member of the audience (‘spect-actor’) is allowed to shout ‘Stop!’, step forward and take the place of one of the oppressed characters, showing how they could change the situation to enable a different outcome.
  • Several alternatives may be explored by different spect-actors.
  • The other actors remain in character, improvising their responses.
  • A facilitator (Joker) is necessary to enable communication between the players and the audience.

The strategy breaks through the barrier between performers and audience, putting them on an equal footing. It enables participants to try out courses of action which could be applicable to their everyday lives.

Originally the technique was developed by Boal as a political tool for change (part of the Theatre of the Oppressed), but has been widely adapted for use in educational contexts.

Empowering the choral leader’s resilience: embracing the Icaruses by Antigoni Karagianni