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Augusto Boal ~ The Theatre of the Oppressed
Transcript of Augusto Boal ~ The Theatre of the Oppressed
A visionary, Augusto Boal was a Brazilian theater director, dramatist and educator. His theory was that you don't have to wait until 'after the revolution' for social improvements and change, you could use theater to make radical changes right here, right now. Boal dedicated his life to make the world a better place. An inspiration to millions, his ideas were revolutionary and called for change all around the world.
Augusto Boal - The Man.
The Theater of the Oppressed was created by Augusto Boal in the 1960’s. Boal believed that this style of theater makes the audience become ‘active’ and engages them in the performance itself (Coleman) . The Theater of the Oppressed helps the audience as well as actors learn about the community and themselves, and then use this knowledge to change the world around them.
What is The Theater of the Oppressed?
Invisible Theatre is very self explanatory. A group of actors will devise a scene based on a real problem and the audience has no idea whatsoever of what is actually happening around them ( a performance). The audience will then interact with the actors and try to solve the problem, because to them the issue is very real and thus, their response, will be very meaningful and relevant. Additionally, because the issue is very real to the audience, it is something that they will take away and discuss even after the ‘performance’ is over.
What is Invisible Theater?
A style of theater where you begin with a play or a scene that depicts some kind of an oppression. The performance is acted out twice. During the second time, any of the spectators (spect-actors) are allowed to shout 'Stop!', come up on stage and replace any one of the oppressed characters and change the outcome of the play.Through Forum Theater, several alternatives and solutions can be thought of. But, all the other actors stay in character and improvise their parts. A facilitator, in the form of a 'Joker' is also needed to help in communication between the actors and the spectators. (Burleson)
Forum Theater helps us get a different perspective on the given oppression and different ways of solving that oppression!
What is Forum Theater?
“Theater is a form is knowledge: it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theater can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.”
(Boal, 1992, p. xxxi)
What is Image Theater?
A style of theater where the audience or the ensemble portray an issue that comes from their own experiences. It is essentially a tableaux form of theater where you have a still oppressive scene and the audience can come up and move the people around (their body parts) and try and resolve the dilemma. Oppressions can be expressed in a non-verbal way through dynamisation and by using Image Theater.
Image Theater is also connected to the game Greek Statues where people slowly move and adjust body parts to create new images
“Image Theater is an ensemble's collective visual perspective on an issue that is being dramatically created. The idea underlying Image Theater is that a picture paints a thousand words and that our over-reliance on words can confuse or muddle issues rather than clarify them.”
“...it is something that is very real to them, because it provokes an honest reaction, an honest emotional reaction. So the audience gets involved because it matters to them, because they believe something that they want to put across”
"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."
How and why did Boal develop his different theater practices?
Boal developed his different theater practices because he felt that it was a way for the people who, were dealing with oppression in their daily lives, to learn of new ways to fight back and combat that oppression. Boal believed, "that theater was not a spectacle, rather a language accessible to all." His practices, were inspired with what he had or was seeing around him. For e.g. while he was in Argentina, Boal came up with the idea of 'Invisible Theater' which was aimed at getting around the oppressive political climate. Boal wanted to do good in the world and had a strong desire for helping people. People who didn't have a voice, people who would just stand and stare. He wanted to empower them!
"The techniques that we developed are not going to die tomorrow, because they do not come impregnated by the specific conditions of Peru or Scandinavia. They come as a structure, and you are discussing themes in the group with which you use them."
What is the historical and personal context of Boal’s work?
Boal started his work in Rio de Janeiro. In the 1950’s and 60’s he worked in participatory theatre. Later on, he started work with troupes and went from village to village and town to town, performing and trying to inspire people. Although, soon after, the government started to regard his work as dangerous and saw him as a threat. He was kidnapped and exiled to Argentina. This tells us that he had made lots of progress in his work and had begun to have an effect on people. Boal tried to portray issues that were relevant to Brazil at the time and tried to connect with the people and in the end, he started to involve the audience. Boal examined what was happening in the country and around him and try to find the best ways to express and solve that.
“The Origins of Theater of the Oppressed Augusto Boal began his experimentations in participatory theater in the 1950s and 60s while he was artistic director for the Arena Theater in Rio de Janeiro. He went beyond the stage and organized performances with the Arena troupe in the streets, factories, unions, churches where they could reach the people of the favelas or slums of Rio.”
What was happening in the world around him, that might have influenced his ideas?
During the 1960's Brazil experienced a military coup, which left the country in tatters and worsened the economic situation. The Brazilian people were struggling and were being oppressed by the wealthy and powerful. They didn't have a voice and couldn't stand up against the powerful. Boal wondered why didn't do anything and how they could just tolerate and bear it. He empowered them to stand up and fight against the oppression by creating the TO. He started of with Agitprop Theater and focused on issues that were relevant and were happening around him. It was mainly centered around oppression which were current and ongoing so that the people could relate to it and get inspired to take action.
"Because of Boal’s work, he drew attention as a cultural activist (someone who applies their knowledge and studies for the betterment of society). But the military coups in Brazil during the 1960's looked upon all such activity as a threat." (Paterson)
"A new military regime started in Brazil in 1964 with a coup d'état supported by the Brazilian elite, the church and the middle class, as well as by the United States (in fear of communism).Boal’s teachings were controversial, and as a cultural activist he was seen as a threat by the Brazilian military regime." (Zayat)
The military regime in the Brazil was one of the main reasons for inspiring Boal, to start up the TO and eventually change the world.
What were his life circumstances and how did his personal experiences impact his work?
The first time Boal was a witness to an oppression was in his dad's bakery. One of the workers was the victim, and his dad was the oppressor. Boal was amazed at how the worker just tolerated it. Finally, Boal told him to stand up, against the oppression and he was successful. Almost all of Boal's work was influenced by what was happening around him and his personal experiences. His exposure to different issues and oppressions, gave him ideas for different forms of theater and helped form his opinions on society, what was lacking and how he could help fix those imperfections.
My adventure with Boal
I was first introduced to Augusto Boal when we played his games for actors and non-actors in class. Greek Statues, the Blind Walk and Colombian Hypnosis were our foundation and introduction to Boal and his theater practices. The Greek Statues for example were was the basis for agit-prop theater and helped me gain first hand experience about what it must actually be like.The Blind Walk, Colombian Hypnosis and Invisible Dodgeball were all games that went on to help me in adaptation and improvisation later on in the topic.
How did you work with Boal’s Image Theatre techniques and what discoveries did you make?
After some experimentation with the games, the class moved on to Image Theater. I personally found the whole concept of still images and sculptors very intriguing. We were presented with an image that depicted some kind of oppression and we could go up and change their bodies and then the imaged would get dynamised. When we saw the video about Fatme, the concept became clearer. I also discovered that solving oppressions through Image Theater are not easy because the solution still has to be believable and cannot be a 'magic' one. I understood that each solution has it's limitations and that we have to work within them and still be able to get the best possible outcome.
How effective do you think Boal’s theatre practices can be in initiating positive change and seeking solutions for the problems of a community?
All of Boal's theater practices can, and have been very effective in initiating positive change. People all around the world now know about The Theater of the Oppressed and what it stands for. Boal's different styles of theater have often solved conflict and oppression in places like Nepal and Argentina. Boal has not only changed theater from a source of entertainment to education but has also stimulated immense positive social transformation.
People now have a way to express their feelings in a verbal and non-verbal, that will not only benefit them but also everyone around them.
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