The Theatre of the Oppressed: Forum for social change

We did a survey together with the city hall
in the public services: The hospital, the prison, the schools,
the sport services… And what came out was that basically no one had met
-except for the odd case here and there-… …someone who is gay, transsexual or transgender openly. And even in the workplace, the people who work
in those services. The numbers show that suddenly you have a place
with 5.000 workers -in the hospital for example-… …and only a few are openly gay. When you compare that to the official percentage,
the average percentage of LGBT people in the world… …which is 5 to 7 per cent, then suddenly you see
there is a problem. If people don’t feel they can talk openly about
themselves, something is wrong. And it is the responsibility of that service or the
working place to actually come out and take action. The Theatre of the Oppressed is a very original way,
I think… …of trying to make people see what oppression is. You really make them feel it because they have to act
it. They have to act a scenario… …and they have to be a person that maybe is oppressed
or think about a situation that could help that person. So instead of just listening and spectating, you
have to become an actor yourself and really feel. And that’s really powerful. Theatre of the Oppressed is a political theatre,
as many other political theatres in the world… …but different from the others. It is also called a non-ideological one and this is
really important in my opinion… …because you don’t go to people to convince them
about your truth or your idea to find a solution, …but you just create a setting where the people, the
groups – marginalized group or any kind of group -… …can reflect in a safe space, and thanks to the
different perspectives that any individual has… …they can try to find alternatives. Theatre of the Oppressed, I think is a great method for
communities – especially for minority communities -… …to empower themselves, to take up space just to be
there, to be present and to… really demand the needs that they want and need,
and maybe the rights they don’t have… ..and they would want to have because they’re
basic human rights. Augusto Boal was living in Brazil in the 50’s and he
started as a classical director but he was… …touched by the environment around – the social
environment, the poverty, the discrimination,… …the violence in Brazil.
He tried to find a way to… …help the people he lived with to face the problems
they had. And so he started to move from the classical theatre
to an investigation, a research… …- for instance the Bertolt Brecht approach and also
the Stanislavski approach – and then finally… …he came to the conclusion that this kind of theatre,
this maieutic theatre, could be very helpful. The development of Theatre of the Oppressed started
from very specific techniques and then… …developed into facing different social environments,
the method was developed in different ways. This is also another richness of the method, that it is
not fixed forever but it is developing. Boal says that you cannot be in the society if you
don’t want to change the society. Theatre of the Oppressed gives you the awareness to be
part of a system – a complex system -… …so you are not alone with your own oppression
and so on. But if you are part of a system you can change it
a little bit. Boal once said that everyone of us is an actor because
to act is a way to double the reality, to be a person as we are – a human being – but in the same time to be
a character. So this double side, this kind of… …distance between ‘I am’ in a way but ‘I am playing’
in another way, is what makes us human, he said. There are exercises to develop the senses, the
sensitiveness by senses. There are exercises implying… …trust. There are exercises implying dialogue with
another person or a group. And this way people slowly… …step by step, are brought to more trust, more
confidence… …and also they develop their ability to act,
to use the body. I think that most of the time we don’t realize that
we are 90% in our heads, that we just do all the work… …intellectually because our society and our school
system are designed that way, that we do almost… …everything intellectually. And we do not realize how
important it is that we ingrain that in our bodies. And then in a second phase when we are searching for
our stories, there are different techniques. One is just to tell with words. And another one is to
create an image using your own body… …or the others’ bodies so you can visualize the
situation, but you can also create metaphors. So an image can be like a picture, a real reflection of
reality, or can be also a metaphor of what you feel,… …what you perceive to be a problem in reality. And then finally, the techniques to find alternatives.
The main is forum theatre, where people intervene to… …replace the characters and to try their own
behaviour, their own solutions. And there is image theatre as well, and also cops in the
head when the problem is much more internalized… …than external. When you prepare a theatre forum you must make a
character, the oppressed character,… …so the audience can identify himself or herself
to the protagonist. You learn that an oppressor has his/her own reasons to be
how they are. The typical approach with a group is to start from a
group building phase… …where the people can get in touch with each other,
can trust each other. And then when there is enough trust for people, the
second step is to ask people to share some stories,… some experiences that were oppressive in the group,
and transform this into something theatrical. Then the third step is to create something in common,
something that started from a personal story… …but becomes more and more a collective story.
Something that people can recognize as their story,… …where an oppression is included and there is no
solution. The next step is to find alternatives… …as I said. And finally, usually in the training
there is a moment where all these emotions… …and thoughts that were warmed up, are closed in some
way in order to enable people to go back to reality… …and to use what they learned emotionally,
intellectually, in the body and so on, to apply… …in their own life as individuals or as a group
if possible. I saw one show about stalking and I thought for the
very first part ”what is this?”. And then I saw the potential and I was so involved in
what was going on. I really thought that… …that could be a very good tool for going for example
into schools and making people live those moments. It’s pretty powerful, I do believe it is something
we can use more. The small steps that we can make with empowered
individuals and communities for a social change. Just that really strong bottom-up approach. Theatre forum is like the medium for the people that
already have critical consciousness:… …’I want to do something but I don’t have the will
so much’. Or the context is not right. It makes them ready and more ready the next time
to do things. It was like a process. Every year, every forum we
prepared, every performance I learned something new… …about me but also about the world. We just become
all the same. I wasn’t different anymore so I have nothing to be
ashamed of. The strength of the Theatre of the Oppressed is that
it is not a dry workshop or a conference. It’s something that people actually have to get
involved in. It’s something different. They can open up, they can widen their perspectives
and face the problems. This is the essence of the difference and we call
that also the maieutic approach. We try… …through the Theatre of the Oppressed to push
people to… …see the richness of themselves, the potential
that they have. I think that it is really important that we listen to
the community and we just use… …the methods from the Theatre of the Oppressed to
encourage what they want and have to say. I see this method as very applicative to working with
minority groups, with youth,… …and especially with LGBT people because there are
so many areas where LGBT individuals… …and the LGBT community are invisible, but we
shouldn’t be. With Theatre of the Oppressed you can go
out of the boxes. I’m so grateful to the Theatre of the Oppressed.
It changed my life. Another way to change the world.

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