History

On stage, actors experience passions and emotions just as we do in real life. And we, in real life, express ideas and feelings through dialogue, movements and voice intonations, just like actors. With one difference: the actor on stage is aware of using theatrical language whereas we use language without this awareness (which is why we aren’t so good at using it). (Boal 1997)

Forum theatre is a theatre form created by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal (1931-2009) as part of what he calls ‘theatre of the oppressed’. In theatre of the oppressed Boal developed a theatrical method based on Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), a book by the Brazilian educator and writer Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Boal’s method seeks to transform audiences into active participants in the theatrical experience. According to Boal, the traditional theatre is oppressive since spectators usually do not get a chance to express themselves. In his method he tries to transform spectators into “spect-actors” which means that spectators have possibility to influence the course of the act. 

Augusto Boal and his career

In the 1960s Boal worked in the Arena Theatre in São Paulo where he began experimenting with new forms of theatre. At that time Brazil had just undergone a long period of military dictatorship and Boal took a leftist approach on issues concerning nationalism, which was very much in vogue at that time. In Brazil Boal, as a cultural activist, was seen as a threat by Brazilian military regime and he was exiled to Argentina. During his staying there he published the book Theatre of the Oppressed (1973).

Boal circulated in South America and worked with people in small and usually poor communities that dealt with conflicts such as civil wars and lack of government attention.  His stays in different communities strengthened his ideas that only the oppressed are able to free the oppressed. At that time he created his forum theatre method. In its purest form, both actors and spect-actors will be people who are victims of the oppressors under consideration; that is why they are able to offer alternative solutions, because they themselves are personally acquainted with the oppression.

Boal returned to Brazil in the mid of the 1980s and he continued his work with oppressed people. He worked out issues people might be facing in their communities through theatre. He was interested for example in human rights, protection of crime victims and witnesses, rights of prisoners, and people who lived in poor or in slum areas. His main idea was to inspire the oppressed people to rise up against racial and class inequality. His theatre method allowed the idea of rebellion and the impulse for change to come from people themselves.  For that reason Augusto Boal’s method has been called a politically motivated theatre form.

Boal also lived long periods of time in France. He spoke about his theatrical method, directed plays and had many forum theatre workshops and performances around Europe. In his own words, he felt that he began to develop a new type of forum theatre in Europe, because in Latin America the audience was generally small and homogenous, the spect-actors almost always were the workers from one factory, the residents of particular neighbourhood, the congregation of a church, the students of a university, etc. In Europe he did sessions and shows for hundreds of people who didn’t know each other at all. In Latin America he did forum theatre in workshops whereas in Europe sessions were performances. Regardless these differences he got many positive results also in Europe.

Nowadays the methods of the theatre of the oppressed have been applied, adapted and reinvented by practitioners all over the world. You may ask: why is the theatre of the oppressed so successful also in Europe? In Boal’s words: “First, we don't try to expound a message or a revealed truth. We try to ask the right questions instead of giving what we think are the right answers. Next, we offer a simple system of exercises, games and methods which anyone can handle but which can also be used for very complicated things like psychotherapeutic introspection. Thirdly, we create an opportunity for freedom which produces dialogue. All of us want to talk with people, to know their views and have the chance to express our own.”

(See a list of reference material in the Readings section under Resources)

n stage, actors experience passions and emotions just as we do in real life. And we, in real life, express ideas and feelings through dialogue, movements and voice intonations, just like actors. With one difference: the actor on stage is aware of using theatrical language whereas we use language without this awareness (which is why we aren’t so good at using it). (Boal 1997)

Forum theatre is a theatre form created by Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal (1931-2009) as part of what he calls ‘theatre of the oppressed’. In theatre of the oppressed Boal developed a theatrical method based on Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), a book by the Brazilian educator and writer Paulo Freire (1921-1997). Boal’s method seeks to transform audiences into active participants in the theatrical experience. According to Boal, the traditional theatre is oppressive since spectators usually do not get a chance to express themselves. In his method he tries to transform spectators into “spect-actors” which means that spectators have possibility to influence the course of the act.

Augusto Boal and his career 

In the 1960s Boal worked in the Arena Theatre in São Paulo where he began experimenting with new forms of theatre. At that time Brazil had just undergone a long period of military dictatorship and Boal took a leftist approach on issues concerning nationalism, which was very much in vogue at that time. In Brazil Boal, as a cultural activist, was seen as a threat by Brazilian military regime and he was exiled to Argentina. During his staying there he published the book Theatre of the Oppressed (1973). 

Boal circulated in South America and worked with people in small and usually poor communities that dealt with conflicts such as civil wars and lack of government attention.  His stays in different communities strengthened his ideas that only the oppressed are able to free the oppressed. At that time he created his forum theatre method. In its purest form, both actors and spect-actors will be people who are victims of the oppressors under consideration; that is why they are able to offer alternative solutions, because they themselves are personally acquainted with the oppression.

Boal returned to Brazil in the mid of the 1980s and he continued his work with oppressed people. He worked out issues people might be facing in their communities through theatre. He was interested for example in human rights, protection of crime victims and witnesses, rights of prisoners, and people who lived in poor or in slum areas. His main idea was to inspire the oppressed people to rise up against racial and class inequality. His theatre method allowed the idea of rebellion and the impulse for change to come from people themselves.  For that reason Augusto Boal’s method has been called a politically motivated theatre form.

Boal also lived long periods of time in France. He spoke about his theatrical method, directed plays and had many forum theatre workshops and performances around Europe. In his own words, he felt that he began to develop a new type of forum theatre in Europe, because in Latin America the audience was generally small and homogenous, the spect-actors almost always were the workers from one factory, the residents of particular neighbourhood, the congregation of a church, the students of a university, etc. In Europe he did sessions and shows for hundreds of people who didn’t know each other at all. In Latin America he did forum theatre in workshops whereas in Europe sessions were performances. Regardless these differences he got many positive results also in Europe.  

Nowadays the methods of the theatre of the oppressed have been applied, adapted and reinvented by practitioners all over the world. You may ask: why is the theatre of the oppressed so successful also in Europe? In Boal’s words: “First, we don't try to expound a message or a revealed truth. We try to ask the right questions instead of giving what we think are the right answers. Next, we offer a simple system of exercises, games and methods which anyone can handle but which can also be used for very complicated things like psychotherapeutic introspection. Thirdly, we create an opportunity for freedom which produces dialogue. All of us want to talk with people, to know their views and have the chance to express our own.”

 (See a list of reference material in the Readings section under Res