I was doing research tonight for some drama lessons I’m writing. Which meant that sooner or later I’d need to turn to the work of Augusto Boal, the Brazilian dramatist whose work forms the staple activities of drama teachers worldwide. When I looked up some of his resources online, I was saddened to read that the great man died this month.
Boal came from Rio de Janiero, and it hardly surprises me to find out that he was originally trained as a chemist. His theatre work, too, had elements of chemistry about it. Boal developed drama as a tool which could be applied to volatile social issues in order to yield healing solutions. Like a chemist separating and amalgamating his materials, he used his extraordinary skill and vision to separate out the strands of power, powerlessness, dependency, apathy, personal and political conflict. His actors used the techniques of Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” to address social and political issues, and to help communities reach meaningful solutions.
Social commitment came at a price: for his activism, Boal was captured and tortured by Brazil’s military junta in the early 1970s. Later, exiled to Argentina (and later still, in Europe), he continued his revolutionary work. He developed an array of drama techniques including: the “living newspaper” – a form of agitprop theatre in which the audience gets invited to determine the topic and content of a performance based on local community issues; “invisible theatre” (also known as guerilla theatre), in which actors stage a scene which appears to be real in order to spark off debate and reaction amongst onlookers; and “forum theatre” in which the audience gets to revise and re-enact sections of a performed piece, as a way of eliciting solutions and suggestions for the presented conflict.
Translator Adrian Jackson says on the Theatre of the Oppressed website:
“Augusto Boal, our good friend, teacher and inspiration has died. Many of us loved him. It has been my privilege to interpret his words in print — but for this moment he prepared no text for me to use. The world is a poorer place without him. He touched the lives of thousands, possibly milllions of people. He gave us an invention, a discovery, the Theatre of the Oppressed, which helps us make sense of the world, but even that wonderful invention cannot entirely soften the blow of his loss. The consolation of course is that his work will live and continue to grow – the Theatre of the Oppressed is already the richest legacy anyone could hope for.”