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David Diamond and an audience at Headlines’ 2º of Fear and Desire workshop. Theatre of the Oppressed

Worthy of an article on its own, Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) has many forms. In contrast to conventional “spectacle” theatre that mainly entertains passive viewers, it is highly participatory. Founded in Brazil in the early 1970s by Augusto Boal, this form of popular theatre is based on the conviction that “artistic creativity is inherent to all human beings.” Theatre of the Oppressed emphasizes non-elitist forms of audience participation, designed to encourage audi- ence members to become directors, actors and producers. In Forum Theatre, its’ most common form, the actor/spec-

tator dynamic becomes blurred as spectators take over and enact how they would like to see conflicts in the skit resolved. The same skit is repeated with different “spect-actors” altering it as they like. This process is aimed at encouraging less popular viewpoints and resolving longstanding conflicts or differences using drama. To facilitate this process, Boal created a Joker whose role was to construct a safe, experi- mental space for people to collaborate together. Much like in playing cards, the Joker’s role is as a neutral facilitator who doesn’t comment on any of the proceedings. She/he might ask participants to explain their solutions, coax others to participate or intervene in a highly charged scene. Forum Theatre can be used in small or large groups,

including classroom settings. The groups can choose any subject of interest as long as it contains a conflict that needs fixing.

Forum Theatre in Action

As an open-ended medium, Forum Theatre can be used with any group 10 years of age and older to role play real-life issues. For example, a proposal for a small wind farm may

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divide two groups of neighbours. To represent both sides in the skit, the group/class is split into three groups: Yeah, Nay and neutral mediator (joker). The Yeah and Nay groups develop their own skits while the mediator group thinks about the ways that they might resolve the dispute. Depend- ing on the skill-level of the group, this should take between 20 and 45 minutes. While it could include multiple scenes, the performance of each skit should last about 2-5 minutes. Here’s a play-by-play of how it would work… In round

one, the Yeah and Nay groups each perform their own skits without any interruption. In round two, each group performs a second time but this time anyone in the mediator group or the opposing group can intervene. The intervenors would represent their own opinions or those of others with an opposing or marginalized view. Participants should feel encouraged to challenge the position(s) presented in the skit. When a spectator wants to intervene, they shout “Freeze” and the scene freezes. They then tap the shoulder of the person(s) they want to replace, and that person(s) vacates the stage. The scene continues with the new “spect-actor” in place. Throughout the scene, other spectators can also become actors. If this process becomes never-ending, the mediator group or the facilitator/teacher must cut it short. In round three, the focus is on resolving the conflicts. The

Yeah and Nay skits are each performed a third time, but with the intervenors staying with their new groups. The remaining members of the opposing and mediator groups can freeze a scene at any point, and try to resolve the conflicts in the most unbiased fashion possible. Taking everyone’s concerns seriously, the mediators and the facilitator/teacher need to focus on listening and make constructive suggestions. Their suggestions can be anything from “Maybe try changing your tone of voice when asking for what you want” or “Let’s stop


Tim Matheson, Theatre of the Oppressed, United Kingdom

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