Changing Communities Through Theater


Participants in the Theatre of the Oppressed workshop presented by Brazilian theater director and writer Augusto Boal
By Thehero, via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther look at the work of Augustus Boal. He believed that theater performances and plays could do more than entertain – they could change communities.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A group of women are in a theatre in Brazil. They are performing a play for a group of people. But these women are not actors. They are housemaids – they cook and clean for other people. The play is about the problems that they have as housemaids. The people who are watching them in the audience also stand up. They help to act out solutions to the housemaids’ problems. After the show the women are very happy. But one of the women is crying. A man named Augusto Boal asks her why she is crying. She tells him that she feels encouraged for the first time. Boal talked about this night to the news organization Democracy Now. He said that the woman told him:

Voice 3 

“When I went back to the dressing room I looked at the mirror, and I could see myself. And there I was afraid. I saw a woman. That was the first time I saw a woman in the mirror. Before, I saw a housemaid, and now I saw a woman.”

Voice 2 

This is just one of the stories that Boal has heard about how theatre has changed people’s lives. He is the man who made this kind of play popular. Today’s Spotlight is on Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed. He taught communities to make good changes.

Voice 1 

The housemaids in Brazil were using Boal’s idea. He called this kind of play forum theatre. A forum is a place where people gather together to talk about an issue. First, community members talk together and choose an issue. They choose something that they think is a big problem. Boal explains what happens after that:

Voice 4 

“We present the play. First, people just watch it like a normal audience. But at the end we say, okay, this situation ended in failure. So how could we change the events? How can we change this for better? And then we start the same play again. We invite the audience to say “stop” anytime they want. Then they go to replace the actors and show a different action. So we learn from one another. Then we discuss that different action and then a second or third - as many as there are people there. Everyone has the right to speak their words and to act their thoughts. They do not only talk about, but act their thoughts.”

Voice 2 

Augusto Boal grew up in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. There, he saw how many people worked and lived in bad conditions. He began to write plays about this problem. Later, Boal became famous for producing local plays that were about Brazil. Boal used the theatre to discuss important issues. In a speech in Switzerland, Boal said:

Voice 4 

“We see oppressors and oppressed people, in all communities, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and social levels. We see an unfair and unkind world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is our job to build this other world with our hands. We build it by acting in the theatre and in our own life.”

Voice 1 

Boal believed that the theatre was a good place for people to think about solutions to social and political problems. However, the government at the time did not agree with Boal’s politics. The government captured Augusto Boal in 1971. They put him in prison and tortured him. After Boal was released, he could not stay in Brazil. So he continued his work in other countries. In Argentina, he published his first book. It told about his ideas for a Theatre of the Oppressed. In this book, Boal wrote:

Voice 4 

“The story of the oppressed is basically the story of finding freedom. The person watching no longer gives power to the characters to think or act in his place. He frees himself. He thinks and acts for himself! Theatre is action!”

Voice 2 

Boal wrote many more books after this. Boal’s main idea was that by performing plays, a community could get ideas about how to make their situations better. And they could practice positive change with their bodies. These are not plays where people watch a play and then leave. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, everyone has a voice.

Voice 1 

Today there are Theatre of the Oppressed centers in over 70 countries around the world. In Australia, a company travels around visiting schools. They perform a play about bullying, when some children are unkind to smaller or weaker children. The children help think of ways to stop bullies. They also have a chance to practice what they would do if they were bullied. The children think these plays are fun. And they like having the chance to act out a better situation. But they are also learning very important skills for making a better community.

Voice 2 

A theatre group called Jana Sanskriti works in Bengal in northern India. They identified that their communities had a problem with drinking too much alcohol. In a report, Jana Sanskriti says how they were able to make a change using forum theatre:

Voice 5 

“Jana Sanskriti put up plays on the issue in many villages. Immediate action resulted from debates at forum theatre meetings. People began to think about what they could really do to change the situation. For example, they tried to find other jobs for those who were selling alcohol. Even today there are anti-alcohol groups in the villages. Our members had tried to stop alcoholism through making laws. They had even tried to use force. They were not successful. But forum theatre really helped.”

Voice 1 

Augusto Boal worked up until his death in 2009. Now his son Julian Boal continues this work with the Theatre of the Oppressed. People around the world continue to use his ideas about theatre to find a better future. This often leads to action that makes their community better. As Augusto Boal told Democracy Now:

Voice 4 

“The truth is: Everything is possible. If we have in our minds that everything can be changed to be better then another world is possible. I believe in real change. I believe that in the present we have to look at the past. But we invent the future.”

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Changing Communities through Theatre’.

Voice 1 

Tell us what you think about today’s program. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you seen a theater play that changed your opinion about something?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
kenhieuloilam
said on December 18, 2014

The life has many difficulties. We are concerned about everyone. We care for everyone. When we care for everyone we show our love to everyone. Our world needs much love. We experience difficulties in the life. We exist in difficulties. We exist in everyone’s love. We build for love in the life. Each of us was born and grows up. We find ourselves when we live our lives for beautiful good things. We find ourselves when we try much to become good persons of families and communities. We find the meaning of the life. Our lives are meaning when we become good persons of families and communities.

Avatar Spotlight
Mattia Pascal
said on October 20, 2015

It’s weird how Boal never was recognized   in Brazil. He has traveled around the world spreading love and respect, but unfortunately we never gave him an opportunity to show us your talent.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 10, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Tuesday 10, January 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, and Colin Lowther:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
No, I have not.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil