What is the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO)?

Created by Brazilian visionary, Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) is a form of popular community-based education that uses theatre as a tool for transformation. Originally developed out of Boal’s work with peasant and worker populations, it is now used all over the world for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building, therapy, and government legislation. Inspired by the vision of Paulo Freire and his landmark treatise on education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, T.O. invites critical thinking. It is about analyzing rather than accepting, questioning rather than giving answers. It is also about “acting” rather than just talking. In T.O., the audience is not made of spectators but “spect-actors”. Through the evocative language of theatre, everyone is invited to share their opinion on the issues at hand. Boal’s books have been translated into over 35 languages, and the work radiates from his centres in Rio de Janeiro and Paris as well as Vancouver, Toronto, England, India, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Korea, Burkina Faso, Puerto Rico, and many others. In the U.S., active centres can be found in New York, Omaha, Los Angeles, and Port Townsend, WA. It is also practised on a grassroots level by teachers, social workers, therapists, and activists all over the world.

(description via Mandala Center For Change)

Why the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO)?

Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) is an aesthetic method created by Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal that stimulates critical observation and representation of reality, envisioning the production of consciousness and concrete actions.
In the last decades’ Theater of the Oppressed games, exercises and techniques have become powerful tools for many practitioners across the world. It is a participatory art form that is meant and applied as an empowering and liberating practice that inspires individual and collective transformation.

NEWSPAPER THEATRE – This system of 12 techniques represents the first attempt that was made to create the Theatre of the Oppressed, by giving the audience the means of production rather than the finished artistic product. They are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material, like reports of a political meeting, texts from the Bible, from the Constitution of a country, the Declaration of Human Rights, etc.

INVISIBLE THEATRE – To be a citizen does not mean merely to live in society, but to transform it. If I transform the clay into a statue, I become a Sculptor; if I transform the stones into a house, I become an architect; if I transform our society into something better for us all, I become a citizen. It is a direct intervention in society, on a precise theme of general interest, to provoke debate and to clarify the problem that must be solved. It shall never be violent since it aims to reveal the violence that exists in society, and not to reproduce it.

IMAGE-THEATRE – Words are emptinesses that fill the emptiness (vacuum) that exists between one human being and another. Words are lines that we carve in the sand, sounds that we sculpt in the air. We know the meaning of the word we pronounce because we fill it with our desires, ideas and feelings, but we don’t know how that word is going to be heard by each listener. IMAGE THEATRE is a series of Techniques that allow people to communicate through Images and Spaces, and not through words alone.

FORUM-THEATRE — Music is the organization of sound in time; plastic arts, the organization of colours and lines in the space; theatre, the organization of human actions in time and space. Theatre is a representation and not a reproduction of social reality. FORUM-THEATRE presents a scene or a play that must necessarily show a situation of oppression that the Protagonist does not know how to fight against, and fails. The spect-actors are invited to replace this Protagonist, and act out – on stage and not from the audience – all possible solutions, ideas, strategies.


RAINBOW OF DESIRES – Many concrete oppressions provoke serious damage inside our subjectivity and psychic life. Under the general title of Rainbow of Desire, there are fifteen Techniques – complex, but not complicated! – which help us to visualize our oppressions theatrically, and deal with them more clearly: no one interprets anything, but all participants offer the Protagonist the mirror of the multiple regards of the others.


LEGISLATIVE THEATRE – Theater is not enough to change reality; we all agree. Legislative Theatre is the utilization of all forms of the Theatre of the Oppressed to transform the citizens’ legitimate desires into Laws. After a normal Forum session, we create a space similar to a Chamber where laws are made, and we proceed to create a similar ritual of lawmaking, following the same official procedure of presenting Projects based on the spect-actors interventions, defending or refusing them, voting, etc. In the end, we collect the approved suggestions and try to put pressure upon the lawmakers to have those laws approved.


Augusto Boal, Rio de Janeiro 2004 (Via the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation)

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