Theatre of the Oppressed is a widely used method – for theatre based activism, pedagogical and educational purposes, also as a tool for promoting social justice, but it can also have therapeutic effects. Its beginning dates to the 60s of the 20th century and is attributed to Brazilian director, writer and politician Augusto Boal, although its various techniques have later on spread across almost hundred different countries all over the world. Among its first techniques were Newspaper Theatre, Forum Theatre, Invisible Theatre and Image Theatre. With Europe and North America displaying a need for techniques that would focus on addressing and solving more personal and internalised types of oppression, two new techniques were developed, i.e. Rainbow of Desire and Cops in the Head. Later on an upgrade to the existing techniques emerged and Legislative Theatre was developed. Theatre of the Oppressed represents a place to talk about topics otherwise not addressed and gives voice to people who otherwise remain unheard. As such it democratises theatre and gives it back in the hands of people – as in the beginning, when theatre represented a place of free outdoor singing of the people for the people. Its staging topics therefore also derive from the people themselves. It enables ways to address questions and explore manners to fight inequalities, discrimination, racism, injustices and other forms of oppression, which may not be seen or evident at first sight. The basic concept of the Theatre of the Oppressed is power, through which the method explores, discusses and exposes power relations between the oppressor and the oppressed – when, how and where does the oppressor abuse power for the purpose of exploiting and oppressing the Other, the oppressed, which does not possess power or it has been taken away. With this in mind the Theatre of the Oppressed demolishes and erases the conventional positions of power among the (active) actors and (passive) spectators, as it creates a space for dialogue among them and places them in a new position of actively involved spect-actors (spectators and actors in one).
Newspaper Theatre combines several approaches – simple reading, rhythmical reading, cross-reading, complementary reading, parallel action, improvisation, historical reading, empowerment, exemplification of abstract ideas, texts out of the context etc. The purpose of the technique is to re-design and change daily news, newspapers, various articles, political speeches, national constitution, Declaration of Human Rights, Bible extracts and other non-dramatic material into theatre scenes. Raising questions like »What is exposed and what is hidden in the article?«, »What does the title say and what do the photos tell?«, »Who is the news intended to?«, Newspaper Theatre brings attention to the subjectivity of the media and its power, which is in the hands of the dominant class.
Invisible Theatre directly reaches and intervenes into society with a specific problem, for the purpose of promoting discussion, stimulating public dialogue, raising awareness about the problem in focus and raising questions in the public sphere. The spectators in Invisible Theatre, randomly passing-by, are transformed into protagonists of a staged action – spect-actresses, without knowing they are a part of a pre-staged, directed and not entirely improvised performance, which appears as a completely every day situation. Only the actresses know it is a pre-staged and directed performance. Invisible Theatre never enacts violent scenes, because the purpose of the technique is to resolve the existing violence, not to reproduce it. The purpose of the technique is for the included spect-actresses to continue thinking about the problem after the performance; also later on in their home or with their friends and thus directly perpetuate the discussion about the presented problem.
Forum Theatre is a technique in which the actors present a short scene of oppression. The technique is based on the improvisation from the spect-actors. The first presentation of the scene(s) is followed by repetitions with interventions, where the spect-actors play out their suggestions for facing the situation by physically acting them out on the stage. The interventions are followed by broader public discussion about the reality of each intervention and its realistic potential for the suggested situation. The scene(s) are repeated several times with different interventions. Forum Theatre also includes a moderator, i.e. the joker who represents the bridge between the spectators and actors and encourages the spect-actors to active participation, direct action, discussion and thinking. This technique uses theatre as tool to address the possibilities for social change – it is a reflection of reality and an exercise for action in future real-life situations.
Image Theatre comprises of several techniques, often used as preparations for other techniques. The participants, using non-verbal forms, embody their feelings and experience using only images and space. The actresses express themselves with means of ‘frozen images’, by placing attention on the position of their bodies, frozen movements, mimic and facial expressions. In the process of shaping, words are not allowed – ‘the sculptress’ shapes the statues by moving parts of the body of other participants or by presenting an image herself, which has to be copied as identically as possible. Later on the images are turned into dynamic ones by adding movement and key words or sentences.
Rainbow of Desire is a series of fifteen theatre techniques from Boal’s therapeutic array to help visualize personal, internalized oppressions and fears. While other Theatre of the Oppressed techniques aim to democratise the theatre, The Rainbow of Desire strives to democratise the therapy itself. During therapy the ‘patient’ is not a passive transmitter of therapy, but acts as the director of his own therapeutic process, along with other participants, who enable a new, multidimensional reading of the event. The Rainbow of Desire is not an interpretation of an event – the co-participants provide the protagonist mirrors of different ways of dealing with the situation.
Aesthetics of the Oppressed is a term used by Augusto Boal for a wide range of cultural and artistic activities developed by communities to challenge, resist and transform oppression. As an upgrade to the base of theatre of the oppressed and pedagogy of the oppressed, aesthetics restores the power of art and theatre to »free the oppressor as well as the oppressed«, which through creativity, art, dialogue and education »restores our deepest humanity«. It represents a fusion of various approaches and techniques with the desire to discuss the scenes of oppression from an aesthetic viewpoint. The process itself combines writing poems, letters, personal reflections etc., which are later presented in different ways – by painting, photographing (photography of the oppressed), through dancing, music, installations etc.
Legislative Theatre became an independent technique during Boal’s mandate as city counsellor in Rio de Janeiro (1993 – 1997). It represents a form of democracy, utilizing all forms of the Theatre of the Oppressed, combining them with conventional rituals of parliamentary chamber with the aim of transforming the citizens’ legitimate desires into laws. Following a forum theatre performance a senate-like place is created, in which we proceed to create a similar ritual of law-making, based on the spect-actors’ interventions (defending, refusing, voting etc.). In the final stage, the approved suggestions are collected and handed over to the legislators into consideration and possible approval. In his mandate, Boal was able to change 20 laws, involving people’s suggestion which were collected using the technique of Legislative Theatre. He believed the power to make decisions about social questions should be in the hands of the people and not the governing elite.