By Luiza Moscoso, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – After a long fight against leukemia, the Carioca theatre director and writer Augusto Boal died on May 2nd at the age of 78. Creator of the Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal was nominated in March 2009 as Global Ambassador Of The Theatre by Unesco.
Despite his poor health, the director went to Paris to receive the honor and made a speech in front of a full house. The award followed his nomination in 2008 for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Boal’s career in theatre officially started in the US where he moved after graduating in Chemistry in Rio de Janeiro. Having studied Theatre at New York’s Columbia University, he returned to Brazil at the age of 25, where he started to work with the Arena Theatre in São Paulo.
During the Brazilian dictatorship years, Boal and his theatre group started experimenting and came up with the first seeds of the Theatre of The Oppressed; the Newspaper Theatre. This was designed to make theatre accessible to anybody, and encouraged the creation of ad hoc performance based around a news article.
After his imprisonment and subsequent exile for such subversive behaviour the director went to Argentina, where he helped create a technique called Invisible Theatre – that is theatre in a place where it is not expected such as the street or in a mall that fit perfectly with his public political protests.
He then moved on to Peru, where the Forum Theatre was born, giving the audience a chance to interject when they saw oppression in the performance which they could relate to. In fact he travelled all around South America before ending up in France, where the techniques of the Rainbow of Desire (relating to internal oppression) were founded, later to become the title of his second book.
After Democracy was re-established in Brazil, Boal was elected city councilmen in the 90’s, and developed the Legislative Theatre during his mandate. An unimaginably progressive idea, it revolved around the audience creating a show about a law that was due to be passed in a similar fashion to Forum Theatre, and some 20 laws were passed in this fashion during his tenure.
Boal’s adaptation of a famous Shakespeare line best explains this pioneer’s view of, and approach to, theatre. The English author of “Romeo and Juliet” used to say that theatre is ‘nature’s mirror’, but the Brazilian director took the idea on further. According to him, theatre is a mirror that reflects nature, but also a magic one, in which we can penetrate and change the image it reflects if we don’t like it. Even though we’re changing a fiction, the act of transforming is enough to transform people.
The Theatre of The Oppressed is essentially a set of techniques with the purpose to emancipate the “spect-actors” and turn them into active elements in the theatre and consequently in their own lives. It works in a Socratic process: the techniques don’t guide people to a conclusion, but let them ask questions and find answers by their own means.
Augusto Boal and his disciples took the Theatre of The Oppressed all over the world and it is currently practiced in more than 70 countries.