Theatre guru Augusto Boal: "As workshop leader, I am merely an instrument"

February 2008 -

"I always fiercely opposed our government, but that is over now. Gilberto Gil is an excellent Minister of Culture. The Minister of Justice recently announced that cultural centres will be established in two hundred Brazilian cities. That is fantastic, because I know this is not an empty promise. It feels like a reward for our years of work."


Augusto Boal

Augusto Boal (Rio de Janeiro, 1931) wrote his first book, Teatro del oprimido (Theatre of the Oppressed), in 1975. His philosophy has attracted followers under that name throughout the world. "The audience holds a general rehearsal for what happens in daily life. Key concepts are human development and freedom. The theatre shows us new roles. In essence, these roles are ready and waiting for the time when the viewer actually needs them. The theatre itself is not revolutionary: it is a rehearsal for the revolution."

Early in the 1970s, Boal fled from Brazil's dictatorship, finding refuge in Argentina, Portugal and France. He developed his theories into various methods, the most popular of which is the forum theatre. Participants are stimulated to analyse and exchange thoughts based on a collective example. "The basis is the concept of citizenship. I see myself as a citizen first and a theatre maker second. As a citizen, you actively work to improve living conditions. This applies as much to the favelas in Rio as it does to the banlieues in Paris. Peace and solidarity are the relevant key concepts. The greatest threat to peace is passivity."

"The Theatre of the Oppressed network now includes organisations in more than seventy countries, involving thousands of people. It is particularly popular in Asia, especially thanks to Sanjoy Ganguly and his Indian group Jana Sanskirit. Today there are numerous areas in which the ideas of Theatre of the Oppressed are applied: education, social work, healthcare, and politics, of course. As workshop leader, I am merely an instrument. The participants dictate what happens."

Augusto Boal has been nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the Prince Claus Prize in 2007. He is still active in Rio with projects in prisons, in favelas, with landless farmers and other oppressed groups.