Sanjoy Ganguly: "We don’t play the script: we script the play"

November 2007 -

Forum theatre or the Theatre of the Oppressed is a conceptual approach to political theatre, the foundation for which was laid by Brazil’s Augusto Boal in the early 1970s. Characteristic of this school is that not only the form of the theatre performance but also its content is closely attuned to the experience of the audience. Members of the audience can respond to what they see. After a performance, the actors enter into dialogue with their audience. In India, Sanjoy Ganguly has been making theatre in this manner for nearly twenty years, with theatre makers searching for audiences in villages and the countryside.

Sanjoy Ganguli

Ganguly: "I often experience the making of a theatrical production, and playing it, as a journey we take together. Collective action leads to introspection. This journey often leads to an internal revolution, in turn inspiring change." Sanjoy Ganguluy's gushing thoughts are virtually unstoppable. This Indian theatre maker has been travelling around the world for years to give workshops and preach his sermon on theatre. In his view, we are all theatre makers. "Theatre is an excellent way to stimulate people to sharpen their awareness. Our work is about building relationships that are based on dialogue."

Awareness is sacred to Ganguly. "People are too much like robots. Even in today's India. Our economy may be doing better, but are the people of India happier as well? Theatre expands perspectives. The core of work is addressing people's potential. Every individual is highly capable, but often our capabilities are insufficiently taxed or challenged, leaving much talent hidden. Our primary assumption is solidarity, not competition. In the past, I was politically active in a Marxist movement. But after a while, I discovered that I was only supposed to listen. There was no room for debate, making it highly undemocratic.

In searching for other ways to utilise my sense of justice, I ran across Boal's work and decided to develop it in India. To us, important themes are the oppression of women in marriage, alcoholism and the living conditions among India's farmers. We put on performances about these themes that we tour the country with."

Ganguly inspired many similar initiatives in India. His theatrical company Jana Sanskirit has developed into a kind of umbrella organisation for community theatre in India. Today more than one thousand actors are active in the numerous satellite groups in nine different Indian states, especially in the regions that speak Bengalese. Ganguly: "To me, making theatre is politics. The content of our work is primarily determined by the environment, the people we are working with and what is important to them, In other words: we don't play the script: we script the play."

Augusto Boal

Augusto Boal (1931, Brazil) is a theatre-maker and cultural revolutionary who developed his own model of socially engaged theatre by devising new techniques which are used in different fields of human activities like education, mental health and popular culture as well as in prisons and municipalities.

More on Augusto Boal on the website of the Prince Claus Fund.

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