A Theatre of the Oppressed workshop in Philadelphia, USA, with Augusto Boal as the facilitator in the middle. Image courtesy of Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews.
Forum theatre is a form of theatre developed by Augusto Boal in Brazil, in which actors and non-actors play out stories of oppression (abusive husband mistreating his wife/ factory owner exploiting the workers etc.) Boal called this and other types of participatory theatre, the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. In forum theatre, spectators can stop the performance at any time, take over from one of the actors playing the oppressed individual to try and re-write the story. If the other audience members do not think their suggestions are realistic they shout out ‘magic’ and someone else takes over.
Another technique used in the Theatre of the Oppressed is Image Theatre. Spectators ‘speak’ through images; they make sculptures using participants’ bodies to portray events and personal experiences. The idea is to get participants to reflect on particular issues, express their emotions and retell their experiences in order to develop new solutions. These sculptures can depict issues such as power relations - for example, those between husbands and wives or between landowners and labourers. Or, spectators might choose to depict a more local problem like the lack of fresh water or safety on public transport. This sculpture (which is called the ‘actual image’) is then used as a prompt for a discussion about how the situation can be changed – how the spectators themselves can change the situation. The participants rehearse this solution by moulding a new sculpture depicting the ‘ideal image’