Brazilian dramaturg Augusto Boal created and coined the ideas of Theatre of the Oppressed (his collection of dramaturgical experiments, methods and forms) and Forum Theatre (a specific form within that collection.
Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques use theatre as means of promoting social and political change. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as “spect-actors” they explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living.
Forum theatre is the most commonly known and used form Boal developed.
Boal developed and practised an orthodox methodology for forum theatre based on the interaction between his actors and his so-called “spect-actors”. The spect-actor attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor’s actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out “magic!”, and the spect-actor must modify their actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails in overthrowing the oppression, the actor resumes their character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out “stop! or freeze!” and attempts a different method.
If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to come to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than where an argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance of reply or counter-argument.
So, how would I use this? Boal is convinced of the power of theater to drive political and social change, through sketching a political or social situation, and using audience participation and interaction to explore a solution for that problem. In this way, forum theatre is incredibly similar to my project’s dramaturgical structure and overall goals.
I think I can learn from the techniques in his work, although I have some criticism. My largest qualm is the idea of a “spect-actor”. Boal touches ever so slightly on interactivity and audience agency, but it’s too facilitated, directed and controlled for my liking. The formal structure of forum theatre may not be effective in my goal of immersing my audience into a setting which in turn should make my audience care about the setting, their characters and ultimately their choices.
However, seeing that esteemed dramaturgists have before created theatre in this manner to achieve political and social change and awareness, really inspires me, and certainly gives me confidence that I can reach those goals!