Theatre of the Oppressed Theorised: Who, How, and What Comprises Forum Theatre's capacity to liberate?

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Theatre of the Oppressed Theorised:  Who, How, and What Comprises Forum Theatre’s capacity to liberate?

“I adored chemistry... [But] a chemist who doesn’t like sulphur is like a doctor who doesn’t like blood.”

On visiting Boal’s home in Copacabana I was delighted by his theatrical surroundings of a sea view and colourful wall-to-wall shelving of literature.  But never, in my (quite modest) imagination, did I envisage amidst his dramatic haven an open copy of ‘The User’s Guide to the Brain’.  To my dismay, Boal’s upbringing was of one bored by test tubes and examinations and rewarded with a place to study chemistry at university.  He elaborated; “If you use images, words, and sounds it broadens the mind… The more you exercise your brain, the more you deepen your knowledge.” 

Throughout this paper I have volunteered the conclusion that Boal’s theatre practices freely manifest emotions from an actor’s body.  His ever-apparent commitment to science and theorising provides me with plentiful groundwork to suggest reasons why his sets of alliances develop within and profoundly affect a person, and how he creates this network of meaningful and mobilising activities.  Throughout this chapter, I refer to the notable influence of Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and scientific researches into theories of social cognition that I believe are comparable to the Boalian process of change.  By contextualising the Theatre of the Oppressed amongst cognitive and educational research I hope to establish the theoretical impetus behind it and understand the reasons for its established formulas.  What specific components aid this “enhanced form of thinking” in its quest for change?

In order to evaluate Forum Theatre’s both socio-dramatic and psycho-dramatic methodology I have cited and abridged a workshop facilitated by Boal that I attended during my internship with CTO.  Its objective was to develop aspects of the arsenal of the Theatre of the Oppressed that are specifically relevant to a prison environment.  This presentation of techniques mimics Boal’s categorical style of recording, as seen in his book ‘Games for Actors and Non Actors’.  Throughout the chapter I refer to various activities in the workshop to realise and illustrate my theoretical propositions.  

Image of the word:  illustrating a subject with the body

The model

The model can be developed in one of two ways.

First Method:  Actors form a circle around one central character and with particular attention to details they mirror the actor’s every change of expression and movement; they experiment with tempo, pace and sound.

Second Method:  As above, but this time the central character creates the movement of a machine.  Participants enter the circle to develop characteristics to suggest what they suspect the projected image is portraying.

The Dynamisation

First Dynamisation:  Participants separate into pairs and relegate the role of ‘image’ and ‘subject’.  Paying particular attention to visual aspects, firstly the eyes and then the whole body.  The subject and the image swap roles.

Second Dynamisation:  Pairs move around the room and swap partners; the aim is to synchronise their own and their partners’ tempo and movement.

Third Dynamisation:  Participants mirror the sequence of the movement they feel most comfortable with until the whole group is engaged in a single motion and sound.  

Fourth Dynamisation:  The collective group continue to interrelate in this manner, only this time projecting the mechanisms that might be involved in stimulating the emotions of ‘love’, and then ‘hate’.

Fifth Dynamisation:  The group decides on a collectively understood precursor of ‘love’ or ‘hate’ and represents this through image theatre.

Boalian creations start with the principal concept that the human body’s physical and psychic apparatus are united as an ‘indivisible whole’.  The notion that knowledge is gained through the senses is a therapeutic one that embarks on the philosophy of cognitive science.  Cognitive behavioural intervention incorporates cognitive activities into a human being with efforts to produce therapeutic change and suggests that one needs to draw on the faculty of knowing and perceiving in order to understand the human process of learning, understanding and behaving.  The Theatre of the Oppressed demands cognition; it requires us to remember, think, talk, judge and generate strategies, which are all psychological entities that comprise our aptitude for change.  Boal suggests the human being’s ‘capacity for recuperation, restructuring and reharmonisation’ is enhanced through cognition, in which perception is acquired through the body and its mechanisms.  So, I treat social cognitive perspectives as a basis for reason.

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Boal insinuates that the philosophical foundation of the Theatre of the Oppressed is related to the Hegelian and Aristotelian concept that being determines thought and that man can be changed.  Similarly, in the social cognitive view, environmental influences effect human functioning through symbolisation, where personal factors and environmental events operate as interacting determinants of one another.  The social cognitive theory embraces the human and human affairs as its subject, dealing strictly with the social world.

According to Boal, the automated mechanisation of the body is so hardened by habits that it utilises only 30% of its capacity, thus ...

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