Augusto Boal

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Augusto Boal (born 1931 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) is an innovative and influential theatrical director, writer and politician. He was elected as Vereador (Brazilian equivalent of city council seat in US politics) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 but he was not reelected in 1996. He received a degree in Chemical engineering from Columbia University in the early 1950s.



Boal took an interest in theatre at an early age, but didn’t become involved himself until he received his degree. Shortly after graduating from university, Boal was asked to work with the Arena Theatre in São Paulo, southeast Brazil. It was here that he began to experiment with new forms of theatre that would totally change its future.


Paulo Freire was a major influence on Boal’s teachings. Boal was intrigued by Freire’s works, especially his book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed.’ He and Freire became so close in later years, that when Freire passed away, Boal is quoted to have said “I am very sad. I have lost my last father. Now all I have are brothers and sisters.”

Before Boal, it was tradition for audiences to be invited to discuss a play at the end of the performance. According to Boal, this kept the audience as viewers and “reactors” to the action before them. In the 1960’s, Boal developed a process where the audience members could stop a performance and suggest different actions for the actors to carry out onstage. For Boal this meant the birth of the spect-actor, and his theatre was transformed. He built upon his process, inviting audience members onto the stage to demonstrate their ideas. He discovered that through this participation, the audience members became empowered not only to imagine change, but to actually practice that change, reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action. Theatre soon became a catalyst for grass-roots activism.

Boal’s teachings caused a lot of controversy, and he was labeled a cultural activist – which the 1960’s Brazilian military coups saw as a threat. In 1971, shortly after his first book “Theatre of the Oppressed” was published, Boal was arrested, tortured, and eventually exiled to Argentina, then self-exiled to Europe. Eventually Boal lived in Paris, teaching his revolutionary approach to theatre for twelve years, and creating several Centers for the Theatre of Oppressed. In 1981, he organized the first ever International Festival of the Theatre of Oppressed in Paris.

After the end of Brazil’s Military Junta, Boal returned to his hometown of Rio de Janeiro where he still lives today. He has since established a major Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio, and has started over a dozen theatre companies that work to develop community-based projects. The main methods used for these projects are Forum Theatre and Image Theatre. Forum Theatre relies upon the presentation of short scenes that depict issues in society such as sexism and racism. The audience members interact by replacing the characters in scenes and improvising new ways to solve the problems that are being presented. Image theatre is an integration of contemporary dance and non-verbal acting with black light theatre effects. It uses the body to sculpt events and relationships, sometimes with the use of narrative. Other theatre types associated with the Theatre of the Oppressed are listed below with Boal's descriptions.

Newspaper Theatre

“A system of twelve techniques… giving the audience the means of production rather than the finished artistic product. They are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material.”

Invisible Theatre

“… A direct action against society, on a precise theme of general interest, to provoke debate and to clarify the problem that must be solved. It should never be violent, because its aim is to reveal the violence that exists in society, and not to reproduce it. It is a previously rehearsed play that is performed in a public space without anyone knowing that it is a play.”


Boal wrote a book entitled “Games for Actor’s and Non-Actors,” which was described by Doug Patterson as “…a splendid basic introduction to the entire range of the Theatre of the Oppressed theory and practice, and useful to people both experienced and inexperienced in theatre making.”


In 1994, Boal won the UNESCO Pablo Picasso Medal, and In August 1997 he was awarded the ‘Career Achievement Award’ by the Association of Theatre in Higher Education at their national conference in Chicago, where he conducted a five-hour workshop for conference attendees as well as collecting the award. Boal went on a first major tour of the US in February and March 1999, traveling to various Universities and Colleges, many of which now have student ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ companies working regularly on Boal’s techniques.

External link

Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed ( Boal fr:Augusto Boal


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