Augusto Boal is amazing. He has produced brilliant techniques for a community to deal with immediate political and social problems/events through reconsidering the role of the spectator. He writes, “the poetics of Aristotle is the poetics of oppression: the world is known, perfect or about to be perfected, and all its values are imposed on the spectators, who passively delegate power to the characters to act and think in their place” . . . “Brecht’s poetics is that of the enlightened vanguard: the world is revealed as subject to change, and the change starts in the theatre itself, for the spectator does not delegate power to the characters to think in his place, although he continues to delegate power to them to act in his place” (p 96-97). In this chapter Boal presents seven exercises for performance, which range from mask work to staging a scene when no one knows it is actually a piece of theatre. Boal aims to engage the spectator as an active participant and thinker in the performance space. He works to reveal class and communal problems not through linear, patriarchal story-telling, but through the use of current events, news articles, familiar class situations, and myths. He developed the “Theatre of the Oppressed,” and constructs the People’s Theatre.
One of his exercises is for a participant to recall a moment of repression in his life and have it acted out by actors. He explains, “It also gives the protagonist the opportunity of trying once more and carrying out, in fiction, what he had not been able to do in reality” (p 92). This reminds me very much of my work with Elizabeth Kemp in New York. We relived and ritualized past experiences in order to live them out differently and find a side of light to the darkness of the experience. This is my kind of theatre. I am not quite sure yet how to apply this to my project, because I feel its purpose lies more in dealing with immediate issues, though perhaps the repression of Aboriginals and Aboriginal myth are two parallels I can draw to my project. As Boal says, “It is necessary to pass from the particular to the general, not vice versa, and to deal with something that has happened to someone in particular, but which at the same time is typical of what happens to others” (p 92). Grappling with specific stories of oppression from Australian Aboriginal cultures may then lead me to the general, expanding the experience of oppression into related experiences in American culture.
Something I am considering using for my project is the first exercise he describes, which is “Newspaper Theatre,” which is different ways of reading a news article aloud. You can use it out of context, use parallel action, rhythmical reading, etc all in order to reveal other perspectives and the POV and truth beneath the words. I feel using real historical stories and articles and messing with the structure of them may be a fun experiment to use for my project. This also makes me think the project may be more of an ensemble piece or written short play rather than a solo performance.
Thanks for staying updated! I have a show opening next week so you may not hear from me for a few weeks, but after that I plan to be posting regularly!
(Quotes on this and previous posts are excerpted from The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, edited by Michael Huxley and Noel Witts.)