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Illustration: Coline Robin

Theatre of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed is a type of interactive drama activity, where participants get to know more about the hidden power dynamics and social structures that underline everyday interactions. Below you will find a best practice guide to a particular variant of Theatre of the Oppressed, Forum Theatre. Scroll down to find links to further reading material with more advice and different types of activities.

If you’re planning a Theatre of the Oppressed activity, don’t forget to tell UNITED so that your activity will appear on our international activity map! Just fill in this form, where you can also order free campaign materials.

Note: this kind of activity can bring up all sorts of difficult and perhaps hurtful emotions. If you are planning such an activity, make sure you and all the facilitators are thoroughly familiar with the methodology, have carried out proper safeguarding procedures, and that participants understand that the activity is taking place in a safe space, and that the activity is conditional on their consent. Facilitators of such activities should be trained and experienced in theatre of the oppressed. The activity should always be followed by a full debriefing.

Forum Theatre, Session Outline

Forum Theatre is a social instrument that helps people to stimulate their creativity, dialogues and thinking outside the box, strengthening the confidence and the sense of local identity, allowing them a deeper involvement in the community’s life. It was created to help us, the people, to take a proactive role in our lives and in the community we belong. Also, it offers people the opportunity to change ideas and opinions. The purpose is to create a space where all people have the possibility and the right to be heard.

Forum Theatre is about a problem that the community face it, but no one take action about. It is a type of theatre created by the innovative and influential practitioner Augusto Boal as part of what he calls his “Theatre of the Oppressed.” While practicing earlier in his career, Boal would apply ‘simultaneous dramaturgy’. In this process the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way.

The audience would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. This was an attempt to undo the traditional actor partition and bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching. The spect-actor then 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 there character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out “stop!” 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.

Tips for facilitators:

The whole process should start with creating a cohesion between the actors, by warming-up with Boal’s games & exercises for actors and non-actors which are based on emotion, muscular, sensory, memory and imagination games (e.g. musical chairs, the mirror, the puppet&puppeteer, imitating others etc.).

During all the steps of Forum Theatre these games should periodically be introduced by the facilitator and make them together with the actors.

The joker/facilitator should be a person who has at least six months of using Theatre of the Oppressed methodology. And not to forget the neutral position/role which has during the representation

During the representation you might encounter some difficulties, like:

  • males who have replaced the roles of females only in order to make fun
  • spectators reinforcing stereotypes and being verbally violent
  • spectators who do not want to finish the intervention and want to stay until the end of the play

For this, the Joker should always be able to find solutions on the spot, as for the actors to be capable of cooperating with him for a fast solution, even at the time of the situation, so as not to assault the rest of the public.
Potential Follow-up

Materials needed and space required Space for:
Rehearsals: it is recommended to have a stable place, in order to create a sense of belonging; this feeling gives safety, comfort and easiness for creating a motivated and close team.

Representation: the “play” will take place in various spaces where the target group operates or in a space representative for them (school, city hall, community centre, club, etc.). It is recommended for the space to be very well planned before; in case this is not possible, then it is necessarily to have at least a few hours accommodation.

Depending on the environment of the play, you might need different materials, but do keep in mind that it is not necessarily to be real objects; try improvising with what you have

Issues addressed: Discrimination (racism, homophobia, multiple discrimination,…), gender based violence , bullying, identity (binarism, hetero-normality, intersectionality,…), prejudice (stereotypes, patriarchy, romantic love, gender roles,…), inequality

Complexity (1:easy-4:difficult): 4:difficult

Group Size: 6-8

Time duration: Representation of the play: 10-15 minutes
Forum (re-representation + interventions): 15-30 minutes

Objectives of the activity: • Empowers people in overcoming inequalities, discrimination and prejudices based on gender roles, sexual identities etc. among communities
• Understand gender stereotypes and identify an oppressive situation
• Gives a platform for oppressed people to voice their concerns and find solutions
• Provides opportunity and space where all people have the possibility to be heard

Preparation: At least 2 days

Instructions (step by step):

Step 1 – Target group problem identification and the formation of working group:

These two steps can be addressed in any order. Whether you have identified the problem in the community and look for people in the community to help you, whether you already have a group and together you identify oppressed situations, based on gender stereotypes (gender mainstreaming). When identified, establish some details like: how serious is the problem, who it affects, how, what are the differences between different social groups affected by the same problem and so on.

Step 2 – Establishing the characters and writing scenario:

When setting the overall situation of the characters and script writing, difficulties can arise in finding the most representative characters and the lines of the actors for the studied situation; lines should be authentic, more similar to what is spoken in current community.
This aspect it’s important so that the spect-actors can easily identify the situation and the target audience to be able to identify with the situation.

Step 3 – Improvisation and rehearsal:

A third phase, stage rehearsals, has an important role in the success of the project and for the wellbeing of the working team. In this stage, each actor assumes his character, and also establishing links between actors and Joker/facilitator. These relations are extremely important for the good flow of rehearsals, performances and consequently the entire methods.

Step 4 – Representation/acting and drawing conclusions with the public:

It is the time which reflects all the team work, which must be able to fold on the features of those who came to see the show. In this point, you have to be aware that, even if you are showing a familiar situation to the target group, they may be resistant to change. Unfortunately, these situations cannot work with a predetermined plan and it depends on the skills of the Joker/facilitator and actors to remove the barrier and avoid a quasi-failure. A possible solution would be for the team to come with a slightly different approach (introducing other elements, from exercises made during rehearsals, until other forms of theatre) but respecting the succession of the Forum Theatre steps.

Step 5 – Analysis and final evaluation with the team:

The final discussion will be facilitated by the project coordinator or by the Joker/facilitator. In this final stage, the focus should be on the team and personal feelings regarding the whole process. As it is important that they should be prepared and willing to accept what if they have found something new about them and the others.

Further reading:*

(*These websites are third party sites unconnected to UNITED, and neither UNITED nor our sponsors can be held responsible for any of their content or any use made thereof).


This guide was written for UNITED by Alina Aflecailor of Service Civil International – Romania. Contact: alina.afle [at] gmail [dot] com