Green, Sharon “Boal and Beyond: Strategies for Creating Community Dialogue”
Theater – Volume 31, Number 3, Fall 2001, pp. 47-61 Duke University Press
In 1991 I participated in a series of workshops with Augusto Boal in New York City at the Brecht Forum. His understanding and use of theater seemed to me at the time to be the missing piece in my own attempts to meld my activist and artistic spirits.
I was immediately entranced by Boal’s work and words and knew that this workshop–advertised as “theater for empowerment”–was a singularly important event in my life. Since then, I have remained involved with Boal’s work as a student, scholar, educator, activist, and community member, and in the process, I have spoken and worked with many people who use Boal’s techniques, or adapted versions of them, in their own work.
Their descriptions of their first encounters with Boal echoed my own: many describe his workshops as stunning realizations. There is an extraordinary power in his foundational idea of transforming spectators into “spect-actors” who become active subjects in the theater rather than passive observers, thereby giving power, authority, and responsibility to the audience.
Spect-actors are given the opportunity to rehearse active resistance to oppression in the theater, to “try out” different possibilities within the relative safety of the theater and evaluate the success of each. Through this process, spect-actors will be empowered, and better prepared, to deal with reality. The theater, Boal famously says, is a rehearsal for the revolution.
For what revolution, then, are North Americans rehearsing, as theater practitioners, mental health workers, and community activists incorporate his techniques into their work in schools, hospitals, community centers, and more–and especially as his work is taken up in venues of the privileged, such as private universities or less obviously oppressed communities?
Boal himself has founded centers for his work in Paris and Rio, and, ever since a 1990 residency at New York University, has been offering workshops regularly in…