February 2019 – Drew University students discovered the Theatre of the Oppressed through a workshop led by international practitioner Julian Boal.
Boal explained the origins and key tenets of the theatre practice, primarily the importance of sharing stories and strategies for fighting oppression. His father, Augusto Boal, began developing the movement in Brazil during the 1950s.
As an example, Boal mentioned staging a forum theatre play twice in one production—once in a traditional performance for the audience and once with input from the audience, prompting previously “voiceless” spectators to become “spect-actors” and share their experiences and thoughts. Boal also led the group through exercises designed to teach techniques in the practice.
The workshop, organized by Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Lisa Brenner, was sponsored by the Department of Theatre and Dance; Drew Theological School’s Social Justice Leadership Project; Women’s and Gender Studies; Drew’s Freedom School Project; and its Everyday Ethics initiative, which is led by Theological School Associate Professor Kate Ott. Here’s a glimpse.
The group warms up by memorizing different calls and actions. “It’s almost disappointing how good you are,” Boal jokes.
Rather than simply identifying as the oppressed or the oppressor, Boal encourages participants to explore nuanced everyday characters, like someone afraid to confront a boss for fear of getting fired.
During the improvisation, participants show a range of conflicting emotions, such as fighting a duel they’re convinced they’ll lose, inspired by a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, or showing simultaneous desire and pain, evoking a scene from the Oscar-winning 2016 film Moonlight.