Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 294–303 | Cite as

Practising for the revolution? The influence of Augusto Boal in Brazil and Africa

  • Jane PlastowEmail author


This article interrogates Augusto Boal’s idea of Theatre of the Oppressed as a means of ‘practising for the revolution’. Comparing practice and influence in Latin America and Africa the article draws on examples from work in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The article will argue that while many of the techniques developed by Boal are useful as part of theatre practice with ‘communities of the oppressed’, the impression created by Boal that he has created a new universally applicable system is misleading, and uncritical following of his ideas can stifle creativity and undervalue culturally specific practice.


Augusto Boal Forum Theatre Theatre of the Oppressed Africa Brazil 


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  1. 1.
    Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. McBride & Maria-Odila Leal McBride (London: Pluto Press, 1979), 122.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘Image Theatre’ is based on creating three still images. The first is of an oppression, the second of an ideal resolution and the third of an action that can help move from the oppression towards the ideal solution. The images are normally made in groups with individuals sculpting other group members to show the images required. These are then discussed by all participants and other transitional steps towards the ideal may be suggested. ‘Invisible Theatre’ involves actors working in ‘real’ situations in order to make people think about issues in their everyday lives. For example, an actor might go into an expensive restaurant, order a meal and then say he cannot pay for it because he has been made homeless. The idea is to provoke reactions and thought in those witnessing the event. ‘Forum Theatre’: see description later in article. ‘Cop in the Head’ is a technique designed to allow people to see oppressions they haveinternalised which stop them taking agency over their own lives. For example, it might include looking at how a parent has denigrated a child and made them feel worthless. It is much more psychological than the other techniques.‘Rainbow of Desire’: see description later in article.Google Scholar
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    Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (London: Pluto, 1979); Games for Actors and Non-Actors, trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 1992); The Rainbow of Desire, trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 1995); Legislative Theatre, trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 1998); Hamlet and the Baker’s Son: My Life in Theatre, trans. Adrian Jackson (London: Routledge, 2001).Google Scholar
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    Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, trans. J. Willet (London: Methuen, 1964); and The Messingkauf Dialogues, trans. J. Willet (London: Methuen, 1965).Google Scholar
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    See Boal, The Rainbow of Desire, 2–3.Google Scholar
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    Boal studied theatre in New York with John Glassner but he was also involved with the Brooklyn Writer’s group, the Teatro Experimental do Negro and the work of black activist Langston Hughes. He also attended rehearsals at the Stanislavky-inspired Actor’s Studio and became interested in the Epic Theatre of Bertolt Brecht.Google Scholar
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    David George, ‘Theatre of the Oppressed and Teatro de Arena: In and Out of Context’, Latin American Theatre Review, 28, no. 2 (1995), 47.Google Scholar
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    See Boal, Legislative Theatre, 102–104.Google Scholar
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    Frances Babbage, Augusto Boal (London: Routledge, 2004), 1–33.Google Scholar
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    Boal, Legislative Theatre, 20.Google Scholar
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    Paul Heritage, ‘Theatre in Prisons’, Metaxis (2001), 33.Google Scholar
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    Prosper Kompaoré, ‘Artistic Expression and Communication for Development’, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 67 (2005), 33.Google Scholar
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    For more detail on the organisation of ATB see ‘Raising the Curtain on Aids’, The New Courier, UNESCO (May 2005), 44–46.Google Scholar
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    Koteba is a popular performance form in West Africa, most commonly associated with Mali. The form includes music, satire and burlesque comedy.Google Scholar
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    For a description of an ATB play see ‘The Communication Initiative - Experiences -Atelier-Theatre Burkinabe (ATB)’, Natural Resource Management website, available at, accessed 4 January 2009.Google Scholar
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    See Prosper Kompaoré, ‘Artistic Expression and Communication for Development’, Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 67 (2005), 26–36.Google Scholar
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    For more information on the Eritrean liberation war of 1961–1991 against Ethiopia see Dan Connell, Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution (Asmara: Red Sea Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    The Eritrean liberation struggle used culture extensively, both to promote its military aims, and its socialist ideology. There was a particular emphasis on educating the populace about women’s rights in what had been a very patriarchal nation because one third of the fighting force was made up of women volunteers. For more on the use of theatre to combat patriarchy in the liberation struggle see Jane Plastow and Solomon Tsehaye, ‘Making Theatre for a Change: Two Plays of the Eritrean Liberation Struggle’, in Theatre Matters: Politics and Culture on the World Stage, ed. Richard Boon and Jane Plastow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 36–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For an insider view on the extraordinary triumph of the Eritrean war by a leading playwright and fighter see Alemseged Tesfai, Two Weeks in the Trenches (Asmara: Red Sea Press, 2003).Google Scholar
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    See Ali Campbell, Christine Matzke, Gerri Morriarty, Renny O’Shea, Jane Plastow and the students of the Tigre/Bilen theatre training course, ‘Telling the Lion’s Tale: Making Theatre in Eritrea’, African Theatre in Development, ed. Martin Banham, James Gibbs and Femi Osofisan (Oxford: Currey, 1999), 38–53.Google Scholar
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    James Gibbs and Femi Osofisan (Oxford: Currey, 1999) Ibid, 42.Google Scholar
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    See Jane Plastow, ‘Dance and Transformation: The Adugna Community Dance Theatre: Ethiopia’, Theatre and Empowerment: Community Theatre on the World Stage, ed. Richard Boon and Jane Plastow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 125–154.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Workshop Theatre, School of EnglishUniversity of LeedsUK

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