Title:Augusto Boal; Brazilian dramatist who created the Theatre of the Oppressed as a means for people to find liberation from the tyranny of the State.
Publication: The Times (London). May 7, 2009. p.60.
Augusto Boal was Brazil's leading dramatist and an influential figure in world theatre. His theories about the power of drama to change society and transform lives attracted followers in many countries, and left-wing critics mentioned him in the same breath as Brecht and Stanislavski. His growing international reputation was reflected in his appointment, a few months before he died, as a Unesco ambassador for the theatre, and last year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Brazil's socialist President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade union leader, praised him as "an exemplary comrade who devoted his life to bringing about social change through art".
Boal's views were summed up in one of his last interviews, with a Brazilian magazine, in which he claimed that "today all forms of expression and communication are in the hands of the oppressors". He described most television and radio output as an "aesthetic crime".
Augusto Pinto Boal was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931, the son of a Portuguese immigrant. After reading chemistry at the state university in Rio, he travelled to New York to study for a doctorate in chemical engineering at Columbia University. While there he also took a course at the School of Dramatic Arts under John Gassner, who had taught Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and observed Stanislavski's theories put into practice at the Actors Studio.
Back in Brazil, in 1956, he joined the Arena Theatre in Sao Paulo, and helped to turn it into one of the country's most important theatre companies.
He worked both with young Brazilian playwrights and on giving distinctively Brazilian treatments to classics of world theatre, including Moliere and Lope de Vega. Influenced by Brecht and the educationist Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Boal had, by the end of the 1960s, developed a set of techniques that he called the Theatre of the Oppressed, which was based on the concept that theatre is not an event but a way of life in which everybody can take part. "All human beings are actors, because they perform," he said. "They are spectators, too, because they stand and watch. We're all spectactors." He regarded simply being a spectator as less than human, and disapproved of political theatre, which set out to deliver a message to the audience.
He considered that preaching to people about what they should do was arrogant, and believed that theatre should instead provide them with the means to transform their own lives and discover their own solutions.
After the Brazilian armed forces seized power in 1964, Boal put on a show of protest songs, Opinion, as an act of defiance, and was arrested and tortured for his temerity. In 1971 he went into exile, and two years later published his first book, The Theatre of the Oppressed, in Argentina. This work set out his view that drama must be liberated from the influence of Aristotle's Poetics, which, by separating theatre and politics, effectively acted as an instrument of state oppression.
He spent two years in Portugal, working with A Barraca theatre company and helping to train numbers of young actors and playwrights. He then moved to France where he taught at the Sorbonne and in 1979 set up the Centre du Theatre de l'Opprime-Augusto Boal - which was later directed by his son, Julian.
Boal returned to Brazil in 1986, after the end of the dictatorship, and was invited by the sociologist Darcy Ribeiro to create the Popular Theatre Factory, which set out to make theatrical language accessible to all. In the same year he created a Brazilian centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio, which took his ideas on combining theatre with social action out of the art house and into the streets. From 1993 and 1997 he was a city councillor in Rio for the left-wing Workers' Party (PT), an experience distilled in his book Legislative Theatre: Using Performance to Make Politics (1998).
His techniques and theories have been applied in schools, prisons and psychiatric hospitals, as well as by theatre companies, in more than 50 countries, including Britain. One example was an open-air event, based on Boal's idea of "forum theatre", and organised by two students from Bath Spa University, which took place in the centre of the city last month.
Focusing on issues such as sustainable development and transport, the event encouraged members of the public to participate by taking on roles and raising their own concerns about Bath's problems.
In addition to Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, published in English in 1979, his influential Games for Actors and Non-Actors (1992) and The Rainbow of Desire: the Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy (1995) are also available in translation, along with his memoirs Hamlet and the Baker's Son: My Life in Theatre and Politics (2001).
Augusto Boal, dramatist, was born on March 16, 1931. He died of leukaemia on May 2, 2009, aged 78
Augusto Boal; Brazilian dramatist who created the Theatre of the Oppressed as a means for people to find liberation from the tyranny of the State.(News)." The Times (London) (May 7, 2009): 60.