Thursday, May 07, 2009

Augusto Boal is Dead

While I learnt of the death of Augusto Boal (April 16, 1931 - May 2, 2009) the day after it happened, I have had not had a chance to sit down and reflect and write some lines on what it means to me that Boal is no longer among us.

I first learnt of Augusto Boal in 1994 at the age of 25 while working with a group of artists and activists on a fanzine in inner-city Sydney. One of our company, who had for a short time been the star of a popular film in Australia, spoke about Boal quite often. Ross O'Donovan placed an add in the fanzine with the words 'Augusto Boal: The Courage to be Happy'. I learnt more about the Theater of the Oppressed over the coming years, and everything that I heard I liked. In the last six years I have read the text twice. While I have tried to incorporate some of Boal's philosophies into my own performance in public places (street musics) I have never never taken it to the level that he intended. However, there are strands of Boal everywhere.

The Theatre of the Oppressed is theatre in this most archaic application of the word. In this usage, all human beings are Actors (they act!) and Spectators (they observe!). They are Spect-Actors.... Everything that actors do, we do throughout our lives, always and everywhere. Actors talk, move, dress to suit the setting, express ideas, reveal passions - just as we do in our everyday lives. The only difference is that actors are conscious that they are using the language of theatre, and are thus better able to turn it to their advantage, whereas the woman and man in the street do not know that they are speaking theatre. (Boal 1992: xxx).

The Flash Mob is one example of a current theater form that owes some of its being to the guerrilla theater of Boal. Invisible Theater is a gift Boal gave to the world:

Invisible theatre is a form of theatrical performance that is enacted in a place where people would not normally expect to see one, for example in the street or in a shopping centre. The Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal developed the form during his time in Argentina in the 1970s as part of his Theatre of the Oppressed, which focused on oppression and social issues. Boal went on to develop forum theatre.

Invisible theatre can give people who would not normally have the chance to see plays the opportunity to do so—or, as is often the case, it can be performed without the knowledge of its audience, which in such a scenario would consist of whoever happens to wander by. This can be done in order to help actors make a point publicly in much the same motivational vein as graffiti or political demonstration, or it can be done in order to help actors gain a sense of what a realistic reaction might be to a certain scenario; for example, a heated argument over a political or social issue. This type of theatre is performed in public on unexpected bystanders, whom the actors will try to get unknowingly involved in the scene.

I have been shaped by Boal. In my work as an academic and artist I consciously attempt to observe the principles he outlined in his writings. At the center of his corpus in the concept of community. It was while working in community arts that I discovered Boal and it with a quote from him I would like to end this rememberance that does little justice to him:

I think that all the barriers have been collapsing already and now what I think we should reinforce are some barriers instead of collapsing them. Building new walls against racism which is one of the horrible things that exist in the world. A wall against intolerance which is not accepting and is a form of racism, not accepting the existence of the other one. The wall against sexism which enslaves half of humanity - women. A wall against globalisation which makes all of us become clones of ourselves to become robots, so now is the moment to build barriers, to build walls and to fight against intolerance, against racism, sexism and globalisation, to fight vigorously against that. And to re-unite people. Boal

Rest in Peace Augusto.

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