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Forum Theatre - or Boal's Theatre ...

While practicing in South America earlier in his career, Augusto Boal would apply 'simultaneous dramaturgy'. In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a typically chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. This was an attempt to undo the traditional audience/actor partition and bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching.

Forum theatre was born from 'simultaneous dramaturgy' when, according to Boal, by chance an audience member who was so frustrated that the actor did not understand her directions, took their place. This undid the audience/actor split and a new form of political theatre was created. He discovered that through this active participation the audience-actors, 'spect-actors', become empowered. This concept of the 'spect-actor' became a dominant force within Boal's later Forum theatre work. The audience were now encouraged to not only imagine change but to actually practise that change, reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action.

Thus, Boal's current manifestation of Forum theatre is as follows: the actors (either professional actors or non professionals drawn from oppressed communities) perform a play with a scripted core, in which an oppression relevant to the audience is played out. After reaching the scripted conclusion, in which the oppressed character(s) fail to overturn their oppression, the actors begin the production again, although often in a condensed form. At any point during this second performance, any spect-actor may call out "stop!" and take the place of the actor portraying the oppressed individual (this actor stays on stage but to the side, giving suggestions to the spect-actor who has replaced him/her).

The spect-actor then attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor's actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out "magic!", and the spect-actor must modify the actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails to overthrow the oppression, the actor resumes his/her character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out "stop!" and attempts a different method.

If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again: the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to be dialectic, coming to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than didactic, in which the moral argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance of reply or counter-argument.

 

Source: Wikipedia "Theatre of the Oppressed"