theatre of communitage: “in any place, but not in a special place” – Augusto Boal

– Augusto Boal

Excerpts from Tom Magill’s interview with Augusto Boal [full text here]:


The word community, communitage in Portuguese, we use to define sometimes a region of the city, e.g., a slum. In this state there is a communitage within that slum. Sometimes we can talk about also the communitage of psychiatric hospitals or we can talk about the communitage of a trade union for instance, so the word communitage / community has not the same meaning as it has in English, and of course they don’t have theatre inside those communities.

a community having the same interests without specialities:

In slums there is no theatre, only one slum which is an area called Digegow, in Rio, has a community and curiously, Cicerly Berry, who is the great teacher of voice of the Royal Shakespeare Company, when she went to Brazil twice she went to that community in the slums to teach the people how to pronounce better, how to free their voices. And so community means that. It means a group of people who can be located geographically or because they have the same interests and they don’t have specialities so there is not a difference between that community theatre and the other forms because they don’t have other forms. And then we worked with those communities to make them produce theatre.

A “community theatre” is a special place in New Zealand, or, in the Boal’s example, the US

… it is only for that region or whatever you know. It’s not in our case, our poor communities or workers’ communities. They don’t have theatre at all and then what they make is not creative theatre. But to help them make theatre, wherever, in any place, but not a special place, that is our task.

On building bulwarks:

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.

On political and theatrical representation:

Democracy is a very beautiful system but has this inconvenience. You have extreme power in your hands and when you vote you lose that power. It’s a paradoxical reality and then you’re going to get power again, 2, 4, 8 years later to vote again and to lose your power the moment you exert your power. You use your power you lose it, and then we thought during this time how can we make the citizen be aware of what’s going on? To delegate power to the other ones is so horrible. When you delegate power you lose your power and then you become a spectator of that person. You may have confidence in the person, you may trust them, but it is something that when you speak with your voice and something else when someone speaks in your place. When someone speaks in your place, even if it’s an honest person, intelligent person, creative person, but that person will never translate correctly what you want to say.

On participation including both amateur and professional:

if everyone did theatre the professional theatre would be full every day because they would like to see what the other ones are doing. So sometimes professional theatre is not so interesting to the population because the population does not practice theatre. If you do theatre all of the time then you want to see a play done by others. The more you develop theatre inside the population in general, the more you create conditions for having bigger audiences, a more interested audience, more participation from the audience.

On copying methodologies:

I think that the bad results can come from an automatic, a mechanical transposition forcing a method that is flexible and not stratified, so if it serves as an inspiration it is good.

On the invention of theatre from rebellion – jumping out of not into the chorus:

If I think about the Ancient Greeks, the one who influenced me very much was Thespis. Why Thespis? Because he was the first person who was in a chorus in the dithyrambic chorus singing all disciplined the song that the poet had written and dancing the movements of the choreographer and saying what was the acceptable official story so he jumped out of that and refused to be inside the chorus and said what he really thought. So this act of rebellion, he invented the theatre with this act of rebellion when he went out and said I don’t agree with it, the chorus singing in poetry and he answering, replicating in prose. So this act of rebellion for me is extraordinary. A man invented the theatre. In this act of rebellion he jumped out of the chorus.

On funding:

I am a professional, we should have our money from the government because art in most cases is not self sufficient, you need sponsorship. But, we should have a balance, popular art should be developed for its own benefit and for the benefit of art in general.

(Augusto Boal was nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

It was awarded to Martti Ahtisaari.)

Augusto Boal was arrested in 1972 after the publication of Theatre of the Oppressed. Following a brief outbreak of democracy, Brazil had been returned to a military dictatorship – by coup – in 1964. Censorship was most intense over the period 1968-73.

Boal was imprisoned, suffered various types of torture, over a four month period, until he was eventually, like Caetano Veloso, deported.

He returned to Brazil in 1986 and has since then worked in Brazil and throughout the world on / in the theatre of the oppressed. Turning sixty-five in 1996, he was refused his pension on the grounds that he remained classified as a ‘menace to the state.’

International pressure on the Brazilian government to grant Boal the pension increased when it became widely known in 2005 that this classification still had not been revoked.

Is Boal still an unpensioned enemy of the state?