Theater of the Oppressed


I have been thinking a lot about theater and performance in advance of the Art of Python in April (that I am co-planning this year).

In an earlier post I mentioned that the Art of Python was Brechtian. Over the weekend I unpacked this a bit, when .I read Theater of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal.

Often, in conversation with friends, there is a discussion about how people end up in certain situations. Is the the external circumstances (Marxist), or individual character  (sort of) (Hegel)?  I have been unwittingly in the Hegel camp. I really did not have the words to articulate this in this way until I read Theater of the Oppressed.

I do believe there are certain external circumstances which are so dire that perhaps it is impossible to exercise any agency or freedom. However, that most people reading this blog probably do not live under those circumstances.  And I also have believed in ability of the individual through various means, to transform themselves, and perhaps transform their situation, or perception of those situations…. and perceptions create reality.

Brechtian theater expresses narrative as a series of forces that constrain or force certain actions. Romantic theater expresses narrative as the individuals acting within certain constraints. What Boal seems to suggest is a narrative that, while existing within a constrained structure, creates dynamism through individuals acting with one another – infrastructure.

There is the notion that the format of the theater has become stale and ridged. That it supports certain forms of narrative (bourgeois perhaps), and that this itself must be addressed in order to make theater vital (alive) again.

It is easy to think of these concepts in reference to something like the Art of Python.The art of python are performances that are structured by the social constraints of working in technology. How does working in technology force people to act in particular ways. From the performances last year, I do not think we had examples of a well made play, or an epic play with a hero and an Aristotelian story structure.

The emphasis was on expressing the drama inherent in this social constraints – the social constraints of technology.  This year, we are going to incorporate some of the theater of the oppressed, and maybe rethink the structure of the performance itself. Already art of python was doing this by not being traditional theater. But this year we have a component where we involve members of the audience in contributing and creating their own works.  This is a movement to replace the original aristocratic tendency of Aristotelian theater and return theater, art and performance to expression and reflection  – to create a crises in technology work.