Webpage Supplement to
Chapter 21: Theatre of the Oppressed
(With further input from Adam Blatner, etc.)
September 15, 2006
Further webpage supplementary material about outline for workshop and other correspondence, references, etc. on www.interactiveimprov/towkshpwb.html
Theatre of the Oppressed began in Brazil, developed by Augusto Boal in
the 1960s as a combination of social action and improvisational
theatre. Boal was born on March 16, 1931 and raised in a well-to-do
Brazilian family. Around age 18, in the late 1940s, he studied at
Columbia University in New York City as a science and engineering
student. However, his interest was diverted into theatre. On returning
to Brazil in the early 1950s, became a theatre director for 3 years and
gradually opened to a variety of other influences, more notably some
theatre artists who wrote about the applications of theatre for social
propaganda, such as the German, Bertold Brecht; the Italian, Henry
Piscator; and the Russian, Samuel Mayakovsky. His major influence,
though, was Paulo Friere, another Brazilian, who in the 1950s worked
with the problem of helping peasants and workers to learn to read and
write. Friere found it helpful to take a more collaborative and
holistic approach to education.
Boal addressed similar problems and sought to express Friere’s approach through dramatic methods. His first efforts involved the basic method mentioned at the beginning of the chapter--a troupe’s putting on a small skit and then inviting the audience to suggest alternative ways of working it out–which he called Forum Theatre. Boal applied this method in the community; early efforts addressed the challenge of promoting literacy among the peasants as well as other social inequities rooted in the Brazilian economic system. This early “teatro” with a bent towards addressing issues of social justice and topical satire– really, political “agit-prop” (an abbreviation for a propaganda aimed at agitating the masses)--took their early performances into the “favelas,” the slum neighborhoods of Rio, union halls and university campuses. They would also perform for the peasants, the “campesinos,” in remote rural areas.
From the hard lessons of experience, he was honest enough to write openly about these events, to illustrate how the living culture of real communities significantly affect points of view, interpretation and degree of audience activation and connection with any given performance. He noted how shared stories and perceived needs and aspirations must be taken into account. For example, he wrote about an incident in which his troupe presented a play about revolution, but the peasants got the impression that the troupe were in fact revolutionaries, with real guns, and were aroused enough by the play that they wanted to use the troupe and its weapons to violently attack the boss of a nearby hacienda. Boal was humiliated and had to admit that he and the others were “merely” actors! He and the troupe were berated by the campesinos for their lack of empathy and authenticity. This transformative moment opened a window for Boal into the true meaning of community and galvanized the development of his “trans-contextual” approach to the Forum..
Theater of the Oppressed morphed through many formats and changes in content emphasis during the various stages of Boal’s dramatic career. Gradually he evolved from more traditional ways of producing plays to a more improvisational approach, like Moreno’s “Living Newspaper” format, presenting realistic depictions of current social issues and events. This brought him closer to the core of Spect-actor Forum.
Boal was a modern Marxist–not within the sphere of the Russian Communist Party, but one who challenged many of the political and social assumptions of capitalism, which was less regulated and more exploitative in South America.
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playwright/director, Bertolt Brecht, developed a performance style he
called Epic Theatre to goad his audiences into analyzing the social
circumstances that molded the lives of his characters. If
audiences empathized with Mother Courage when she lost her sons and
daughter to war, for Brecht, this was not enough. Because he
wanted his audience to do more than passively consume entertainment, he
felt they must truly see the coercive forces of society’s unseen hand
that create conditions leading to war and other forms of human
exploitation. Boal carries this experiment to the next level with
his idea that audience members could shed their passive role as
spectators and break the fourth wall that separates them from the
performers. When these spect-actors enter the drama and propose
solutions to an oppression, they speak in the universal Human Langugage
of theater: bold, committed actions. And these embodied truths
speak much louder than any number of thoughts, or statements of fact
and belief. The actions of spect-actors serve to activate the
audience and carry the outcomes of this dramatic dialogue into their
Oppression may not just be a dynamic that operates at the level of the national or local government, but can also be found to be happening within the attitudes of ordinary people. This became more apparent to Boal when, during his work in Europe, the issues that came up were less political and more personal–feelings of loneliness, unworthiness, the kinds of things that psychiatrists had been calling neurosis. But Boal saw these as internalizations of not just the harsh judgments of parents, but rather the commonly shared assumptions inherent in the social structure. He called his TO work with such people the “cop in the head” approach. (Yes, in some ways it was like psychodrama, but also had the spirit of sociodrama, feminist therapy and cultural analysis.) These experiences were written up in a book by Boal called The Rainbow of Desire (1992?).
Using Freire’s method that opens the educational process to genuine dialog, with “teachers” listening and revising their thinking and approach as much as the “students” are supposed to do, a process of mutual education unfolds. In addition, ideally, there can be a promotion of shared solidarity, in contrast to the individualist striving found in more competitive types of education. Thus, teachers and learners support one another while courageously questioning the assumptions inherent in their life circumstances. The can propose possible changes and explore the tactics and implications of such proposals. Applied to theatre, the director and actors are willing to learn from the audience in a real give-and-take.
Boal’s dramaturgy continues to hold true to Freire’s principles. The introspective techniques of his Rainbow of Desire were prompted by the need to tackle the less tangible, internalized oppression he found so predominantly in his work with TO in the developed world. He designed these new techniques to help workshop participants use image-making to “remodel their subjectivity” and ultimately reclaim their agency as autonomous humans acting in and on the world. He describes his more recent efforts with Legislative Theatre as “an experiment in transitive democracy,” a definition Paulo Freire would certainly understand.
Role Designations: Joker, Protagonist, Antagonist, Spect-Actor
In TO, the term joker is the name for the one who conducts the forum. The term implies the establishment of a somewhat playful, exploratory attitude, an invitation to an attitude of wondering together, “what if...?” (It is not meant to suggest meanness, surprise betrayal, or the kind of evil joker portrayed in the Batman movies.) The joker role includes facilitating the process, overseeing the design of each scene during the workshop. The challenge is not to censor or dominate the content, but rather to ensure that the scene’s structure clearly invites the audience to intervene. The joker/facilitator must also coach the forum actors in assembling and maintaining their characters during trial runs of the intervention process. As soon as the forum performance begins, the joker must activate the audience with charm, presence, information - about situations and characters - and structured warm-up games strategically sandwiched among other elements of the performance.
The joker explains or translates the meaning and practical significance of key terms, notes how spect-actors may intervene, and helps the audience to vote on which scene the majority would like to run again as a Forum. In addition to managing the pace of the performance, the joker, following a brief scene enactment, also asks spect-actors, and players how they felt while in the scene, and how well the intervention worked. Finally, the joker is responsible for structuring the forum process in time and space so that the interactive dialogue is lively, germane, and safe and the performance does justice to its central issues.
The Protagonist or “Actor” is the name given for the role of the person who is the focus of the predicament, the one who is in some way seeking to accommodate or be liberated from the types of oppression being addressed. Whether working with an ongoing troupe or developing them from an untrained group (in a workshop), the purpose is to have several people initiate a scene. The general theme is some situation that evokes a feeling of unfairness, oppression.
The antagonist is the role played in TO by another actor who represents those who consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the oppression. An example might be a disadvantaged farm worker as protagonist trying to get the ear of the wealthy landowner, who, in this scene would be the antagonist.
Who is the oppressor, though? Is a mother who wants to liberate her daughter from peer pressures the protagonist or antagonist when the daughter pleads with her to be allowed to wear sexually provocative clothes, or high heel that might be bad for growing feet? Or are the antagonists the peers who are pressuring the girl to wear the “in” fashion? Or are they the editors of the fashion magazines?
While the person who takes the role of having the “problem” (i.e., the “protagonist”) may be played by a troupe member or a spect-actor, it is best for the antagonist, the role of the oppressor or one speaking for or justifying the oppressor, to be played by a regular troupe member, an experienced theatre artist, one who can withstand the stresses of playing the “bad guy” in the turbulence of interactive drama. In such enactments, the audience often gets angry at these villainous roles, so the playing of oppressive roles require a deeper capacity for staying grounded.
During the action, the antagonist is not changed, but a variety of people as spect-actors might come up and try different strategies for addressing the conflict. At the end, though, it’s important for the joker (sort of like the director) to clearly help that antagonist-actor to de-role, so he and the audience can explicitly agree that he (or she) is not really an oppressor, does not hold those beliefs that evoke anger, and is really just an actor who cares about the issue. He or she should be appreciated for the sacrifice entailed in playing a difficult role. To say again, as it is an important principle, don’t allow spect-actors (audience members) or even novices in workshops to enter into roles that will attract a good deal of hostility–it makes them too vulnerable.
The Spect-Actor. This is an intriguing name that emphasizes the interactivity of TO: The audience isn’t expected to sit there passively. At a certain point when the action heats up, they are invited to get involved! Spect-actors come in all shapes, sizes, ages and genders. Audience members who are activist by nature, personally embroiled in an issue represented in the Forum, or drawn into the flow of the Forum by a particularly riveting performance are most likely to step through the “fourth wall” and become an active agent in the Forum drama. It’s absorbing to watch this transformation: counter to everything they’ve ever been taught about the rules of theatre etiquette, individual audience members actually leave their seats, mount the stage – if there is one – and actively pursue their own view of a better outcome through the Forum rhetoric of action in character. The joker will always ask each spect-actor how they felt during their intervention and these interludes are often the most illuminating and moving moments of the performance. For example, this involve a performance by a Protagonist whose situation closely resembles their own lives or by a particularly infuriating Antagonist they see as a personal challenge.
After learning the basics of body self-sculpture, with associated techniques, and making a series of frozen tableaus, the group begins to analyze their own social issues in depth. The different techniques may be used to illustrate multiple points of view; group dynamics/ social oppressions; proposals for change; and to “story-board” or animate freeze frame images in the process of creating proto-scenes or embryons (Boal, 1998: 62).
Re Workshop warm-ups:
These exercises include: experiments with gravity and equilibrium, rhythmic movement, a series of walks and massages, multi-sensory integration games, sound and beat routines, voice and breathing studies, mirroring and modeling structures, a variety of mask and ritual scenarios, and sensory/emotional memory exercises. Boal categorizes the basic TO games as 1) “feeling what we touch” (restructuring muscular relations), 2) “listening to what we hear,” 3) “dynamizing several senses,” 4) “seeing what we look at,” 5) “the memory of the senses.” While moving us through this sequence of games, Boal emphasizes close attention to detail, shedding prior habits, using our senses in novel ways and engaging our imaginations.
For many community members in TO workshops, working through the activation, “muscular remodeling” and community-building games in Boal’s “arsenal” may provoke some very tentative, first responses and often some real resistance to these new ways of experiencing physicality, presence and self in relation to others. Over time, as new actors develop confidence in their use of TO’s basic tools, this initial hesitancy gives way to eagerness for more and deeper self-exploration, role play and dramatic analysis of situations from their lives. Experienced actors, who already understand physicality and its use in evoking presence, and may even recognize riffs on some of these games from other rehearsal formats in a wide range of theatrical styles, often remark that the TO process opened them up inter-personally and accelerated the community-building process beyond what they ever thought possible.
A TO workshop starts with personal check-in and centering exercises, and discussion of project themes and issue focus, if applicable. Participants should use this time to get to know who’s there, voicing expectations, sharing diverse interests and expressing any misgivings they may feel before entering into the TO process. This sorting out of ideological and personal perspectives is especially important if the group is focused on learning and applying techniques rather than creating a Forum dialogue around a specific community issue.
TO’s arsenal of improvisation games have been built around objects, space and gesture; games involving relatively generic character development; and deep structures that raise the ante by adopting a very specific and personal character perspective. These are used to develop facility with characters and story-building, and fluency in free-form improv situations. As participants move back and forth between these improv exercises, image-based analysis, and story circle sessions, the Forum scenes coalesce around Core Conflict Images, then morph into Past / Core / Future Storyboard Tableaus that Forum actors animate with interior monologues or gestural phrases.
Describing the task of making effective scenes for the public Forum, Augusto Boal says:
“Each Forum must present a clear question. A scene’s dramatic architecture must focus on a conflict of wills which express different social forces. All characters must be integral to this structure which must be centralized in a core conflict: the concretion of the central idea of the play.”
None of this is very surprising; conflict, clarity and strong characterization are elements common to all forms and eras of drama, from Aeschylus to Tony Kushner.But it’s easy to appreciate the beauty and efficiency of TO in priming the performance pump, when one considers that all this ensemble work happens in so little time through the efforts of formerly non-theatrical, community activists driven by raw nerve and the desire to use Forum theater to spark public dialogue and rehearse actions that may better their lives.
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The skills necessary to be a successful workshop facilitator and performance joker grow out of extensive experience with the process, familiarity with the literature and lore of TO, hours of improvisational rehearsal work and diligent continuing education. Attending local Forum performances and jumping directly into the role of spect-actor provides a stage-level glimpse into the rhythms and skills of jokering, while participating in local workshops, and eventually training seminars geared toward developing jokering and facilitation skills builds a strong base of theory and experience. The final ingredient is practice: TO actors and community activists who want to lead workshops and joker performances should “hone their chops” with hours of rehearsal, reading and reflection.
Boal originally created some of these improvisation exercises for campesinos, workers, teachers, home-makers, street kids in Rio and all the other non-actors who may engaged to use the TO approach to analyze and change their local circumstances.
The TO workshop process is structured as a sequential workshop experience that may culminate in a public Forum performance. The menu of available games and exercises – dubbed the “Arsenal of the Theatre of the Oppressed” by Boal – is based on two unities: the inseparable nature of human physical and psychological qualities and attributes, and the virtual unity of human senses. The physical/psychological relationship informs TO’s use of image exercises, games of masks and ritual, and formats for creating and deepening characters and situations. Sensory unity connects the body-work exercises that stretch the limits of how we use our senses.
Working with Western populations who are dealing more with personal issues, a workshop process called “The Rainbow of Desire” was developed in the later 1980s. In many ways, it’s like psychodrama and sociodrama, but Boal emphasizes the culture’s role definitions as being of more importance than individual quirks or family-of-origin dynamics.
developed in TO workshops are “donated” by participants and treated as
emblems of the group’s collective experience. All successful Forum
scenes are designed with an “open door” that beckons the audience to
act – either a character that needs and, perhaps, solicits help, in an
oppressive but not ultimately inflexible situation that begs for
closure or at least “remodeling,” or both. This ensures that
spect-actors will clearly see an opening into what must be changed and
feel encouraged to break the 4th wall of the stage, enter the drama and
put their ideas into action.The latter stages of each TO
workshop are devoted to dry runs through the spect-actor intervention
process to give performance teams in each scene a taste of how it feels
to accept improvisational offers and build a story with spect-actors
fresh from the audience. New TO actors need these simulations to
maintain confidence in their developing abilities; for the Forum to
maintain legitimacy as a problem-solving tool, actors must learn to
stay in character until presented with a spect-actor solution that
genuinely moves them to change.
From p4I often use the Magic Screen convention from Sociodrama to allow the spect-actor to speak from the heart to the Antagonist when the intervention is finished, especially when the intervention was less successful. (*** what is this technique?)
The time investment required for a TO workshop depends on its scope and purpose. There is no hard and fast rule of thumb for time frames in TO. Marc Weinblatt of the Mandala Center for Awareness, Transformation & Action (Port Townsend WA) has developed an intense 15 hour “Anti-Racism for White Folks” workshop which he presents in the Seattle area.Shelli Rae and I facilitated a 20+ hour anti-Death Penalty workshop – which culminated in the “Eye & Tooth Project” Forum performance - for Amnesty International in Houston TX . This process was later compressed to 3 hours for presentation at the Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference (PTO) 2003 as “De-Codifying the Death Penalty.”
A 3 weekend leadership process developed for Mothers for Clean Air / Houston became a 3 hour “Speaking to Power” workshop for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and a 90 minute presentation at the PTO Conference 2004.
The necessary time seems to expand or contract to suit the scope and time constraints of the various workshop constituencies. Most newcomers get their first “taste of TO” in a 2 - 3 hour workshop that offers a brief introduction to Boal’s 5 categories of games and exercises. Groups with special interests such as anti-racism, environmental justice, domestic violence, community / police relations, et al. may spend a day using Image Theater to analyze and clarify their focus issues, or a weekend combining Image, Forum and techniques from the Rainbow of Desire.Comprehensive introductory technique classes generally span an entire week – approximately 30 hours – and more or less develop the skills and understanding necessary to solo facilitate a TO workshop.
True artistry with the arsenal of TO demands systematic study, experimentation, and diligent rehearsal of the techniques. Organizing and facilitating workshops deepens a practitioner’s understanding of the logic and nuances of Boal’s system while continuing education keeps one aware of current developments in the craft and spurs creativity in widening the scope of where, when and how we may use TO to process an ever-widening array of socio-political issues. I also feel that a working apprentice or mentoring relationship with an experienced TO facilitator/joker is vital to the development of confidence and fluency in staging public forums.Developing jokers need both the latitude to try out what they’ve learned, and also the model of an experienced hand in conducting the complex of rhythms and energies that flow through a Forum in live performance.
Unlike many other forms of applied theatre, there is, at present, no formal certification process for TO practitioners and this is both a central virtue and a tricky problem for the “TO movement.” For example, our first training experience comprised 3 weeks of intensive work at California State University / Long Beach with Mady Schutzman, Jan Cohen-Cruz and Augusto Boal. After that, Shelli and I worked as freelance Artists-in-Education, using TO in public/private schools, and with community organizations and churches in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Kansas. We have since studied with Boal on 3 separate occasions. While directing Seattle Public Theater’s TO wing, I facilitated &/or managed over 40 projects; in practical terms, this direct experience has been my most formative “teacher.” My time spent in Boal’s presence has been invaluable - like the relationship of how to why - in developing an ethic of personal practice.
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Notes on Forum: Forum Theater performances provide exciting demonstrations of Augusto Boal’s greatest contribution to both the craft of theater and the needs of civil society: a direct, dramatic form of democracy framed as a dialogic encounter among multiple points of view.
The trained troupe, or the non-professionals who joined a pre-performance workshop, prepare a performance with hours of workshop games, exploration of image and improvisational techniques and the development of scenes based on experiences that are emblematic of the community experience.
The Rainbow of Desire: The Political Becomes Personalized – Further Notes:
When Augusto Boal began his exile in Lisbon in the mid-1970s and later in Paris, TO shifted toward a more complex view of the dynamic relationship between the oppressed and their oppressors, and a more global perspective on the very nature of oppression. Boal’s workshops continued to attract many workers and immigrants enmeshed in oppressive situations he recognized from prior experiences in Latin America – racism, economic exploitation, poverty, sexism, abuse by police or through the legal system in general. However, he also noticed that many Europeans with good jobs, a high level of material comfort and all the social and political privileges that obtain from living in economically developed Western democracies were fundamentally unhappy and troubled with deep-seated, “internal oppressions,” like fear of intimate relationships, loneliness, or alienation.
Boal (1995: 8) honestly admits that at first, “for someone like me, fleeing explicit dictatorships of a cruel and brutal nature, these themes seemed superficial and scarcely worthy of attention. It was as if I was always asking, mechanically: ‘But where are the cops?’” However, as he became more aware of the extent of these problems – particularly the high suicide rates in Sweden and Finland, nations he had always considered as close to utopian – he searched for ways to use the Forum’s system of images and interactive scenes to lend form to these hidden oppressions and activate spect-actor energy to propose solutions.The key to this project was the idea of external “cops”who had internalized their control over groups and individuals. He wrote, “I started from the following hypothesis: the cops are in our heads, but their headquarters and barracks must be on the outside. The task was to discover how these cops got into our heads, and to invent ways of dislodging them.”
Boal rolled out his seminal Cops in the Head (Flic dans la Tete) workshop in Paris in the early 1980’s and a wide variety of new image-making and dynamization techniques evolved from this laboratory. In 1988 he was invited to speak at the International Association of Group Psychotherapists and to demonstrate the Rainbow of Desire technique. Structurally, the Rainbow of Desire comprises three types of techniques, Prospective, Introspective and Extraverted. Prospective techniques lay the groundwork, mining the surfaces of issues and situations from various points of view offered by workshop participants. This preliminary work and the act and issue hungers it generates steers the workshop toward a consensus on whose story will serve as an emblem for the group’s collective experience. Images created through Prospective techniques often serve as cores of improvisations for the deeper work.
Next, the group employs Introspective techniques to penetrate the surface and illuminate the subtext of actions and relationships portrayed in a series of improvisations. Techniques such as Cops in the Head, the Rainbow of Desire and Screen Image may be used to shed light on the full range of complexity inside the dynamic between protagonist and antagonist. These techniques mix image tableaus, vocalizations and movement; many of the outcomes resemble the fluid sculptures produced by the players in Playback Theater. While the initial improvisations are designed by a single protagonist, the Introspective analytic process involves a inclusive collaboration that opens relationships shown in the scene to a wide spectrum of interpretation – which the protagonist may incorporate or reject. This deconstructive process gives the protagonist a range of alternative responses and actions they may use to modify the outcome of the original scene.
Finally, the protagonist incorporates multiple insights and perspectives gleaned from the Introspective work into the Extraversion process that brings the original embryonic scenes back into action. During this phase of the Rainbow, the protagonist will run the original scene as the facilitator recommends various rehearsal variations and dynamic performance formats that offer new pathways through the tangle of oppressions at the core of the scene. As before, this section of the Rainbow is interactive, but the session should conclude with a performance by the original protagonist that incorporates any combination of effective strategies proposed through spect-actor interventions. Here are three major techniques used in this approach:
--Rashomon: (This technique is named for a 1960s Japanese movie in which three versions of an event are given by the several parties involved.) A Prospective structure which offers the group an opportunity to dynamize images from a variety of perspectives. First the scene is improvised; then the protagonist creates a relational image of each character based on the power dynamic. The scene is then re-improvised through the physical mask of the image created by the protagonist. *(These physical masks are extremely important. Characters are to remain “in the mask” while they improvise each successive “round” of a Rashomon. The masks truly influence both the physicality and the content of each rerun.)
*** This isn’t clear. Do people make masks out of cardboard? Papier mache would take hours or days. What is a physical mask? Is it a practiced facial gesture? How much time is taken to create these masks?***
Each character in the scene then repeats this process from their own unique point of view. Finally, the group collaborates of an Image of the Images that incorporates elements of each point of view. The scene may be re-improvised and the outcome used to create a collaborative Image of Transition to illustrate the process of moving between Real and Ideal images of an actual situation.
-- Cops in the Head: This Introspective technique concretizes the origins of the patterns and compulsions that influence the protagonist’s behavior in a scene. When the external figures that affect a protagonist’s inner life are represented as speaking sculptures, the protagonist is able to gain perspective and strategize ways to oppose or incorporate these internalized influences. *(Group members are drawn into the process by suggesting new Cops that the protagonist may not have considered when the original configuration was assembled. The group may also contribute “antibodies” to individual Cops that enter successive improvisations by replacing the Protagonist and attempting to engage, diffuse, subvert or even convert certain Cops.) Boal stipulates that the Cop figures – though they do represent real individuals that internally control the protagonist - should be used to uncover ideological influences rather than concentrating on personal quirks of character. This technique is also useful in analyzing the “internal programs” of silent witnesses in a scene – passive characters who are not the focus of oppression but may intervene as ineffective allies or just passively watch events unfold. The results of a session with the Cops may be processed as a Real / Transitional / Ideal sculpture, as well as adding grist to re-improvisation of the original scene.
*(Cops in the Head is a lengthy process involving 8 basic stages, intense collaborative image-making, and constant processing of results. The full structure runs approximately 3 hours though pieces of the Cops... may be used to supplement other forms, or as part of the run-up to spect-actor interventions in the Forum.)
– Breaking the Oppression: Based on the results of the preceding work in the Rainbow, this Extraversion technique incorporates research on character relationships into a re-improvisation of the original scene that attempts to find closure by satisfying important protagonist desires. Finally the scene is reimprovised after the protagonist and antagonist have reversed their roles. *(This use of a technique borrowed directly from Moreno’s Socio / Psychodramatic systems underscores how closely Boal’s system parallels Moreno’s work.) This session could end with multi-perspectival Rashomon images and an ultimate Images of Images representation of the scene’s power dynamic.
The nature the Rainbow of Desire remains both rich and elusive. Its development from other forms of applied theater such as the Forum and Sociodrama is clear but how does it mirror the practices of more overtly therapeutic action techniques such as Psychodrama or Gestalt? *(The Rainbow’s connections to Psychodrama are deep and relatively easy to trace. Convergences with Gestalt focus on improvised dialogues, and parallels between steps in the Cops / Rainbow process and Gestalt’s “empty chair” and “hot seat.”) While Boal describes his sytem as “a superimposition of theater and the therapeutic,” the work is undeniably focused on the protagonist’s inner life, particularly the conflicted desires and beliefs that serve as blocks to effective action.Though Boal has never framed the Rainbow as actual therapy, his emphasis on the deep subtext of human relationships rather than the Forum’s external socio/political situations makes a therapeutic outcome more probable. Ultimately the Rainbow process parallels the developmental arc of Forum Theater... *(They both use the same series of games as warmups, both focus on collabrative image-making as a deconstructive method, both attract spect-actors into interactive improv in an effort to extend and enrich dialogue.) ...but where Forum focuses on the ways in which the outside world’s dynamics structure our lives, the Rainbow represents our inner lives as a chorus of forms and voices and investigates how we internalize messages from that outside world that keep us in tow, block authentic expressions and thwart our desires.
Psychodrama and the Rainbow do converge in the premises and methods behind their healing mission: both systems delve deeply into relationships, feelings and behaviors to clarify the causal connections between concrete oppressions and subjective damage.Both systems attempt to short-circuit stereotyped perceptions and compulsive behaviors in the service of breaking oppressions. *(These oppressions could stem directly from social blockages to productive action (Rainbow) or neurotic, maladaptive behaviors (Psychodrama)). The most significant differences between the Rainbow and Psychodrama stem from Rainbow’s emphsis on current time and rehearsal for individual and collective action in the future, and Psychodrama’s penetrating gaze into the influence of the past and its lingering influence on a single individual. Psychodrama is also based on a much less collaborative process, with less emphasis on image-making and a strong director centered locus of control. This strong director focus is necessary and prudent as Psychodrama is a complex psychiatric process which goes much deeper and requires a level of expertise far different from the facilitator of a Rainbow session. *(I have completed a mere 60 hours of training in Psychodrama and have taken a single course in SocioDrama and its uses. This hardly qualifies me to make pronouncements or pass judgements on the inner mechanisms of Psychodrama or its influence on the development of Boal’s thought.)
Personally, I have found Rainbow techniques extremely useful in building subtext and adding depth to the characterization of antagonists in Forum performances. We have often used Cops in the Head and Rashomon prior to spect-actor interventions so that audience members might participate in building a less stereotyped model of the motivations, misgivings and agendas they will encounter and hopefully subvert if they engage the antagonist directly on stage. (I have also developed a number of structures that riff off the Rainbow: Action / Essence sculptures, Janaka’s Double – a sculpture that illustrates differences and connections between our social and inner personas, the Janus sculpture – for clarifying ambivalences and ambiguities – and the “High Noon” Mask of the Oppressor exchange, et al.) This builds confidence and allows the audience a safe level of interactive participation before they actually break the fourth wall to take the plunge as protagonists in the Forum.
In terms of non-therapeutic theater practice, the Rainbow is also an excellent method for developing subtext in character relationships while rehearsing plays of any type. These techniques may be used to map the arc of a power dynamic as a play unfolds and structures like Cops and the Rainbow allow unique access to the complexities of character motivations, vividly illustrating how multiple points of view shape intentions and subsequent actions. (The methodology of the Forum is most useful for developing variegated threads of action, enriching the overall plot. The Rainbow deepens and problematizes individual characters and character relationships within character-driven theater pieces. Boal compares the Forum to Ibsen and the Rainbow to Chekov.) Our Theater Degree Zero ensemble in Tucson AZ (1993-1997) incorporated image tableaus from a Rashomon rehearsal session into a separate scene during our performance of Victor Hugo Rascon Banda’s Voces en el umbral to represent different views of the power dynamic between the ruling classes and indigenous peoples at the time of the Mexican Revolution. (This play was performed tri-lingually in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico which also problematized the cultural mix.)
Awaiting further revision.