Augusto Boal (1931-2009), had dedicated his life to creating the Theatre of the Oppressed, a once extremely radical performance technique, but is now used it every day acting classes and performances. Its aim was to break down cultural and political boundaries. Boal designed his methods to be accessible to all and cross-cultural (a lot of his exercises have none on very minimal talking), and because of his own spirited commitment, there are TOTO centers all over the world.
Within the TOTO, two of Boal’s most used techniques are Forum Theatre and Legislative Theatre. Forum Theatre invites the audience to participate as the actors give the audience offers directed specifically to them. Theatre of the Oppressed New York (2015) says “We work with both audiences of peers, such as clients of HIV clinics and homeless shelters, and audiences of diverse allies who may not be personally affected by the problems addressed.”
Legislative Theatre involved going to minority communities groups and getting them to express their concerns, form there Boal would present this concerns to council. Many new laws in Rio were formed this way. Forum Theatre which involves the audience as an active participant as the actors give them direct offers and Legislative Theatre which involves improvising scenarios with minority groups and from there presenting their concerns to the council to help in creating new laws.
Boal created a series of exercise all focused on improvisation which was and still are, used in workshops, acting classes, pre-performance warm-ups and even in performance. Babbage goes into detail (2010 p. 316-318) about three specific exercise, ‘Pushing against each other’, ‘Animal’ and ‘Image Theatre’. ‘Pushing against each other’ has many variations and is used generally in the early stages of training. it starts the communication between the participates. ‘Animals’ pushes the participates to be individual and unique as you interact with others just using a specific animal’s movements. Lastly ‘Image Theatre’ it’s the core technique in TOTO, as a group the participants must find the Real, Ideal and Transitional stages of the improvisation.
Boal’s work centers around exploring the language of the body through improvisation and encouraging the actor to unlearn habitual patterns and create new movement. His son, Julian Boal, has taken over and continues to pass on his teaching around the world.
After just two weeks of class exercises and reflecting on the insight I have gained about Boal, it is extremely obvious the kind of lasting impact that he has made on improvisation. After reading about him and some of his specific exercise I was able to find exact moment in class when were either explored one of his exercise or a variation of one.
One exercise that stood out immediately was an exercise we did in the first week. It involved walking around the room pointing at objects and naming them. At first, a very simple exercise then you add the next layer, continue to point at objects but instead of naming them we had to say the name of the object that we had pointed at one before. This proved to be harder as you had to remember what you had just looked at but also recognize and remember what you were currently looking at as you need it for the next object. Finally, we added a third step, continuing to point at objects but call them anything we wanted, this was by far the hardest step because you found yourself defaulting to a pattern rather than new and unrelated words each time. This exercise is an exact link to Boal’s work in Arena Conta Zumbi (1965) and his “Animal” exercise as it encouraged us to get out of our habitual pattern and foster exploration a core tool needed in improvisation.
A second exercise that stood out was in the second week and once again a simple exercise that proved to be quite difficult. This exercise involved being partnered with someone and taking it in turns to guide each other with just our fingertips while holding eye contact and without speaking. Again, this exercise is a direct link to Boal’s work as Babbage (2010. p. 313) explains in the Pushing against each other exercise, it encourages balance, good communication, and an emotional connection.