Saturday, January 12, 2008

In His Own Words: An interview with Augusto Boal, Douglas L. Paterson and Mark Weinberg

(An edited version of this interview originally appeared in High Performance #72, Summer 1996.)

The following interview was conducted with Augusto Boal in Omaha, Nebraska during his residency there from March 18-26 and the Second Annual Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conference, March 21-23, 1996. Boal conducted three workshops (two Introduction to Forum Theatre workshops and one two-day Rainbow of Desire workshop), delivered a keynote address, and "jokered" two Forum Theatre performances, one with conference participants and another with Omaha residents concerned with a recent incident of police violence. The questioners and editors were Douglas Paterson and Mark Weinberg.

Q: We'd like to set a context for some analytical questions about Theatre of the Oppressed (TO). Your approach to theatre, it seems, offers one of the most profound critiques of at least the Western approach to drama. And while you certainly don't throw it all out, while you don't say "don't do plays" (You've done Iphigenia just recently[1]), you do critique the Western performance structure as being fundamentally coercive. To summarize: in the beginning of Theatre of the Oppressed[2] you write that it divides a people into those few who do and those many who watch and that this becomes a model for the ruling structure where there are few in power who do, and many who watch, the action of history. And that through the process of Aristotelian catharsis[3] people watch something, are concerned for the well-being and stability of the state, and then are persuaded through some kind of purging not to do anything, to accept things as they are and not to take action.

We have been intrigued by how, at least in the United States, people in established critical circles have not come after you. We would think there would be a ground-swell of resistance, because by taking on the Aristotelian structure you are critiquing one of the fundamental grounds of the way western theatre is practiced. Has there been, do you think, much of a critique, a real critique, of TO and your work in Europe anywhere? And if there hasn't been, why not?

Augusto Boal
Boal: Well look, it is the critique by silence. I remember Doug participated in the International Rio Festival of TO. We had 12 groups come from abroad. This is absolutely unusual. I don't remember ever having seen in Rio a festival with 12 foreign groups. We had 12 Brazilian TO groups and we had 12 dance or folklore Brazilian groups, too. So we had 36 groups that present themselves and it was absolutely ignored by the press. The press criticized by silence. They say, that's not theatre; if the spectator also uses theatre, then theatre no longer exists for them.

Then all the work that I do in Rio.[4] Now we have 19 groups all over Rio. Never comes a notice in the press to say we are going to have a festival. Sometimes we have festival in the park and not one critique appears.

Now recently in Paris we started a new theatre. It's a building, a new building, a theatre. We did Iphigenia which is a Greek play. But in the second part we had Forum Theatre in which a spectator would become spectactor[5] and we had very, very few critics that came. It's not that we want them to come and say "Oh, how wonderful" and applaud, but they come and say whatever. They rarely, when they know it is TO, they rarely come so there is a criticism by silence. By not acknowledging the existence of something which is there.

And then I would say another thing: the books that have been written about TO. In this country there's written one called Playing Boal.[6] In Germany, about five were published about TO and psychodrama TO and the school. In Holland they also published two or three. They are publishing books on TO all over the world. But all these books are by practitioners, people who do it and then they tell their experience, which I find is wonderful, but not a single book tried to analyze what's happening with TO in the world. So the critics, the professional critics, they don't see what's happening; they don't want to see what's happening. All those books, they're books by the people that practice like myself, so they relate to that experience like I relate to my experience.

But, I think that things are growing and then one thing that's going to be very important that's going to happen probably next year in July. TO was born when we had to leave the theatre: the newspaper theatre in the beginning, invisible theatre[7], the Forum Theatre. But I received an invitation, which I think we are going to try to make because it is extremely important, by Cecily Berry. She invited me to go to Stratford with the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company to work on Hamlet, using the Rainbow of Desire "cop in the head"[8] techniques. So this I am sure all critics have to see because it is TO coming back to the theatre, to Stratford where Shakespeare was and to his own play Hamlet. I believe that this is inevitably going to be acknowledged. But up to now I would say that they prefer not to notice what's happening.

Q: I think one of the really important things that needs to happen to expand the practice is a rigorous, critical examination of the process. As you're saying, it needs that, as part of the dialogue. So, as a way of beginning that, we've put together some questions that we'd like to pose to you.

The first question is about stereotyping. Making stereotypes on the stage. Perhaps in the structures of Forum Theatre, maybe cop in the head and Rainbow of Desire as well, it's easy to use stereotypes. And there may not be a clear mechanism for interrogating those stereotypes so as to compare reality to what is used in the theatre. So we are invited in TO to represent our antagonist, our oppressor, or those who aligned with us, in either/or ways, the good guys and the bad guys. Is there a way to really negotiate in discussion between stereotypes and what is more probably a complex reality? How do we get away from using stereotypes as a way of thinking about issues?

Boal: I think that in the Forum Theatre or in the techniques of Rainbow of Desire, we can start by stereotype, but the theatrical discussion will go as far as the participants are capable of going. There is not a recipe to make people see more deeply than the stereotype. But there is a method which you can start with a stereotype and then you go deeper. The presentation of the model, inevitably it is a stereotype. For instance, yesterday we were doing that presentation there at the church, and then the presentation of the scene, it was a stereotype. People who are playing dominos or cards or drinking beer, and someone comes and says you have to mobilize yourself, get out of here and let's do a manifest and participate. Particularly I was impressed by the boy who said, "Why should I? The more I read about, the more I know about how things are happening in this country, the more I think there is no solution." And then I felt some people that are inactive, they're not inactive because they are like that. It's because you have so much information by the media, by the press, by the television, by friends, that it's horrible what's happening, but that's the way it is. There's some sort of fatality that makes people accept it, people who are not fatalists, they become fatalists. I was very much impressed. That's not a stereotype. A stereotype is to show someone, "Oh no. I don't care about that." The person who says "I don't care about that" in reality cares about that, but is discouraged, is afraid. So I believe that stereotype is a part of the picture but depending on the people gathered to discuss the theme, the problem, we can go beyond stereotype.

I don't accept stereotype as "OK, we should not talk about stereotype." We can. Stories that we know of, normally they happen so that most of the time when we present the model [it] is more or less stereotyped. But the important thing is the process. How can we go from something we stereotype that everyone knows, `Yes it is like that,' and try to get knowledge through the intervention of spectators? And [to find out] who are the spectators; [why they] desire to come in.

So I'm not afraid about stereotype. I'm afraid about bad quality. When you present something which is not a stereotype but is something of bad quality, then you present some situation that is absolutely not true. This I think can not lead to any discovery, `empowerment' as people here use it, if it is false. But the stereotype is not necessarily false; it's a general framework in which things happen. So I like to say that the theatre itself, the play, the process itself, guarantees nothing. It's the people who use it that guarantee. We develop techniques, but the important thing is who is going to use that technique and how strong is the desire to find something by the people. If you have a strong desire, if you have not given up and you still believe, things can be changed.

Q: In other words, it is from the stereotype that the spectactors and audience learn about the situation. They really have to discover what it is, about what they've done, that might be a stereotype. It's up to them to discover that, rather than for you as Joker or an academic or a critic to point that out from the start. That needs to be discovered by the group.

Boal: By the theatrical process. And sometimes what happens happens because there's a stereotyped model, or it's a stereotyped story, but sometimes it's a stereotyped character. I always remember when they talk about stereotype a discovery from the work I did in Chile. It was with someone who was fighting against Pinochet, was known to be almost a hero among the workers in the fight against Pinochet, who had been tortured to hell. But when he made the play about his own family, he discovered that in his own family he was behaving like Pinochet towards his wife and towards his children, especially the daughters. So he discovered he had a stereotyped behavior of father. He was not being a father that was fighting Pinochet that had such a wife and such daughters and sons. He was not behaving like himself. Every time comes someone who wants to date one of his daughters his reaction was not of the person who's fighting tyranny. His behavior was tyrannical behavior. "You had to be back at this hour, you had to do this, you had to do that." He reproduced in his home a stereotyped behavior of fathers having to protect their daughters and having to impose upon their wives a certain form of behavior of work and all that.

So the stereotype sometimes is a situation. Like yesterday, it was a stereotype situation. People play and someone says "Don't play. Come and do something." It was stereotyped also that people come and say "You have to do something to culpablize, to make people feel guilty." That's a stereotype. We see that in many circumstance. And sometimes it's also a stereotype that you offer nothing pleasurable instead of the game that they are playing. And then it's "You have the duty to do this." And people sometimes are tired of only having to do their duty. They want to have also their pleasure. And yesterday, I thought some interventions that you had done, you and other people that were there, stressed also not the joy but the dynamics of acting. It's not only because you are guilty if you don't do that, it's because it's a pleasure to fight against injustice. There's a pleasure in it. So the stereotype sometimes is the situation and sometimes it's the character. And if we are not stereotyped ourselves as spectactors, we are going to use those stereotypes to understand better what the stereotype hides in persons. Because the stereotype is to repeat the same thing and not creatively. And the idea of the forum is to break, to destroy stereotypes by discovering what's behind the stereotype. Because sometimes the stereotype also gives comfort to people. It's a way of saying "OK, be like that and that's OK. No one's going to bother you."

Q: In a sense, the structure itself, the process, contains reflective elements that allow us to participate in not just action, but reflective moments on the action.

Boal: The very process of intervening, spect-intervening. When you see for instance plays about men and women at home, most of the time the models that come out of this are stereotypes: the men reading the newspaper, looking at television, drinking beer; the woman talking on the phone, taking care of the baby, making food. This is a stereotype, but a stereotype that exists in real life. I don't know in this country, but in my country, yes. It is very used to have this kind of repetitive behavior.

I remember once it was a very nice play; it was about a girl who got pregnant and then the situation was that the play started with the mother receiving the father, who came back from work, and the first thing the father did was to take off his shoes and the mother picked up his shoes and brought him his slippers and then went to put on the table, and then later came the daughter and then she revealed that she was pregnant. And the big issue was that she was pregnant and she needed to be helped by the parents and the whole family. And what the group wanted to discuss was how can a girl fight that oppression. But what the group was not aware of was the stereotyped relation between the husband who takes off his shoes and the woman who brings the slippers. Then one day I remember when the play started, the people, the actors went very fast in the beginning just to go to the central point. And someone said, "No stop. Go back to the beginning. The central point for me is not the discussion with the girl. The central point for me is the woman who is so subservient with bringing the slippers and he throws the shoes wherever he wants, and she brings the beer and he sits down. There is the central problem, not later. Later is a consequence of this." So the discussion concentrated more on the husband and wife, father and the mother. The people who had built it, they build it the way it is normally: the stereotype of the husband, the stereotype of the woman.

The stereotype is a mask also. The stereotype is not only in literature when they say the son is a "ball of fire" or something like that. You are using a stereotype, a literary stereotype. But when you put two characters in a scene, you are doing a dramatic stereotype. A dramatic stereotype sometimes is the ritual. And then what do we want? Do we want to fight against the rituals? Profane rituals of daily life? Because those profane rituals, they impose masks on us. And then we behave not creatively, but according to the mask that we have. I am a teacher. I am a husband. I am a father. I am this, I am that. And I'm not myself. I'm lots of masks that I put on. So a stereotype in literature, sometimes it's bad literature. It is that you are saying things that are obvious. Those are stereotypes. Bad images or worn-out images. But in theatre, Forum Theatre, stereotypes sometimes are the mechanism of ritualizations. And that's good to destroy it.

Q: If I am making an image or if I'm involved in Forum Theatre, someone could say that it's too easy for me to separate my own personal experience from the social context to which it belongs. I make my image of oppression only from my point of view. And the criticism might be made, then, that I can believe my image somehow is true in the larger sense because it's true for me. Does the spectator audience reconnect the individual to the social?

Boal: It depends also on what is the structure. For instance you have the structure of the worker that is going to talk to the boss because he needs more pay or better conditions of work. So all the other workers that belong to the same factory, the same [work] place, they are going to identify the situation and there is not doubt for them that they are oppressed. And then they are going to fight against the boss because the boss wants more profits and gives less conditions of good work, of comfortable work, of human work. But in those cases it is very clear to someone you are going to make a strike. It's very easy.

But the complication begins when the relation between one and the other one cannot fall in well established categories. For instance, all relations, men and women, emotional relations, sometimes both of them feel oppressed by the other ones. And then I can present a play in which I feel I am oppressed by the woman, and then by doing the play in forum, I can discover that maybe I am oppressor more than I am oppressed. Not only in forum. The other day we did the screen image[9] and one of the boys at the end, he was really very moved. He said, "Look, I was showing how I was oppressed and I was surprised that everyone took the position of the other one. And then finally I understood that maybe I am oppressor of the other one and that's why the other one oppressed me." Sometimes the situation is not socially very clear, very concrete and [yet is] very stereotyped, very ritualized. And it is also the question of feeling, the question of emotion, then it is very difficult to say who is oppressing who, because the other one can be oppressed too. So that's why those techniques were developed in which you don't really try to find the oppressor or the oppressed, but you try to understand the situation between one person and another one.

Q: Let's say that you were asked by a group of factory owners to do a TO scenario in which they see the owners have a certain obligation to their stockholders, to their families to live at a certain level of wealth—I'm obviously bating you here—to their whole circle to be able to gain a certain level of profit. They want some wage concessions from the labor union and if they don't get them they'll be less competitive and have fewer profits. They might have to close the doors and layoff the workers. So they ask you to come in and show in a play why they are the oppressed, and the workers are oppressing them.

Boal: There is one thing that is very important in theatre; it is that whatever form it is, it presents images of reality to be transformed or to be perpetuated. When you present an image of a reality, you choose a view point, a place from where you are going to see those images. Like a photographer. The playwriter or the men or women doing theatre, they have to choose where are they. What are their positions. For instance, yesterday we were talking with people that had been abused by the police. Maybe the police have their own problems at home in which they can feel oppression. Maybe the people at home have other oppressions elsewhere. But you have to take the image of reality and say where do I stand? Because theatre is moral, TO or not. When we show images of reality, we show images that we see, and in the process of transformation, that we want. My allegiance, my support goes, for instance in the case of yesterday, with the Mexican man that was beaten without any reason. We can say that the police, they are frightened because they can be shot. We know that they have their own problems, but in that particular case it was the police who beat someone who had done nothing, maybe had done just one gesture that was misinterpreted as an aggression, and then was cruelly beaten. So I have no doubt to side with that man. It's a moral choice.

So in the case that you said, it was almost the whole reality, the whole society that you put there. You have the manager, you have the people who are working in the office, you have the workers, you have the family, you have the whole society. But you have to say, "Where do I stand? What's my moral choice?" And then you choose. Many times I have worked with bank employees in Brazil, and we know that bank employees internally they have also fights because some of them want to be the manager, the chief manager, and the strike sometimes goes against a promotion. So sometimes the manager or the one who wants to be a better manager, they are against the strike. So, in any case when you present an image of reality, you present people and those people are sort of fighting, are in a contradiction. So you have to take a stand, and then this stand is moral. And of course I side with those that I consider really to be oppressed, like the Mexicans, like the Latinos here, like the workers. In Brazil I'm going to side of course with Brazilian people; I'm not going to side with the rich ones who feel oppressed also because poverty exists, because they create poverty so I can never side with them.

Q: Then you might welcome people from the ruling circles, the wealthy circles, who wanted to represent their issues from their point of view and present themselves as oppressed. You'd like to be in the audience.

Boal: Yes, but I don't believe that the oppressors [would do that]. Like for instance in the case of Brazil, very clearly there is moment now in which the middle class is disappearing and many people are siding with the population and many people believe that if we are a society, all of us are entitled at a minimum to be part of that society. If we can talk about society, we have to say all the society members are entitled to live. They are entitled to have a place where to live, a place where to work, to have health, to have education, to have transportation, to have a minimum. So a few people can have the maximum but all people have to have the minimum. What's happening in Brazil now and perhaps a country like this one, is that we are not considering society as a whole. We are considering society as only those who possess and the other ones we don't care about. So those who possess, they are not going to make an image of the reality because a microcosm becomes a macrocosm and then we are going to see [that] their images in which they appear to be the oppressed, are microcosms. In the macrocosms they are going to see they are oppressing the rest of the population.

Q: You would invite them into the public arena and say, `Yes, show us your images and we would like to use that as a point of debate?'

Boal: That would be nice. It would have been nice yesterday if the police had come and the police should show images of how they see the Mexicans and the Mexicans show images. It would be nice if we could establish a dialogue which has become, but is not necessarily, antagonistic—the conflict between police and population. In this country now, it's enough that you are Mexican, that you are the enemy of the policeman. It's enough that you are black, that you are an enemy of the policeman. So if they come, if the ones that are oppressors feel they are oppressed, if they show their images we do the zoom. Like if you see this problem, let's make the zoom back. Instead of just seeing the micro, see the macro, see the whole society. Then the real truth appears.

Q: This next question has to do with universalizing. How do we go from the micro to the macro in a way that is true? Is it possible that the techniques of TO limit possibilities, so that the theatrical representations of realities and ideal outcomes become similar from situation to situation? The techniques of image or rainbow might be leading us to a narrow range of possibilities that are, in effect, constructed in advance by the very techniques themselves. The very representation is perhaps predicted. When you read back from these results, if you go backwards then from a narrow range of results, the protagonists and outcomes constructed by the spectactors seem similar the world over. We end up universalizing the particular when it may be the techniques that make for a predictable outcome and process.

Boal: I believe that when you have a forum, for instance, there are many, many alternatives that are predictable, and are stereotypes. Replacements[10] are also stereotyped. For instance, the idea of you go alone there or you go with other people. That's predictable that after one moment or another, some spectactor will say, "Oh, I'm not going alone there. I'm going to take other people with me." That's predictable and it happens very often. But the fact that it's predictable does not mean that it's not true, that it does not reveal that most of the time we try to solve our own problems alone. And then if it's predictable that's still good that someone is going to say that we can go together, not go alone.

Augusto Boal teaching at Omaha conference.
At the same time, what I believe is the most important effect of Forum Theatre is not the solutions that it can find at the end, but the process of thinking. Because what I believe is that in the normal theatre, there is a paralysis, the spectator paralyzes his power of action and he is suffering the empathy of the character and for some time he's only answering, he is only doing what the actor does; only feeling what the actor feels, the character feels. And what is important for me is not exactly the solution that we found, [but] the process of criticizing, observing and trying to find solutions. Even if we don't find any solution at the end of Forum Theatre, I say, "OK, it's good. We did not find that solution, but we looked for it." And sometimes I think if you find a predictable solution at the end, it's not as good as if you don't find any, but you have been thinking about it. What changes is the attitude of the spectator of not being only consumer but someone who questions.

I like very much the game I have been using lately about the leader, the designated leader in which you have to find out who is the leader, and in reality there is no leader. And then the people find out I gave a wrong instruction, and I was deceiving them. I like very much that because I want them to have confidence in me but not blind confidence. And so this game says whatever I say, don't take it absolutely. Analyze, think if what I'm saying is good or not, if you agree or not. And then I think that TO as a whole should always be that. Always think "is that true? Do you agree?" It's to provoke thoughts and to provoke actions and to provoke invention. Whatever we invent, whatever thoughts we have, whatever actions we take, the most important is to have this as a [starting point] to be dynamized and not to be like the character of yesterday who said "the more I read about that, the more I see that I am powerless. I don't want to do anything. I'm going to do dominos:" and TO says the opposite. You can do lots of other things. What? Let's try to find out. We don't bring the message. We bring the methods not the message.

Q: But do we get too easily into a hero/villain dualism, a "Marxist melodrama"[11] of sorts, which will vilify one side and heroize another side. Essentialize one as good and trivialize the other side. Like in the forum we did at the conference. As we watched that, we thought this would perhaps happen but it doesn't happen often. The problem is more complex than this and it's too bad that we have to show such a narrow teacher and such a narrow dean.[12] Granted we made that piece in 20 minutes, but is there a tendency to make melodramas of the good and the bad. Don't we need more richness?

Boal: I think that of course it would depend on the conditions, like you said 20 minutes for preparation, or on the people who are doing it. You go deeper or not. For instance in what I have just tried to do in Paris, it's a very nice experience I believe which goes away from the extreme sympathy occasion. When we did Iphigenia by Euripides, we did not make a commonplace story, but an archetypal story, not a stereotype story, but an archetypal story. Archetypal and stereotypedóit's not the same. The stereotyped is when you are talking from the external point of view only from the results of the appearance. And archetypal is when you are looking from the audience on all things, and then you see a play in which people are fighting for power, but a power that should be recognized by the audience, not all the power. I have the power to kill the other one, but I have the power to make the other ones believe I can kill them so I don't have to kill them to have the power recognized. And that's very different from the animals. The lion has the power to kill if he kills, but has not the power to kill if he does not kill.

And then it was a moment in civilization in which human beings were trying to have acknowledged power without exerting that power. To be the king without necessarily to go around killing people, but to be recognized as king, to be recognized as each one as what you are. And then it is a play to be recognized as the priest. To be recognized as each one in his own post. And then what we did, we made an archetypal play in which we see that whoever takes power loses power, which means Agamemnon in the play takes the power as a king. When he becomes the king, he loses the power of father. So he has to sacrifice Iphigenia. So the mechanism is if I take the power, I lose my power. This is something that was in the beginning of this civilization in Greece.

And something that's fascinating. I want to have the power. For instance, I was reading about the Oscars the other day and then there's some actors that have the power of being handsome actors playing handsome characters. And they lost the power to be artists. Now they have to play that character. They have millions of dollars they receive, they are recognized all over as being able of playing that kind of character, so they have to stick to that. They got the power of stardom, but they lost the power of artist because if they want to be really artist and do another experience that has nothing to do with the mechanics in which they are involved, they cannot. So, to take the power sometime makes us lose the power.

So what we did was that we made this archetypal play in which the woman has to define herself in relation to a man and not in relation to herself. She has to be the daughter of her father and accept to be killed or to be the wife of Achilles. And if she says "No. I don't want to marry you and I don't want to be killed" then her father is not the king, so she's not the princess: she loses her identity. So this idea of "Who am I? Where am I?" Those archetypal things in the play, archetypal values in the play, archetypal desires, the fighting between the desire and will. I desire it but my will tells me no. And then Agamemnon all of the time he desires to save his daughter but his will says you have to kill her. And sometimes he fights against his own desire and this I think is an archetypal play, a Greek tragedy.

And then we made plays of today and they are perhaps stereotypes of those older plays. Here is a father who violates his daughter and this is happening very often. Now in France, in the beginning they would not talk about that. Then they start talking about that, but they say this happens in the countryside and now they are saying that it happens even in Paris. The rape of the daughter by the father. And we made it more or less stereotyped that story. And another story more or less stereotyped of the handicapped that provokes some trouble because people go on vacation; then to take a handicapped person with you provokes problems. So it's more or less stereotyped, but we have an archetype of those mechanisms, how they work on an archetypal level. And then you can show the stereotype situation that happens over and over again in France. And then you ask the audience, knowing that this drive to be the chief, the king, the father exists and manifests itself more or less, "What can you do to avoid those consequences here and now in France? What can you do about violating girls, about incest? What can you do about that if you are a witness of that?" So we try to find solutions to fight against it, and in this case, I believe we go far beyond the immediate appearance of things. But of course if we have 20 minutes...

Q: So to a certain extent the very stereotyping that is the result of drawing some clear divisions is important to generate a dialogue. Perhaps making things very layered and complex leads us to examine only subtle differences, minimal differences.

Boal: I think we can do Forum Theatre with all kinds of situations, all kinds of relationships and all that, but of course, not make it black/white. Make it Ibsen and Chekhov. It's easier to make an Ibsen than a Chekhov. For instance, take Dr. Stockman in the Enemy of the People. I think there are some things that would be very nice to see in Forum. How can we make it Forum?

Uncle Vania is much more difficult to do in Forum, to replace Uncle Vania and show what would you have done because it's more a character play and the other one is more a situation play. And Forum is more suitable for situations. And when you have character, you can do also Forum, but that's more for Rainbow of Desire, that's more cop in the head screen image.

Q: What is your response to the theatre that we have on Broadway and in our universities and in our regional theatres here in the United States and certainly down in Rio—the performance of standard plays? You're not against that, I know, but is it your sense that we need a whole companion area of theatre that is community-based interactive? Not scrap one in favor of the other, but broaden?

Boal: That's what I think. I think that for instance in France, people are much used to have teachers of theatre in schools but they teach only Moliere, Racine, Marivaux, Corneille. They reproduce inside the school the same plays that they see outside of the school. And I think that it should be the opposite. The school should learn the language of the theatre, not finished production, but the language. And TO is the language of the theatre and not necessarily the final product. And I think that it's good for everyone. For instance, the Schauspielhaus in Germany, sometimes they produce theatre like they produce sausage. Every year they have to do a German classic, they have to do a boulevard, they have to do I don't know what. And then every year it's the same. It's repetitive. If they could also have a place in which they would do Forum, I am sure that it would revitalize the theatre that they do. I am sure that if we are going to do Hamlet with Rainbow of Desire techniques, I think it's going to revitalize also their acting in Shakespeare, when they do Shakespeare in the normal way. It makes acting more vital. So what I think we should not do is to exclude the learning of the language and go to the final production. That's what's being done now.

I have been told that Omaha is one of the more violent cities in the country. Dialogue between the people here would only help to understand why it is so violent and how can you not stop violence, because you cannot stop violence, but [you can] make it less than what it exists. I'm quite sure that social TO can be important not only statically showing another form of doing theatre, but using this other form of doing theatre to make life more bearable. For instance like in Brazil now, sometimes it's unbearable. It's unbearable to know that the porter of your building went out and was shot because someone want to shoot somebody else. [This happened] to my porter a few days ago. And then the man justified himself, the killer, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry because I really did not want to kill him, I want to kill the other one." It was acceptable because the other one was a poor man that was lying down in front of the store. So in a city like that, it's very hard to live. But if you make dialogue through theatre, through Forum Theatre, a visible theatreóI think that we cannot solve big political problems and big social problems. If there is hunger, if there is unemployment, violence is inevitable. Because it's very hard for a human being to say, "Yes. I accept not to eat, or I accept not to work, or I accept to live in miserable conditions." It's very hard. Some of them do and some of them rebel. So if you don't take political action to make poor people be less poor, miserable people be only poor and not miserable, if those actions are not taken, violence is inevitable. But, sometimes violence is much beyond the inevitable violence, and this theatre can help.

Q: We've talked this week about hope in the face of violence. In Brazil, in the United States, around the world, the free market is becoming the only moral order. In the face of all this is your theatre which implies a kind of future, a kind of hope. Do you have hope?

Boal: Yes. I think there are some words that they should always be connected, because if not it can become only religious words and not socially workable words. One is hope. Because what hope should we have if not the hope of our desire? And what desire should we have if not the desire to change our society toward something that can be better for all of us. So sometimes I hear people talking about hope. I see very much in Brazil, miserable people [told] "you have to hope." And I say why should they hope if they know that if they don't fight, if they don't have the desire to fight, nothing is going to happen. To have the hope, blind hope that one day something is going to happen. To have the blind hope that someday God's going to help you. The blind hope I think is even worse than no hope.

But what I do believe in hope is when you have a strong desire. If I believe that here, the people here, they have the strong desire to end or to make less the extraordinary racial violence that exists, then people have the right to have hope. I think that to have hope is a right that we have if we have desire. If we don't have desire, we don't have the right to have hope.

And which desire can you have? Desire here in Omaha. The desire to be richer than Mr. Warren Buffet. That's a desire, infantile desire. You cannot have that; that's not a legitimate desire. But desire that no one in Omaha should die because it's too cold, or should die because they are hungry, or die because there are gangs that shoot one another. This desire is legitimate. And we would develop that desire and then we have the right to have hope. Hope is a right, it's not something you should have by all means. If your desire is active, then you have the right to have hope. But to stay at home and say, "I hope that this is going to happen"óto have hope that you are going to win in the lottery, that's not legitimate that hope. To have the hope that the government is going to do all good things for the people, that's not legitimate.

Q: So in one sense the lottery is a metaphor for the corrupt hope that the privileged leave the poor with. You get a million to one chance. That's your hope. It's a passive hope.

Boal: It's a passive hope; it's a hope that goes against you because you play. You know that you have one chance in one million so you know you are not going to get anything. But it's very curious to illustrate that in Brazil they started a [game] in which you would buy the ticket and then you'd scratch the ticket and immediately you'd see if you had won something or not. And it did not work; still they do that but the volume of transaction is very small. And they say "but why?" They thought that it would sell even more because the people would buy and immediately would know if they win or not.

And my theory is that NO; what people buy, when they buy a ticket in the lottery, is not the first prize, it is the hope to have the first prize. If you immediately know if you have it or not, you have not the pleasure of having the hope that is going to lead to frustration later, but beside frustration, before frustration, you have the hope, the false hope, two weeks of happiness. You buy that two weeks of happiness, two weeks of hope. And if you know immediately, the frustration comes with the buying of the ticket. That's why it did not work in Brazil. And the lottery works, the illegal gambling works very much all over in Brazil. Because there is the bad hope, the hope that you are going to win in the lottery, the hope that finally the oppressor is going to stop oppressing you, the hope that the world is going to become better without you doing anything. That hope I think is very bad. I think it's very oppressive. But the hope of your desire being accomplished, and your desire being a collective desire of changing toward a better world, this hope should develop. This hope—I believe in that.

1. Done in early 1996 at the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed. [Return]
2. Pluto Press, 1979. [Return]
3. A more extensive analysis of catharsis appears in Rainbow of Desire (Routledge, 1995). [Return]
4. Boal is using Forum Theatre techniques to gather information to guide his political activities as vereador: a project he calls legislative theatre. [Return]
5. The term coined by Boal to refer to an audience that is invited to intervene in a performance in Forum Theatre. See Theatre of the Oppressed for additional information. [Return]
6. Edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz (Routledge, 1994). [Return]
7. Invisible theatre is a technique in which the audience is unaware that they are watching a theatre event. See Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors (Routledge, 1992) for additional information. [Return]
8. This technique is designed to examine internalized oppressions. For additional information see Rainbow of Desire. [Return]
9. A technique used to help participants see how their image of another person influences conflict. For more information, see Rainbow of Desire. [Return]
10. When a spectactor comes on stage to replace the protagonist during a Forum Theatre performance. [Return]
11. This phrase was suggested by conference participant Bruce McConachie during a conversation about TO techniques. [Return]
12. They used minor administrative rationales to justify their refusal to do plays by Black authors. [Return]

Douglas L. Paterson is Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and founder of the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed—Omaha. Mark Weinberg is Associate Professor and Director of Theatre at the University of Wisconsin Center—Rock County and author of "Challenging the Hierarchy: Collective Theatre in the United States."

An edited version of this interview originally appeared in High Performance #72, Summer 1996

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