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By Andy McLaverty-Robinson. In this last essay of my series on Boal, I will examine the Rainbow of Desire, a set of techniques designed to deal with internalised oppression.
From the s onwards, Boal has designed new variations on his theatrical methods to respond to situations other than those of external oppression. Theatre of the Oppressed has a reputation for being difficult to use in relatively privileged settings. In some cases, Theatre of the Oppressed is even used to reinforce or reify oppression. When it is imported, it is often converted into a method for coping with society rather than changing it. Boal responds to such difficulties by suggesting intercontextual differences.
In his earlier work in Latin America, Boal found that participants could easily arrange their lives along lines of oppressor and oppressed. It was usually clear who was the oppressor — a specifiable person with external power, such as a boss, cop, or landlord.
Boal suggests that audiences tended to be small and homogeneous, and focused on immediate problems such as workplace or neighbourhood struggles. Hence the original variety of forum theatre worked very well. As with other innovations, Boal traces his new approach to a concrete situation. The problem happened when Boal was in exile in Europe. Furthermore, audiences were often larger and from more diverse backgrounds. Boal has noticed that his language does not seem to resonate in the global North.
In one session in France, Boal recounts that a participant — a vocational student — said he had never experienced oppression, only enmerdement shittiness. He then listed incidents that, for Boal, were huge oppressions. Sometimes, this gap can be filled linguistically.
If done slowly, people come to enjoy increasing their vocabulary in this way. But Boal also realised that the absence of a sense of being oppressed has a social underpinning. They cause oppression of various kinds. And such oppression profoundly damages people who live in these societies.
But the sources of this oppression are invisible. In Latin America, oppression would often be enforced by police and soldiers in the streets. But in more profoundly oppressive societies — and here he means the global North — such forces are not necessary. Because of this structure of oppression, Northern participations also had problems new to Boal — loneliness, fear of emptiness, impossibility of communicating. Boal sometimes formulates the problem in terms of people who have free time, experiencing loneliness and emptiness.
He suggests that poor people, when asked, also raise such problems, but these problems rarely emerge in theatre sessions because outer oppressions are worse.
However, he also suggests that problems of loneliness and emptiness may be worse in the North. People in Europe are dying, not of hunger, but of suicides and overdoses. Rainbow of Desire is designed to respond to these kinds of problems. This type of theatre tries to access the affective dimension — the different subjective experiences people have of spaces and events. In the affective dimension, people can project their memories and experiences onto the aesthetic space.
The aesthetic space is used to bring past or unconscious events closer to the present. Great works of theatre often dialogue directly with the unconscious. Such theatre seeks to put internal conflicts into the aesthetic space.
It also seeks to show their wider context. Osmosis is a kind of social interpenetration through which people pick up ideas, values and tastes. This internal function is effectively an inner extension of external oppressive power. Boal suggests that the cops are in our heads, but their headquarters are outside.
As with Theatre of the Oppressed, the intended function of Rainbow of Desire is to break oppression. It works, however, with the oppressor-oppressed relation inside the participant. Every oppressed person is divided between submission and subversion. The point of the theatrical process is to bring out the subversive element by making the submissive element disappear.
The oppressed are encouraged to transform their reality into images, and then play with these images, so as eventually to transform reality. By creating an autonomous world of images, and imagining liberation in this world, it is possible to figure out how liberation can happen in reality. This means that events can be performed in front of witnesses, or stories changed. The audience can sympathetically experience the events affecting the protagonist. As a result, these events can be seen from other points of view.
Such sympathy is not possible in conventional theatre, only in Boalian theatre. This emphasis on sympathy, rather than traditional theatrical empathy, is in continuity with Theatre of the Oppressed.
As we have seen in Part 2 of the series , Boal suggests that people perform a kind of psychological reduction in everyday life. We rarely manifest our full potential, or becoming. Instead, people usually reduce themselves in line with either inner beliefs or morals, or outer constraints.
This leads to a curtailed self, which Boal terms personality. Theatre often throws light on this process, because theatrical characters are artificially reduced, or even neurotic. In the context of muscular rigidity and repetitive habit, the role of theatre is emotional loosening.
It aims to turn the spect-actor into a protagonist within the action, so as to become a protagonist in real life. The idea is to make the pressure-cooker explode and the unconscious come pouring out. This is helped by the fact that theatre removes usual limits on action. The transformative power of drama lies in its reality as a performance, separate from whatever it might represent or express.
Even if the protagonist is lying, the lie contains subjective truth. Part of the power of drama is that images can bypass the censorship exercised by thoughts and habits. In a successful performance, hidden depths of personality, such as repressed urges, should come to the surface. In effect, the unconscious comes out on stage. The process is still socially, rather than personally, focused. In order to work, the process needs to focus on scenes or images with which the audience can sympathise, not purely personal ones.
The personal elements need to acquire a symbolic character, rather than remaining unique. It may be necessary to use analogy to make individual experiences collective. The goal is a kind of catharsis which, instead of removing desires, removes blocks on desire.
It is self-transformative, but not for social control purposes. Rather, it tends to encourage self-expression. All forms of catharsis purge or remove an element which is causing a disturbance. In classical catharsis, what is purged is the desire for transformation. In contrast, Boalian theatre performs a catharsis of blocks on transformation. This unblocking process is taken to be a way of reclaiming agency and creativity.
Boal also writes of ascesis, which is a way of inferring structural laws. Theatre should try to model the mechanisms or structures which produce oppression, a process termed analogical induction.
Multiple perspectives should then be produced in reference to these structures. Internalised oppression can be complex. For example, people often take pleasure in situations which are also painful and oppressive. In this type of theatre, particular affirmative emotions are promoted. Happiness is seen as an active rather than reflective state, connected to going all-out.
Other positive emotions include surprise and admiration. Surprise is a sudden recognition of oppression which was previously taken as normal. Admiration is taken to be a sense of discovery. Another positive emotion is love. Both hate and love are founded in lack, but relate to it in different ways. Love seeks to complete a non-self-sufficient subject by filling a lack. Boal lays out a wide variety of modes and techniques of Rainbow of Desire. Many of these modes are modifications designed for situations where the usual conditions for Theatre of the Oppressed a common oppression and a clear course for change are absent.
They are ways of uncovering and challenging unconscious or invisible oppressions. The activity is mainly improvised. For instance, if action becomes conflictual, the focus is sometimes on the violence of the action rather than the dramatic conflict.
This is a mode where the action is carried out at a reduced pace and volume, in slow motion. Most of these modes begin with an improvisation. The protagonist acts a scene with other spect-actors, whom the protagonist usually chooses.
Actors in such processes need to be able to relate emotionally to the characters they play — whether by identification with the character, recognition in people they know, or resonance, in which vague emotions are awakened.
Several of the techniques use images , in which actors model a particular situation as if it were a sculpture or painting.
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A progressive course for practitioners, facilitators and those with a grounding in the fundamental techniques of the Theatre of the Oppressed. In the s junta-era Brazil, Augusto Boal developed forum theatre to help spec-actors explore options in response to external oppressors — cops, landlords, the military, the dictatorship itself. In response, he used the foundation of Image Theatre to develop a therapeutic theatre to address and explore these cops-in-the-head. A progressive course for practitioners, facilitators and those with already a solid understanding of the fundamentals and application the arsenal of techniques of the Theatre of the Oppressed.
The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy
The Theatre of the Oppressed TO describes theatrical forms that the Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal first elaborated in the s, initially in Brazil and later in Europe. Boal was influenced by the work of the educator and theorist Paulo Freire. Boal's techniques use theatre as means of promoting social and political change in alignment originally with radical-left politics and later with centre-left ideology. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the audience becomes active, such that as "spect-actors" they explore, show, analyse and transform the reality in which they are living.
Theatre of the Oppressed
By Andy McLaverty-Robinson. In this last essay of my series on Boal, I will examine the Rainbow of Desire, a set of techniques designed to deal with internalised oppression. From the s onwards, Boal has designed new variations on his theatrical methods to respond to situations other than those of external oppression. Theatre of the Oppressed has a reputation for being difficult to use in relatively privileged settings.