By Liviana Coranda Bath and Jana Burger, Facilitators from Ma(g)dalena Berlin

The Ma(g)dalena International Network was invited to participate in the 2019 Women’s Pre-Synod of Mission 21. The Ma(g)dalenas celebrate and promote the expression of female collectives as an opportunity for exchange, protest, solidarity, and support for justice. In keeping with the conference theme, Liviana Bath and Jana Burger, part of the group Ma(g)dalena Berlin, used Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to explore burning issues that affect women around the world, specifically sexual violence. In addition, the Ma(g)dalenas were part of the Training of Trainers (ToT) in advocacy for women’s rights working topics, such as masculinities and gender justice.

What is Theatre of the Oppressed?

Considered a “method of change” by UNESCO, Theatre of the Oppressed transforms reality using games, exercises, and techniques that were developed over decades in various countries for theatre-based activism and educational purposes. Theatre of the Oppressed is also a tool for the promotion of social justice and the transformation of unjust situations and their underlying social mechanisms.

History, Techniques, Concepts

Teatro do Oprimido (Theatre of the Oppressed) dates back to the 1960s and is attributed to Brazilian director, writer, and political activist Augusto Boal, although its various techniques have been used in almost a hundred different countries all over the world. Among the first techniques were Newspaper Theatre, Forum Theatre, Invisible Theatre, and Image Theatre. As Europe and North America displayed a need for techniques addressing more personal and internalised types of oppression, two new techniques were developed: Rainbow of Desire and Cop in the Head. More recently, an upgrade of existing techniques emerged, and Legislative Theatre was developed by the women’s collective Marias do Brasil in their struggle for rights as domestic workers in Brazil.

The root concept of Theatre of the Oppressed is power, and the method explores, discusses, and exposes power relations between the oppressor and the oppressed: when, how, and where does the oppressor abuse power for the purpose of exploiting and oppressing the Other, the oppressed, who does not possess power or has had it taken away? With this in mind, Theatre of the Oppressed demolishes and erases conventional positions of power among (active) actors and (passive) spectators; it creates a space for dialogue by placing them in new positions of actively involved “spect-actors” (spectators and actors in one).

Theatre of the Oppressed makes it possible to talk about topics that may otherwise be ignored, giving voice to people who would otherwise remain unheard. As such, it democratises theatre and returns it to the people – as in the beginning, when theatre was a free event of songs sung in the open air, by the people, for the people. The topics explored also derive from the people themselves: Theatre of the Oppressed asks questions and explores answers about fighting inequalities, discrimination, racism, injustices, and other forms of oppression, which may not be seen or evident at first sight.

For more information, visit:

Ma(g)dalena Network– Teatro de las Oprimidas,  www.redmagdalena.blogspot.de

Democracy Now interview with Augusto Boal, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxQ6SsfhiCw

For a detailed description of methods, games, and exercises:

Till Baumann, Übungen und Spiele für Schauspieler und Nicht-Schauspieler von Augusto Boal (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2013)

Augusto Boal, Games for Actors and Non-Actors (Routledge, 1992)

Bárbara Santos, Teatro do Oprimido – Raízes e Asas: uma teoria da práxis (Ibis Libris, 2016)