What is Theatre of the Oppressed?: Image Theatre

Excerpt from Theatre of Change:
Theatre of the Oppressed as an aesthetic tool for social and political change

by S. Leigh Thompson

Image Theatre consists of physical representation of thoughts and ideas through the raw expression of the body, an individual’s most fundamental artistic tool.  In Image, participants explore issues of oppression by using nonverbal expression and sculpting their own and other participants’ bodies into static physical images that can depict anything concrete or abstract, such as a feeling, issue, or moment.  Spectators are asked to observe these images and reflect on what they witness.

Boal believed it necessary to practice the separation of objective and subjective analysis.  When viewing images participants are encouraged to be keen to understand the difference between what one sees and what one assumes based on how one processes what one sees.  This is to disrupt the automatic thought processes of inference and to gain a stronger understanding of the way images can be interpreted.

The key is to use the body to develop new ways to communicate and to explore the universality of physical language.  By removing words and by using the basest of artistic materials—the body—Image is an art form that is highly accessible and can be practiced by a wide population.  “Everybody can make a theatrical statement without any experience of verbal skill, simply by using their…body” (Campbell 59).  This form challenges the definitions of art and who is capable of expressing ideas aesthetically, and it is involved in all of Theatre of the Oppressed.

According to Bogad, “Image Theatre can help bring people together, in a common space, to creatively, nonverbally, and dialogically express and develop their perceptions of their world, power structures, and oppressions” (49).  Image is the first expression in Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed tree because it supports the work of the other paEditrts of Theatre of the Oppressed.  Through Image Theatre it is possible to communicate beyond the confines of language separate out objective and subjective thinking and begin to develop a language of representation.  This understanding is crucial to a strong utilization of aesthetic tools, and allows for participants to begin viewing themselves as artists.  In this, Image is often used as a method of developing scenes to be used in Forum and other TO expressions.

Read more about the different forms of Theatre of the Oppressed:

Bogad, L.M. “Social movements, demonstrations, and dialogical performance.” Cohen-Cruz, Jan and Mady Schutzman. A Boal Companion: Dialogues on theatre and cultural politics. New York: Routledge, 2006. 46-58.

Campbell, Alistair. “Re-Inventing the Wheel.” Schutzman, Mady and Jan Cohen-Cruz. Playing Boal. New York: Routledge, 1994. 53-