What is Theatre of the Oppressed?: Legislative Theatre

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

by S. Leigh Thompson

Legislative Theatre is an extension of Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques and functions to determine the need for, create, and enact laws.  Beyond community building and issue awareness,z Legislative Theatre uses theatrical techniques to create concrete and specific socio-political impact.  “In the Legislative Theatre the aim is to bring the theatre back to the heart of the city, to produce not catharsis but dynamisation…The Legislative Theatre seeks to go further [than Forum Theatre] and to transform that desire in to law” (A. Boal, Legislatve Theatre  20).  Boal explains that Forum allows community members to change their actions to change the world, but fully recognizes that sometimes there are boundaries to taking such action.  Laws can work to suppress action; the absence of laws can ignore injustice.  Through Legislative Theatre participants create bills that will address the oppression they face (A. Boal, Legislatve Theatre 9).  Like much of Boal’s work, the Legislative Theatre faced considerable and often violent opposition as it was practiced in Brazil, “ a reaction that arguably might itself testify to the works’ potency” (Babbage 29).

Legislative Theatre begins like most Forum performances: a scene or series of scenes is presented to an audience, which, in their transformation into spect-actors, propose solutions in the form of interventions.  At the conclusion of the scenes, everyone in attendance is asked to review the scene of oppression and all the solutions they proposed and recommend laws that will fix the presented problem.  Attendees often write their laws on strips of paper, which are collected and sorted into groupings of similar laws, and then synthesized into headings to present to the community.  The bills are then discussed in a truncated mock legislative procedure, and bills are argued by spect-actors who take positions for or against a bill.  After the debate the community votes on the bill.

Although originated as part of the legislative process, Legislative Theatre is often “staged in contexts where there is no direct connection to a legal process” (Babbage 30).  To be more impactful, policy makers are often invited to attend and participate in such performances.  If a bill is passes in the Legislative Theatre process, these policy makers can provide assistance in their area of expertise, such as policy research, refinement and introduction of legislation.  Although Legislative Theatre has had more impact outside the United States, the method illustrates the ability for the public to participate in their government using artistic techniques.  It demystifies the law-making process, and rather than making political theatre, theatre becomes a method through which politics is conducted (A. Boal, Legislatve Theatre 20).  This served Boal well as he held the office of vereador; through the process of Legislative Theatre the council adopted thirteen laws (Babbage 29).

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

Cited

Babbage, Frances. Augusto Boal. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Boal, Augusto. Legislatve Theatre. New York: Routledge, 1998.