“Somos todos espect-atores.” – Augusto Boal (1931-2009)
Declaring that “We are all spectators-actors” was one of many powerful statements that Brazilian educator Augusto Boal made throughout his life. The author of Theatre of the Oppressed
, Boal was a contemporary of Paulo Freire, often citing Freire as a major influence on his works. His work painted the early years of my own career, as I worked in a program based on Boal’s teaching.
After college at Columbia University in New York City, Boal returned to Brazil. Eventually the military dictatorship imprisoned him, tortured him and kept him from practicing his radical approach to engaging audience, actors, directors and community members mutually in performance. Reflecting on that experience in 2001, Boal wrote that, “In stable countries, artists know where they stand – serene and unperturbed. They know what they want and what is expected of them. In a Brazil cast adrift, everything was and is possible: we were asked where we were, who we were, where we wanted to go.” Over the eight years of the Bush administration in the U.S. I repeatedly heard this type of sentiment from activist friends and colleagues. I find this is also echoed in the voices of many young people when they reflect on, examine and critique the institutions they operate in throughout our society everyday, as well. With so many adults in constant survelliance, parents conditioned to preventative punishments and teachers promoting zero tolerance, that perception is difficult to contradict.
Explaining his revolutionary work in Brazil during this time, Boal wrote, “You would be involved in a furtive conversation and before you knew it you had slipped into the armed struggle. A meeting, a secret, and soon the person already felt committed: […] you had already become a militant before you noticed how it had happened.” This is often how post-Hitler Youth
members described their recruitment experiences, as well. Boal was exposed to Pedagogy of the Oppressed
during this time, as well. According to Frances Babbage, Boal was committed to the idea that the in the same way Freire believed the teacher needs to learn from their students, the audience can perform in the place of the actors. I believe this type of trust is exactly what needs to inform our work with Youth Voice. In this same way Boal’s ideas about internalized oppression, summarized neatly in his adage about “the cops in the head
,” inform much of my understanding about adultism. Its these cops who police our every interaction with young people, as parents, teachers, youth workers, and in any role.
All of this is to say that when Boal died today our world lost another teacher. In writing about the significance of Freire’s death Boal remarked that he’d lost his final parent, and that now he only had brothers and sisters. With the loss of Boal we face another momentous change, one where we must learn how to move on. Maybe this quote from his World Theatre Day message [PDF]
this year actually tells us how to do just that:
Weddings and funerals are “spectacles”, but so, also, are daily rituals so familiar that we are not conscious of this. Occasions of pomp and circumstance, but also the morning coffee, the exchanged good-mornings, timid love and storms of passion, a senate session or a diplomatic meeting – all is theatre.
Participate in the “spectacle” which is about to begin and once you are back home, with your friends act your own plays and look at what you were never able to see: that which is obvious. Theatre is not just an event; it is a way of life!
We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.
Let’s keep changing society and celebrating this theatre of living, and in doing so honor the life of Boal as best we can.