Clarification, however, is necessary to give ITO an identity – it cannot be an umbrella for all kinds of theatre, good or bad, right or left. Every person and every association needs to have an identity. We have to declare who we are and who we are not.
Let´s go back in time. Theatre of the Oppressed is a Method that I created and systematized with the help of thousands of people in dozens of countries! – from 1970 in Brazil, then during my exile and after, all over Latin America, Europe and North America where I have extensively worked.
In 1973, I wrote my first book about this Method, Theatre of the Oppressed, in which I explain the basic philosophy of this new way of making theatre. These philosophical choices are solid, well explained, and non-modifiable.
The book starts by proposing a new interpretation of what I called Aristotle´s Coercitive System of Tragedy – an essay where I demonstrate that the principal goal of Greek Tragedy was to destroy the harmatia, as Aristotle called the tragic fault which, in reality, could be any tendency the hero might have in opposition to the political and religious power of the State. Aristotle proposed the punishment of that transgression through the hero´s physical or spiritual destruction catastrophe and the repentance of the spectators through catarsis (purification), which was obtained by the intimate identification (empathy=pity+fear) of the audience with the protagonist. This was absolutely anti-democratic and authoritarian.
To make sure that I was not writing only about the distant past, I gave examples of modern uses of catarsis in romantic drama and even in Hollywood´s westerns. I could also have written against TV crime series, reality shows, and other modern electronic poisons. Empathy and catarsis can be dangerous political weapons, used to control passive audiences.
Theatre of the Oppressed has the opposite aesthetic and political aim: we are democratic, we do not want to anesthetize our audiences or make them accept our ideas: we want to help them to express their own desires and needs, to examine their possibilities, to use theatre to rehearse actions to be extrapolated into their own reality to fight against oppression wherever it is exerted, at home or in the whole country, concerning gender, age, sex, nationalities, race or religion, in psychological relations or in social classes: we want to transform and create a better society.
Instead of Punishing, like in Aristotle, we want to Energize our audiences. This is called Democracy. This is Theatre of the Oppressed.
Those who do not accept these simple ideas, so clearly expressed in my book, of course do not belong in our community, and they themselves should not want to stay with us in the same organization it would be a lie. This is crystalline.
When we talk about the basic philosophy of a Method we are not referring to the artistic qualities of those who practice it. We know that all 176 groups in our YP have not the same economical conditions, the same maturity, the same oppressions to fight against; it is natural not to have the same artistic qualities. We have to accept this diversity, knowing that it is our moral duty to help those who need and wish our help. I am ready to do my possible.
In my new book to be launched next March in London, Aesthetics of the Oppressed, I make clear that our aesthetics do not obey the canons of the Commédie Française. They have theirs; ours is in the making, it is being invented.
We want to have an ITO with a strong personality, a very clear identity. We should not accept any group for the sole reason that it has artistic excellence. Suppose that Stanislawski himself asked us to be included in our YP, or to have an ITO´s label and, consequently, ours and my own endorsement, to his project to stage Uncle Vanya – what should we do?
After thanking him for his enormous contributions to the modern theatre, after revealing our great admiration for this giant of the Arts, we should humbly tell him that he had knocked at the wrong door, he definitely was not a Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner. ITO, as its name clearly says, is for those who practice TO, and for them alone.
On the other hand, having taken our basic options, we cannot accept in our community groups that work for corporations, obeying them on how to artistically sedate workers or employees. Some people use theatre to reinforce oppression. Sad, but true.
Those groups explain that they have no other way to subsist in their countries, which is an excuse that we cannot morally accept.
I have also heard people saying that in their rich countries society is more complex, so they have to find new ways of using TO. By saying so, they reveal blindness not seeing complexities that, of course, exist in other societies, and shortsightedness thinking only about their country, like rich people think only about their power and their profits, ignoring that they live in a world that is interrelated. Economically, no country is an island. If Switzerland can afford more comfort to its population than African countries can, it is because the money dictators stole from their African people are stored in Swiss banks, or because rich countries profit from their exploitation against poor ones.
All countries are related to one another in many senses; the fact that women in my country can vote cannot make me forget that in many countries they cannot even walk in the streets alone and have to hide their faces; the fact that Brazil is clearly winning over HIV cannot make me forget that Africa is dying.
This leads us to the discussion about funding of groups that work for the oppressed and have no box-office. To subsist, they have to be subsidized.
We cannot condemn anyone because of being funded by capitalistic companies, private Universities, NGOs or governments, if this is done within clear ethical principles. Most of our governments are right-wing governments, and yet they are forced to subsidize groups that neither think nor act like them. The problem is not funding itself, but the uses one makes of fundings.
TO belongs to the Oppressed and has to be controlled by the Oppressed. If a group does not accept directions from eventual donors, if they remain in full control of their work, we have nothing against fundings.
This is different from those who accept the condition of taxi-theatre, groups that only work for money and obey their sponsors. A few claim that they do TO because they use my book Games for Actors and Non-Actors or an adulterated version of Forum Theatre.
In our WebPage you can look at the Tree of TO: you will see that the Games are in the base of the trunk of the Tree, taking its food from the Ethics; in this Tree, all its elements are intertwined. Our Games have a meaning when linked to the whole Tree. They were chosen or invented to help us fight against oppression, starting by the bodies of the participants, which are deformed by the rituals of work and life.
There are thousands of games in the world, millions can be invented, but we have chosen the most suitable for that purpose. Those who do our Games dissociated from the ideology of the TO are doing mere Club Mediteranée´s amusement.
It is important to have clear our aim of liberation, emancipation: it is by fighting oppression in whatever form it appears that we will help to humanize Humanity. Our work has this truly civilizatory essence; some barbarians want to keep societies as oppressive as they have always been, they want progress only in technology and profits, not in human rights. We, definitely, do not. We are democrats.
Some persons, when they hear words like emancipation, liberation, fighting against oppression, etc., tremble thinking about French guillotines and American Revolution, Mao´s Long March and Lenin dethroning the Tzar Oppression can be anywhere, inside your home or across the street. To fight against it, it is not necessary to buy a gun.
Another preoccupation revealed by some of you can be synthesized in this question: can professional actors do TO?
We all know that TO is the theatre OF the oppressed, BY the oppressed and FOR the oppressed. That is total TO at work.
I have, however, seen many excellent groups of professional actors playing about oppressions that are not theirs, like HIV, drugs, etc., for a public that suffers from those oppressions. It is not the same as when you have the oppressed on the scene and in the audience, but can give important results if the actors really know the theme and are willing to leave the stage, during the Forum, for the real oppressed to take their place and rehearse their future actions.
The third possibility, with poor results, is when actors play only out of solidarity, but do not identify themselves with the theme. I have seen a white group playing black characters – it was painful to watch.
I think that we should demand to all groups that are in the YP to describe the work they are doing with TO, what they have done and are planning to do, their objectives and their achievements. This is important to better understand their TO projects and to exchange with those involved in similar work as we are.
We have to create a network of groups that can help and learn from one another when they are facing similar problems and finding original solutions. Then we will have an integrated ITO for the benefit of all of us, and of all persons involved.
Concerning the uses of the Label ITO, I think that it should not be used to support individual groups doing individual projects these could be called ITO members: they are free to do what they want, being responsible for what they do. ITO Projects should only be those that bring benefits to many countries, mainly between North and South that has been so much oppressed by centuries.
This dialogue of countries and continents, North and South, would fulfil ITO´s vocation to be really a world´s organisation. To be so, it has necessarily to have countries from the so-called Third World not only in the YP but also in the instances of decisions.
Which will be those instances? Now seems to be the moment to think about a more extensive Board of Direction to ITO, to divide the work among more people, to include all continents and many countries. The interaction of this Board with the members of ITO would show who are really the active members.
I have been very sincere writing this; I hope to have been clear too. I am eager to read you!
Friendly, Augusto Boal
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