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Thursday, March 26, 2009

2009 World Theatre Day Message - Augusto Boal


All human societies are “spectacular*” in their daily life and produce “spectacles” at special moments. They are “spectacular” as a form of social organization and produce “spectacles” like the one you have come to see.

Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

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.

One of the main functions of our art is to make people sensitive to the “spectacles” of daily life in which the actors are their own spectators, performances in which the stage and the stalls coincide. We are all artists. By doing theatre, we learn to see what is obvious but what we usually can’t see because we are only used to looking at it. What is familiar to us becomes unseen: doing theatre throws light on the stage of daily life.

Last September, we were surprised by a theatrical revelation: we, who thought that we were living in a safe world, despite wars, genocide, slaughter and torture which certainly exist, but far from us in remote and wild places. We, who were living in security with our money invested in some respectable bank or in some honest trader’s hands in the stock exchange were told that this money did not exist, that it was virtual, a fictitious invention by some economists who were not fictitious at all and neither reliable nor respectable. Everything was just bad theatre, a dark plot in which a few people won a lot and many people lost all. Some politicians from rich countries held secret meetings in which they found some magic solutions. And we, the victims of their decisions, have remained spectators in the last row of the balcony.

Twenty years ago, I staged Racine’s Phèdre in Rio de Janeiro. The stage setting was poor: cow skins on the ground, bamboos around. Before each presentation, I used to say to my actors: “The fiction we created day by day is over. When you cross those bamboos, none of you will have the right to lie. Theatre is the Hidden Truth”.

When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.

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.

Augusto Boal

(Original Portuguese)
* means also having the nature of a spectacle or show (note of the translator)

12 comments:

Professor Yorick said...

Indeed sir, however the spectacle of your career long self-inflation through platitude, like most theatrical spectacle available, is simply mundane to us, the unwashed. Life is not theatre, because children actually do die of something pointless, not some nobel, tragic, well-lit dramatic invention. Theatre is not life because nothing the theatre does matters to the hungry and the cold. With respect, Mr. Boal's effete and egotistical musings are nothing more than a finely wrought example of how the theatre has failed humanity.

ben said...

My dear professor, theatre is a success with every intention to speak. Forego the intention to communicate with your fellow man, and one could have all the food/money/power in the world, but it would not be life. That word, dear sir, means, is, and defines affinity with one's fellows, and all the rest, including life and death (both as equally inevitable) .... are but props and set for the drama that is communication. Augusto Boal is just a person. It took your response to turn it into theatre.

Michael Wheeler said...

I spent the weekend at a wedding and I have to say the experience left me firmly onside with Boal:

I watched estranged relatives overcome decades of animosity through a slow dance of good intentions, the best man and maid of honour sign documents to music in a ritualized ceremony,and at one point some uncouth teenaged girls from a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the ceremony even brought out a big bag of Cheetos to watch the performance from above. There is a lot of theatre in our lives.

On the other hand, I thought Kelly Nestruck presented an extremely interesting and critique of World Theatre Day as a concept on The Guardian theatre blog in his piece, Who cares about World Theatre Day?

I'd love to hear what people think about this argument if anyone's still paying attention to this thread.

Anonymous said...

I think both arguments are very true.

"Theatre" will always be with us. The box office & proscenium? Maybe not.

pagno said...

wow! bang on boal. thanks for posting that. great words!

theatre is a way of life. you either see it or you don't.

mike, i read that article by kelly. i love it. i totally agree with him. "We don't need to celebrate theatre; theatre is celebration."

adrian jackson said...

I think poor professor yorick rather misses the point(s). Metaphor and analogy are fairly commonly recognised oratorical tools. Boal's theatre is one of the few that actually seeks to intervene in the fact that children die needlessly. It is one of the rather less egotistical branches of theatre in the world; ('effete' is an interesting word for the 'professor' to have used here...do we detect some issues?).
Maybe the professor should read Boal a little more widely before leaping to these conclusions....

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