Tears of a Spect-Actor

Its been a short while since my last post, and I would have preferred that my return post would not bring such somber news. Theater of the Oppressed creator, Augusto Boal passed away at the onset of this May Day weekend. He was a great inspiration for me and a lot of the current anti-oppression organizing and education work that I and many friends and organizations with whom I work have been doing.


Unawares of his death, I spent six hours yesterday in a Cop-in-the-Head workshop, one of the major techniques in Theater of the Oppressed/ Rainbow of Desire. It was kinda uncanny to learn one day later of Boal’s passing.

According to the AP:

Legendary political theater practitioner, director, and teacher Augusto Boal died on May 1, from complications arising from a long-term health condition, according to the The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory in New York City. He was 78.

Boal is best known for founding the Theatre of the Oppressed, an international movement and system for creating theater that seeks to examine forms of discrimination and oppression, with the goal of possible transformation. He conducted workshops throughout the world, and his techniques have been widely inspirational and influential.

Boal authored several books, including Theatre of the Oppressed, Games for Actors and Non-Actors, The Rainbow of Desire, and Legislative Theatre. He served as a Member of Parliament for Rio de Janeiro in the 1990s and was formerly the President of the Centre of Theatre of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro and Paris.

He is survived by his wife Cecilia, his sons Fabien and Julian, and several grandchildren.


As for some of his transformational pedagogy:

In Forum Theatre, a unique participatory-theatre technique, everyone in the room is considered a “spect-actor,” a participant-observer. For Boal, who conceived the term, “when the first spect-actor comes on stage, he transgresses, like a member of a church congregation who takes the place of the priest and celebrates the mass himself. And, since the spect-actor is one individual rising out of the audience, he does not make this transgression in place of the other spectators, but in their name. The actor acts in place of the spectators; the spect-actor acts in their name, because each member of the audience can decide whether she feels represented by this intervention or not, and, if she doesn’t, she can go on stage and give her own version of things

Boal is also survived by the current and future generations of spect-actors who make use of his techniques to dismantle oppression in our personal lives and throughout the world. He was, perhaps the great negation of Mac Beth’s bitter pill brought to us by Wm Shakespeare as such:

Out. Out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more; It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

Brief candle, may be. But what Boal helped us see is that we are much more than “the poor player,” and that perhaps the sound and the fury signifies so much more…

And that, dear friends, all-of-it, is yours,
Sunshine Superboy


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