Augusto Boal, Founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, Dies at 78
In Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, in the working quarters of Rio. And then, every morning that I went to work with my father, when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, and then I saw all those workers, and I saw how they were oppressed. And always, I was preoccupied with them. I was fascinated by how could they not rebel if they were so oppressed.
And then, my beginning, it was at fifteen years old; I started writing plays about them. And I was in a moment in which I thought that as I was not oppressed as their oppression, I was not in the same circumstance, and I was pretending to be an artist, I was superior in some way. And then I said, “I’m going to teach them what they have to do to fight.” So I entered in the line of the political theater of the ’50s, of the ’60s, in which they had messages to give.
And one day I learned that I did not know more than they did, unless in the theater. In the theater, yes, I knew more. But their lives, they knew more than I. And it happened on a day when I was working for peasants in the northeast of Brazil, and I was doing a play in which the protagonist said, at the end said, “We have to spill our blood to save our land.” And then we were all singing, dressed like peasants. We were not peasants; looking like peasants, but we were not peasants, and saying, “You have to spill your blood, our blood, to save our lands, to reconquer.”
And then a peasant came to us and says, “Well, you think exactly like we do. So why don’t you take your rifles,” because we had rifles on stage, very beautiful, colorful rifles, and he said, “Why don’t you come with your rifles, and let’s go to fight against some landowners that occupied our land. We have to spill our blood.” And then we said, “Forgive us, but our rifles, they are not true. They are fake. They are setting rifles.” And he said, “OK, the rifles are not true. They are not real rifles. But you are sincere, so you come, because we have rifles for everybody. Let’s fight against them.” And then we said, “No, we are truly artists, not truly peasants.” And he said, “When truly artists say, ‘Let’s spill our blood,’ you are talking about our true blood of truly peasants and not about yours.”
So I understood that we could not give a message to women, because we are men; to blacks, because we are white; to peasants, because we live in the city. But we can help them to find their own ways of fighting.
AMY GOODMAN: How did [being imprisoned for your theatre work] change your view also of theater?
In some way, it had been changed before we did this episode, in which I found that I was telling—giving advice to someone, but I was not able to take the same risks. Che Guevara used to say something very beautiful. He said, “To be solidarity is to take the same risks.” And I was not taking any risk. I went there, I did the play, and then “Go and fight,” and I take the plane back home. So my—had already changed.
But at the same time, to be in a solitary cell, to be alone there, not talking to anybody anytime, and most of the time not seeing anybody, made me, for the first time in my life, to listen to silence. I had never listened to silence. I listened to sounds. But I listened to sounds. And then, in that moment, I learned. I learned that in this moment of the silence, your thoughts, they become more concrete, almost objects.
And then, when I was moved from this cell to a cell with many other prisoners, political prisoners, I learned something very important also, that when we are free in space, we are arrested in time. We have to go look at the watch. It’s what time? And we have to go here, we have to go there. We are arrested in time. And when we are arrested in space, we have the free time. We have the liberty of using our time.
...There is a poet, a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who says, “The path does not exist. The path, you make by treading on it. By walking, you make the path.” So we don’t know where the path leads, but we know the direction of the path that we want to take. That’s what I want, and not to accomplish, but to follow, until I can’t.