Comprehensively about Forum theatre

Forum theatre was created by Brazilian Augusto Boal. This form of theatre is different form others because spectators here are also actors, the play is never final, it changes all the time depending on the suggestions of the audience.

Therefore Augusto Boal used the word Spect-actor, as he was convinced that no one can be a passive observer during the session of Forum theatre. Even if we choose not to share our opinion and only to watch the play from the side – it is already a choice, which requires our activity. So we participate – always.

Augusto Boal mostly used Forum theatre to work with social issues which were very often related to politics, persecutions, oppression in the work place, etc. It was not very often that he worked with Forum theatre to analyse relationships in a family or other “minor” social problems. It has mostly to do with the political situation in Latin America at that time, as persecution and exploitation of people was the reality of everyday life.

Now the method of Forum theatre is widely used all over the world and adapted. Every Forum theatre group chooses the most appropriate and attractive ways to apply the method. Some of them have a group of Forum theatre actors. This group rehearses for performances and presents them to different communities, invites them to discuss and to participate in the performances. Others organize workshops for various groups. In that case the group is divided into small groups and people share their stories about difficult social situations in small groups and create a Forum theatre play. This play is shown to other participants of the group and all together they look for the solutions of the problem.

The main characters in the performance of Forum theatre: Protagonist (the main character, who suffers oppression); Oppressor (the one who oppresses the Protagonist); Allies of the protagonist and Allies of the oppressor (the ones who actively or passively are on one side or another), Neutral persons (passive observers of the situation, passers-by) and Joker (mediator between audience and actors, moderator of discussion). All other participants are Spect-actors. So the group of 6 people can create a full Forum theatre performance. If there are less people some of the roles might be declined but there always remains Protagonist, Oppressor and one additional person in the play. Performance of Forum play is usually short – only few minutes. There can be only one scene which shows how some events lead to the oppression or several scenes reflecting this process might be shown. Performance should start as a simple, neutral situation, where characters are introduced to the audience. Later it is shown how the oppression develops (how bullying in school starts, how the person is discriminated in the work place, etc.) and finally the performance ends when oppression reaches the highest point (child suffers drastically because of bullying, the discriminated person looses his job and the source of income, etc.). Forum theatre play doesn't provide solutions. It stops and the moment of crisis and allows audience to share their ideas. It is important that the ending of the performance was really strong and dramatic. Only when events on stage will provoke feelings for spectators, they will be motivated to look for ways to change something in this situation.

Augusto Boal emphasized that the role of the Protagonist should be taken over and that spect-actors should be looking for what the Protagonist could do differently in particular situation to change it to the better direction. Now different techniques are used. Some Forum theatre groups recommend to take the place of the Protagonist, others allow to take over the roles of Allies (of both sides) and of Neutral persons. But almost everyone holds on the same rule – the Oppressor should not be replaced. It would be the easiest way out, but it's not very realistic. In this way we would just eliminate the source of the problem and there would be no one left to fight against. But the aim of Forum theatre is not to find magical solutions but to prepare for the real life situations, where our endurance, creativity and courage are needed.

A little bit of history, analysis and remarks of Augusto Boal about Forum theatre:

Frances Babbage: Augusto Boal. Routlege Performance Practitioners. Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005:

Forum theatre is probably the most well known and widely practised of all Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. Forum theatre moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar. It initially allows audience the security of distance and then invites, inspires or provokes them to abandon this in favour of full involvement in the "theatrical game".

Forum theatre presents its audience an unsolved problem; one that will matter to them since it impacts their own lives.

The play is performed once, so the audience can observe the oppression it illustrates in action, and then repeated. On the second time, the play will follow the same course until interrupted by a member of the audience, who takes over the role of the protagonist and attempts to redirect the action and ultimately to defeat the oppression. The rules are explained by the Joker (facilitator), whose function is to invite interventions, assist the transition from spectator to spect-actor. The first suggestion usually allows multitude of ideas to emerge. Spect-actors work together experimenting with all possible manoeuvres to break the pattern of oppression that the Forum play has dramatised, evaluating the success of each in turn. Other actors – oppressors – do all they credibly can to maintain their power. These elements of unpredictability and creativity make Forum theatre highly entertaining and challenging.

Augusto Boal “Games of Actors and Non-actors”, Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2005):

Forum theatre is a theatrical game in which a problem is shown in an unsolved form, to which the audience, spect-actors, is invited to suggest and enact solutions. The problem is symptom of oppression and generally involves visible oppressors and a protagonist who is oppressed. 

The game is a form of contest between spect-actors trying to bring the play different end (in which the cycle of oppression is broken) and actors-oppressors make efforts to bring the play to its original end (in which oppression wins). Joker (facilitator) ensures smooth running of the game and teaches audience the rules. Many different solutions are enacted in the course of a single forum.

Its aim is always to stimulate debate (in the form of action, not just words), to show alternatives, to enable people “to become the protagonists of their own lives”.

Augusto Boal:

Before coming to Europe, I had done a lot of Forum Theatre in a number of Latin American countries, but always in “workshop” situations, never as a “performance”. In Latin America audiences were small and homogeneous, workers from a single factory, residents of particular neighbourhood.

In Europe I did a new type of Forum theatre, for hundreds of people who didn't know each other.

Preparation for Forum:

The original solutions proposed by the protagonist must contain at least one “error”, which will be analysed during the Forum session. This is because FT is not a propaganda theatre, it is not the old didactic theatre. It is pedagogical in the sense that we all learn together, actors and audience. The original protagonist must experience failure, so that the spect-actors will be spurred into finding solutions and inventing new ways of confronting oppression.

The performance is an artistic and intellectual game played between actors and spect-actors.

Stages of Forum:

1. The show is performed as if it were a conventional play

2. The spect-actors are asked if they agree with the solutions advanced by the protagonist; they will probably say no. The audience is then told that the play is going to be done a second time, exactly as it was done the first time. The actors will try to bring the piece to the same end as before, and the spect-actors are to try to change it, showing that new solutions are possible and valid. In other words, the actors stand for a particular vision of the world and consequently will try to maintain that world as it is and ensure that things go exactly the same way... at least until a spect-actor intervenes and changes the vision of the world. It is vital to generate a degree of tension among the spect-actors – if no one changes the world it will stay as it is, if no one changes the play it will come to the same end as before.

3. The audience is informed that in the replay of the performance they can take the place of the protagonist when he or she makes a mistake and to look for better solution. All they have to do is shout “Stop!”. The actors must immediately stop where they are, without changing position. The spect-actor must say where he or she wants the scene taken from.

4. The actor who has been replaced doesn't immediately retire from the game; he or she stays on the sidelines.

5. Actors – oppressors on stage can even intensify their oppression to show the spect-actor how difficult it is to change reality. The game is spect-actors – trying to find a new solution, trying to change the world – against actors – trying to hold them back, to force them to accept the world as it is. But of course the aim of the forum is not to win, but to learn and to train. The spect-actors, by acting out their ideas, train for “real life” action; and actors and audience alike learn the possible consequences of their actions.

6. After one trial another spect-actor can then approach the stage, shout “Stop!” and say where he or she wants the play taken from, and the play will start again from that point. A new solution will be tried out.

7. One of the actors, or someone else, must also exercise the auxiliary function of Joker, the wild card, leader of the game. He/she explains the rules of the game, corrects errors made, encourages both parties not to stop playing. The effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made entirely clear to the audience that if they don't change the world, no one will change it for them and everything will inevitably turn out exactly the same- which is the last thing we would want to happen.

Can people remain spectators in a Forum theatre session?

Augusto Boal:


As a rule I never give peremptory answers, but in this case I answer blithely: No! In a Forum theatre session no one can remain a “spectator” in the negative sense of the word. It's impossible. In Forum theatre all the spect-actors know that they can stop the show whenever they want. They know that they can shout “Stop!” and voice their opinion in a democratic, theatrical, concrete way, on stage. Even if they stay on the sidelines, even if they watch from a distance, even if they choose to say nothing, that choice is already a form of participation. In order to say nothing, the spect-actor must decide to say nothing – which is already acting.

When does a session of Theatre of the Oppressed end?

Augusto Boal:

Never – since the objective of Theatre of the Oppressed is not to close a cycle, to generate catharsis or to bring an end to a process in development.

A session of Theatre of the Oppressed has no end, because everything which happens in it must extend into life. Theatre shall never end! Theatre of the Oppressed is located precisely on the frontier between fiction and reality – and this border must be crossed.

If the show starts in fiction, its objective is to become integrated into reality, into life. 

<< Back