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Who’s Afraid of Augusto Boal?

By the time the action of the play Shadow Liberation arrives at the party scene,the audience is hooked.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
July 9, 2012 12:35:50 am

By the time the action of the play Shadow Liberation arrives at the party scene,the audience is hooked. The protagonists Gaurav and Jessica seem to be in a difficult relationship and,when they get into an argument,the audience braces itself for an outburst. Gaurav lashes out at Jessica,hitting her sharply. In the hall,all hell breaks loose — the audience scrambles onto the stage and attacks Gaurav. Crowd justice? Not really,for the performance of the play follows a technique of theatre,called Forum Theatre,in which the audience aren’t passive spectators but participate in the action. They are referred to as ‘spectators’.

“I’ve seen audience members come on stage with empathic pleas and interventions. I’ve also had to stop people from attacking the actors. One actor took such an incident as a compliment,thinking that he must have played his role well if someone wanted to hit him,” says Evan Hastings,Bangalore-based director of Shadow Liberation.

Forum Theatre is based on Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” technique,which believes that the audience must have a dialogue with the performers. Boal first elaborated this in the ’60s,initially in Brazil and later in Europe,and Indian theatre directors are increasingly taking up this form.

Unlike scripted plays,Forum Theatre is organic. The action halts at particular scenes and the Joker (a character who interacts with the audience) invites reactions from the audience. After a few minutes of discussion,a decision is reached about what the character should do next,and the play resumes. The actors have to be trained well and ready to improvise so that the play does not lose steam.

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Delhi-based director Lokesh Jain,who has practised Forum Theatre in Jharkhand,Orissa and Kashmir,says that he took up this form after 15 years of directing plays for the proscenium stage. “Forum Theatre is an effective tool for activists,as the plays deal with social issues,” he says,“It is even more effective than street theatre in creating social change.” Hastings has taken this technique to prisons,slums and juvenile homes in several countries. This,adds Hastings,isn’t an excuse for creating bad theatre. The protagonists have to be compelling and familiar figures with motives and justifications,he adds.

West Bengal-based Jansanskriti has been hosting Forum Theatre festival called “Muktadhara” for several years. “In 2010,they had participants from 29 countries. This year,we will limit it to 50 groups,” says director Sanjoy Ganguly. Village crowds make up the audience in most of his plays,and they relate to the subjects of political violence,corruption,alcoholism and dowry among others. When they watch the protagonists suffering the same problems that blight their own lives,emotions begin to run high. Instead of staying silent,they begin to speak up — against the babu,the illegal liquor shops and violence at home — and dictate the actions of the oppressed protagonist. “They leave charged up and ready to effect changes in their own lives,” says Ganguly,recalling how a group of women once shut down the liquor dens in a small village of Pathar Pratima in the Sundarbans.

(With inputs from Parul)

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