The Theater of the Oppressed originated in Brazil, under the creative leadership of Augusto Boal. Boal and his theater group, drawing upon the ideas of Bertold Brecht and Paulo Freire, recognized the classical theater form as faulty: the audience was passive, presented with a world unrelated to their life experiences, where all they were allowed do was to applaud and leave. For Boal, theater is not only an elite art form produced in dedicated temples: the whole world is a theatre, and we are all actors: we all take roles and we all act. Instead of putting on stage plays written by European authors and directed by privileged intellectuals who had access to European universities, Boal and his associates wanted to perform about topics relating to their daily lives, and to open the theatrical experience for all classes and races of Brazil. Most importantly, instead of the audience being a passive recipient who watches the play without discussion, (literally!) in the dark, empathizing with the protagonists but deprived of the authority to change anything, it transforms into an active participant, able to co-create and change the play on the spot. This basic principle has turned the theater of the oppressed into one of the most frequently used drama-pedagogical methods in the world.
When we create the theater of the oppressed with children, they are provided a space where they have the opportunity to find a voice, to speak from their own perspective. We construct the space in such a way as to support different forms of cognition: through games and exercises featured in the workshop environment children have the opportunity to use embodied, aesthetic and sensory cognition, not having to focus exclusively or primarily on the verbal and logical aspects of thinking. While they listen to different perspectives and play different roles in scenes (that draw from their daily lives) they develop empathy and emotional intelligence. While they formulate problems and recognize injustice and various oppressions, and look for a way to correct them as individuals or as a group, they develop civic competence, becoming empowered for self-advocacy and active participation in society.