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Internet can provide you nowadays with many texts around any possible issue. Here is a fundamental text of Augusto Boal on the Ethics of the Theatre of the Oppressed.

International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation (ITO) Declaration of principles


1. The basic aim of the Theatre of the Oppressed is to humanize Humanity.

2. The Theatre of the Oppressed is a system of Exercises, Games and Techniques based on the Essential Theatre , to help men and women to develop what they already have inside themselves: theatre.

Essential Theatre

3. Every human being is theatre!

4. Theatre is defined as the simultaneous existence — in the same space and context — of actors and spectators.Every human being is capable of seeing the situation and seeing him/herself in the situation.

5. Essential theatre consists of three elements: Subjective Theatre, Objective Theatre and the Theatrical Language

6. Every human being is capable of acting: to survive, we necessarily have to produce actions and observe those actions and their effects on the environment. To be Human is to be Theatre: the co- existence of actor and spectator in the same individual. This is the Subjective Theatre.

7. When human beings limit themselves to observing an object, a person or a space, renouncing momentarily to their capacity and necessity of acting, the energy and their desire to act is transferred to that space, person or object, creating a space inside a space: an Aesthetic Space. This is the Objective Theatre.

8. All human beings use, in their daily lives, the same language that actors use on the stage: their voices, their bodies, their movements and their expressions; they translate their emotions and desires into the Theatrical Language.

Theatre of the Oppressed

9. The Theatre of the Oppressed offers everyone the aesthetic means to analyze their past, in the context of their present, and subsequently to invent their future, without waiting for it. The Theatre of the Oppressed helps human beings to recover a language they already possess — we learn how to live in society by playing theatre. We learn how to feel by feeling; how to think by thinking; how to act by acting. Theatre of the Oppressed is rehearsal for reality.

10. The oppressed are those individuals or groups who are socially, culturally, politically, economically, racially, sexually, or in any other way deprived of their right to Dialogue or in any way impaired to exercise this right.

11. Dialogue is defined as to freely exchange with others, as a person and as a group, to participate in human society as equal, to respect differences and to be respected.

12. The Theatre of the Oppressed is based upon the principle that all human relationships should be of a dialogic nature: among men and women, races, families, groups and nations, dialogue should prevail. In reality, all dialogues have the tendency to become monologues, which creates the relationship oppressors – oppressed. Acknowledging this reality, the main principle of Theatre of the Oppressed is to help restore dialogue among human beings.

Principles and Objectives

13. The Theatre of the Oppressed is a worldwide non-violent aesthetic movement which seeks peace, not passivity.

14. The Theatre of the Oppressed tries to activate people in a humanistic endeavor expressed by its very name: theatre of, by, and for the oppressed. A system that enables people to act in the fiction of theatre to become protagonists, i.e. acting subjects, of their own lives.

15. The Theatre of the Oppressed is neither an ideology nor a political party, neither dogmatic nor coercive and is respectful of all cultures. It is a method of analysis and a means to develop happier societies. Because of its humanistic and democratic nature, it is widely used all over the world, in all fields of social activities such as: education, culture, arts, politics, social work, psychotherapy, literacy programs and health. In the annex to this Declaration of Principles, a number of exemplary projects are listed to illustrate the nature and the scope of its use.

16. Theatre of the Oppressedis now being used in approx. half the nations around the world, listed in the annex, as a tool for the making of discoveries about oneself and about the Other, of clarifying and expressing our desires; a tool for the changing of circumstances which produce unhappiness and pain and for the enhancement of what brings peace; for respecting differences between individuals and groups and for the inclusion of all human beings in Dialogue; and finally a tool for the achievement of economical and social justice, which is the foundation of true democracy. Summarizing, the general objective of the Theatre of the Oppressed is the development of essential Human Rights.

The International Theatre of the Oppressed Organization (ITO)

17. The ITO is an organization that coordinates and enhances the development of Theatre of the Oppressed all over the world, according to the principles and objectives of this Declaration.

18. The ITO does so by connecting Theatre of the Oppressed practitioners into a global network, fostering exchange and methodical development; by facilitating training and multiplication of the existing techniques; by conceiving projects on a global scale; by the stimulation of the creation of local Centres for Theatre of the Oppressed (CTO’s); by promoting and creating conditions for the work of CTO’s and practitioners and by creating an international meeting point on the internet.

19. The ITO is of the same humanistic and democratic nature as its principles and objectives; it will incorporate any contributions from those who are working under this Declaration of Principles.

20. The ITO will assume that anyone using the various techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed subscribes to this Declaration of Principles.

On the Edge of Masculinity

Working with sex offenders at the Regina Coeli prison in Rome 2013

Working with “occasional rapists” offers various challenges. One of the main challenges is denial of the crime. Almost all of them consider themselves innocent and victims of either a misunderstanding or a conspiracy: “it was a misinterpreted kiss”, “the policeman, in a poetic mood, romanticized the woman’s statement” etc.

They deny the offense at a high price before the law. They cannot appeal for the reduction of about one third of the sentence, which applies to those who plead guilty; for example, instead of four years in jail they will do six.

The second problem that emerges in working with these prisoners is their strong irritation for a society which, on the one hand, promotes a masculine culture with well-determined male and female roles and, on the other hand, is astonished by those who have concretized these rules and labels them as the worst monsters.  How can one not think of the way women are portrayed in pornography – or of its chic version in advertisement. What about religion which assigns women a very limited role of “spare rib” of man, or even sport commentators of football games who call on the necessity of “the penetration of the defense” or  to “get the ball in the goal at any cost”(*1).

In this context, it would be inappropriate to lecture the prisoners on how to look at women, and indeed they will not be lectured. On the contrary, it is they who would like to “help those who are outside”, and what they call “the battle of opinions” can even end badly, since they prefer to pass more years in prison rather than to admit the offense.

For this reason the Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) appears to be a privileged method to face male violence. TO allows past discomforts, and problems to emerge and helps to face them, by connecting them to the more general system that causes these discomforts. All is based on the material that is shown in the spontaneity of games and improvisations and all is done through playful theatre techniques.

In theory, TO is used with the most oppressed people, those who suffer from an oppressive system (mainly patriarchy, capitalism and racism), but it would be impossible to face, deconstruct and overcome machismo without the confrontation with those who convey it.

We use techniques in gradual steps to re-enact the situations in which the prisoners feel they are having problems handling their emotions, thoughts and reactions. Therefore, we would rather talk about the discomfort than about the oppression, in this situation.

We work a lot on ‘dangerous’ situations, those which could put them in prison. We also work a lot on  elaborating the understanding of difficult situations of the past.

Everyone of them shows their own scenes regarding a problem that relates to all prisoners (e.g. breaking up). As a facilitator I merely ask questions to enable the analysis of the problem on stage: “Why did he lose his temper in this break-up scene?”, “in your opinion, what makes using this strategy feel justified?”, “in what moment did he shift to autopilot?” etc.

Later we ask the prisoners to show what one could do in the role of the man in trouble. “How would you handle this break-up?”. One by one they enter the stage to play out different ways of facing the situation. Above all this allows them to see that, for every situation, there is no mandatory mechanized reaction, no ‘male duty’, no prescribed emotion, and it is up to themselves to demonstrate it. They are indeed proud of showing that they can find alternatives and solutions. In

this way they broaden their horizon of options and roles, whereas prison would rather narrow it, condemning them to their “rapist” identity. They thus discover that there is not just one way to overcome awkwardness/conflict.

Sometimes I also ask them to reverse the roles: those who acted out violence have to play the role of the woman who wanted to break up. By putting themselves in the woman’s role, they explore the emotions which are experienced in that role and we can work on the notion of autonomy: “can a woman decide to break up?”, “why only under certain conditions?”, “who decides about those conditions?”. Only Italian participants accepted to play the women’s roles but all were very surprised by this change of perspective.

All the scenes are played after having done a series of games and exercises that build up in intensity. These games and exercises allow them to lose control on everything they express and to step out of the spiral of justification. They develop new capacities through spontaneity: dealing with challenges, handling emotions and creating something collectively. We work on skills like communication, which under the conditions of detention, are all the more limited. Through these games, lead by the facilitator, the prisoners become aware of their own difficulties and of the need to overcome them.

Our particular goal is to see the primary discomforts emerge spontaneously. In the relationship between the sexes some discomforts appear constantly, above all the fear that the woman can become indifferent. It may be the indifference of a woman they know or of a woman they don’t know at all. It is no coincidence that the way of approaching  women is a key issue. The fear of being turned down, the worry of not being up to standard, and of not being able to “pick up” well, turn the approach into a high tension moment. In the approach they try to win the consent of the woman, but this means that the roles of who approaches and who is approached have already been determined. Furthermore, just a single consent isn’t enough: for example the woman may accept to tell him what time it is but not to join him for a beer or more. This means that several consents will have to be obtained.

We experienced truly great moments during the workshops. One of the detainees wanted to make a woman sit down at a bus stop. Another wanted to convince her that there were rapists on the move from whom she had to be protected. Henceforth it didn’t take much for the most macho of them all, having spent 30 years in Regina Coeli, to admit: “I don’t know how to pick up a woman”. This triggered a session about the ability  of starting a relationship with the opposite sex which had a lot of participation. This gave an opportunity to analyse the new options which were proposed on stage. One day one of the workers of the Be Free Cooperative at the core of this project, took part in the workshop and, after the analyses and the evaluation statements of the prisoners, gave her opinion on various approaches; this opinion was received by the prisoners as the ultimate truth on the subject.

Regarding the same subject, working on the “heavy” approach – which directly explores the possibility of having a sexual relationship – but with reverse roles between men and women produced great results.  This allowed us to raise questions about the active and the passive roles in the sexual relationships defined by stereotypes.

The concepts about consent and autonomy are fundamental and the prisoners have a great desire to examine them in depth, as long as this is not done in a patronizing way, and as long as they can be the pivot of development and change.

This work has probably not been extensive enough to produce any conclusive results or to claim any major changes. Nevertheless, it has allowed us to identify a tool that can be used to avoid a non-productive battle on the one hand and risky collusions on the other. It’s the kind of work that should be done with the prisoners on an ongoing basis. But, how can we explain and make people understand that rapist prisoners simply need to learn how to start a relationship with a person of the opposite sex? How can we argue that the moment of the first acquaintance with another person is the best and the richest moment, which carries all the dynamics, the prejudice, the stereotypes that come into play, and all the emotions that are triggered? TO is the preferred method to face these issues because it offers us a stage to work on daily situations, which are rarely taken into account or are too delicate to deal with using other methods.

It is even more urgent to convince the politicians and donors that it is necessary to deal with the issues of relationships between the sexes from an early age. We need to work on how to start a relationship and how to handle the frustration of separation before the stereotype model has settled in. It is no coincidence that Parteciparte works a lot with TO on gender stereotypes and on conflict situations that arise at school.

We seek to achieve a lot of active participation from the boys and the girls. It is they who create the scenes, and analyse the gender issues. They teach us the rules of machismo, which are uncomfortable rules even for men. Through the distance offered by the mise-en-scene, this becomes evident to all.

During the workshops the boys and girls are very happy to be able to deal freely with their everyday gender issues. They question and transform role models, they try out alternatives by building creative and respectful relationships. They become the protagonists of this research and of this transformation. Often they also want to examine how ‘the adult’ finds his/her way out of the situation.

This is why I believe that, beyond recipes or methodological toolkits, which I am often asked for, the facilitator should be always ready to improvise on the problems of gender, and to propose the most appropriate game for the occasion.  Above all he too must have digested and reworked  his life experiences regarding gender issues. I discovered this thanks to Maschile Plurale, an association where men can share stories and work on life experiences. In this association, we start from ourselves and then build to involve political activities from the gender perspective.

During the TO performances, in particular in forum theatre, the audience can intervene to try out a solution. If a person takes a stand against patriarchy or invents a way out, he does this in the name of all. The development of the scene is always endorsed, and celebrated by the audience and it seems that afterwards it is hard to undo and hard to reproduce the same model; this same model which one has struggled against on stage in front of everyone, and was created together with so many.

Given this two-pronged work – reliving the past and creating the future – we believe this prevention work is enormously relevant and effective towards the resettlement work with inmates in prison. But also, because failure is extremely costly for the whole society.

Indeed the phenomenon of male violence against women has been commented on often, but it has rarely been fought against at the root of the problem. There is a lot of talk about female victims, but when violent men are mentioned, it is only to portray a strange or distorted view of them. The tree is thus hiding the forest and ordinary machismo remains unsuspected by the masses.

One could almost ask if this kind of damaging communication, which conceals the costs of machismo, is the right way to remind the most emancipated women of the fact that there’s always a man ready to put them back in line. And, if the media are the motor behind this counterproductive campaign, it  would be a great challenge for theatre to reveal the political dynamics that sustain the problem. A challenge that Participarte has decided to deal with performing obstinately forum plays like “Da paura”, “Amore mio” and “Brucio d’amore”(3*).

Right in the city centre of Rome, the Regina Coeli prison offers the most thorough insight into the edge of masculinity, at the limits where the strictest rules are maintained. Those rules which will later justify the most violent crimes in the entire society. Going from the edges to the centre, this material becomes a treasure which allows us to identify the roots, the motifs, the justifications, the most hidden triggers which could allow the worst to happen. Theatre of the Oppressed makes all this visible, in a way that people won’t be able not to see it anymore. It also allows us to deconstruct the unhappy men who can’t support the weight of the invisible stereotypes anymore. This entices us and gives us the instruments to create a new open man, more-sided, able to welcome the autonomy of women and the whole rainbow of desires between the sexes.

Olivier Malcor, Parteciparte, Rome, 2013

(1*)trasformare il maschile (transforming masculinity)Cured by Salvatore Deiana and Massimo Greco has a study by Ludovico Arte on expressions and metaphors used by soccer commentators. The ones translated here “penetrare la difesa” or “violare la porta avversa” litterally “penetrate the defense” and “rape the opposite door” are just examples. 

(2*) Be Free Cooperativa is at the root of this project called ”Parlare con lui” (talking with the ‘he’) which is a counterpart of their work with women victims of rape and other violences

(3*) “Dreadfully yours”, “My Love” and “Burning Love”

Italy CEDAW Shadow Report.docx

What has the Italian state done so far to achieve gender equality? And what is it urged to do to ensure that all women can enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms? We told this in the new Shadow Report on the status of women in Italy, submitted by the National Platform “CEDAW: Work in Progress” to the CEDAW Committee of the United Nations in Geneva on July 2017.

Parteciparte contributed to the report by gathering the many precious interventions of the audience in the forums. Then we put the report on stage, creating a dynamic theatrical powerpoint which shows what Italy is obliged to do and still does not. What can we do to urge its implementation? Through this powerpoint and thematic workshops, we want to make CEDAW alive, effective and part of our everyday life.

The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) is an international treaty that obliges States to adopt all necessary measures to achieve equality between men and women. If people do not know it and institutions do not adopt the appropriate measures to put it into practice, the unfavorable consequences affect not only women but the whole community.

We warmly invite you to read the report and to contact us to find out how to use CEDAW in your work, at the political level and in everyday life. Let’s get going: work is in progress!