Showing our oppressions is the first step to overcome them: an experiment of "Forum Theatre" with immigrant and italian women in Trentino (Italy)

The “Forum Theatre” is a specific kind of performance developed by Augusto Boal, the inventor of “Theatre of the Oppressed”, a philosophical and methodological approach influenced by the work of the educator Paulo Freire and his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

Through its techniques and styles - Image Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Forum Theatre, etc. - the Theatre of the Oppressed tries to show and to face our big and small “oppressions” that are, in Boal’s words, “the opposite of happiness”.

And that is exactly what we are trying to do with a group of women (most of them mothers) in a small city near Trento called Pergine. All these women aren’t professional actresses and they have chosen to try this experience in order to share their lives with other women coming from different cultures and backgrounds.

Women from Morocco, Chile, Colombia, Somalia, Southern and Northern Italy are sharing spaces and moments and are putting in common their experiences and their emotions. In a country like Italy, where the “fear of the other”, the prejudices and the “closeness” are spreding over, this experience is an amazing challenge and a great experiment of “living together”, “talking together” and “listening together”.

Me and Chiara - the girl I’m carrying out the workshops with - are the facilitators (or the jokers in Boal’s word) of these theatrical workshops. Last year, after some Theatre of the Oppressed sessions, we played a theatrical performance called “Let’s help each other” focused on topics such discriminations, prejudices, cultural and social conflicts but also solidarity and togetherness.

This year (from September 2011 on) we’ve tried a new way to talk about oppressions, happiness and desires. We’ve started to create Forum Theatre session. Briefly a Forum Theatre is a scene where we represent a real fact that includes an oppression. So far we’ve played some scenes with different kind of oppressions: a Somalian woman discriminated by Italian people, an unemployed woman that chooses to get a job without regular contract to earn some money, a group of immigrant women insulted by Italian women in a public office, … All these scenes are based on true facts lived by the women and are related with the oppressions of “being woman” - therefore not only immigrants but also Italians - and most of these oppressions show some social and cultural “clashes” and misunderstandings. So during our performance we propose these daily episodes and oppressions to the audience.

And here it comes the “magic”, here it is possible to find the real power of Forum Theatre. We ask the audience to become “spect-actors”: they can enter inside the scene replacing the “oppressed” actors and becoming new actors. The aim is overcoming the oppressions through a change or an “evolution” of the scene where the “oppressed” tries to change his/her aptitude and approach towards his/her oppression and his/her oppressor. The audience can also suggest to the actors some changes or can add some new characters (a friend, a relative) into the scene that can help the oppressed in her/his challenge. “Everything is possible, everything can be changed. Just no violent solutions” says Augusto Boal.

So far we’ve involved a good number of women and also a good number of “spect-actors” but, above all, we’ve shown through theatre an incredible and surprising way to talk about oppressions and to do it in a creative and concrete way.

Maybe it is just theatre but we think and we hope that it can be a small step to talk about (and to fight) gender discrimination, racial discrimination and all kind of oppressions that obstruct our way to happiness.

long term effects?

Hi Davideeec :slight_smile:

Have you had feedback from the participants after longer periods? If so what did they say ? Also I wonder how participating in this process has affected you. I wonder how much seing onself  as opressed or marginalised reinforces the stuctures and behaviours you want to see change…

You touched a very interesting point… This experience is affecting me in many ways, even if I am not a woman… I work in Venice with migrants and I lead workshops in secondary school talking about migrations, prejudices, stereotypes and racism. Actually this experience is giving me more and more inspirations mainly because we have a collective way of work. Topics and sessions are inspired by women and we as “joker” can suggest or propose something but always starting from the real oppressions (big or small) that the women want to face…

About the self-perception of the oppression it is a very complex topic. According to my experience, I can see that the women are very aware that they live daily many oppressions but some of them consider them as a “burden” that they have to bring with them. The hardest point is the step to do when they have to change their husbands’ behaviours: some of them think that it is possible, some of them not. But I guess that we are getting some result because in some scenes we show husbands’ behaviour and some of the women are going on with this experience even if their husbands don’t agree.

In general, Forum Theatre’s power is that it can act both towards actors and spect-actors so what we try to do is to walk both roads keeping in mind that it is necessary to start from women’s oppressions.

Trivialization of perverse behavior

Responding to violence by more violence is certainly not the proper solution.

I don’t think that what you do is just theater. The time that you spend thinking about these things, looking for solutions, speaking about it, is more important than just the actual representation (on a stage).

When we want to learn something, when we read it, it is likely to be forgotten. When we write it down, it penetrates a little deeper. But when we say it out loud, then it is (already) accomplished. The true meaning of ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us’, for me, is that words are extremely powerful.

I am not surprized that this project is carried by women. Oppression usually comes from males, right?

This week, I was speaking about the ‘gender structural crisis’ in which we (society) currently are, to a woman training for a marathon. She did not understand what I’m talking about. She was convinced that I was wrong. I gave her names of reputable psychiatrists who have written about it, but she did not listen. Hey, that was a woman! Not even a man… So I can imagine that what you do must not always be easy, there must be resistance to the process.

I think that we live in dangerous times. This is the end of the thickness, of depth of feeling. Everything is superficial, skin-deep only. There is a trivialization of perverse behavior. We attach less importance to the other and it is disempowering. On YouTube, I see videos of women who are beaten in the street by their husband, and passersby walk next to them, without seeing them at all. Whoa, my hair raises on my head, when I see such images.

The current rule is that one must be tough in a world of very tough, and do not hesitate to liquidate, if the other is an obstacle.

Current coaching and new therapies are only intended to reassure a person of its value, helping her to fill her emotional needs. These do not teach to learn how to subordinate needs by developing an interests for the Other. For example, in a world of manipulators, learn to be manipulators yourself! Recipes to be more effective at the art of manipulating (ie more oppressing). The real coaching work should lead us to accept ourselves as humans (as imperfect beings not always on top of everything, not always able to control everything, having to live sometimes unhappy unpleasant situations in order to grow). It is difficult to teach this to perverse personalities, because these usually don’t respond to any therapy.

I just looked at my notes on manipulators, and I found a piece they gave me in therapy: My statement of self-esteem. It makes me want to vomit. It’s fine, self-esteem, but that does not solve the problem of the oppressor. Which is still there, and continue to be violent, continues to hurt, continues to use every occasion to oppress and be insidious, and even use the law to control even more.

Uh, I could talk for hours about manipulators, perverted personalities, and how they affect (mainly) women, and how to try to get out of these situations. I believe that there is another way of life. There is a state of being, a state of mind, where oppression simply cannot exist. As long as males will be disconnected from their feminine energy which is love, I think that women (and their children, and therefore society as a whole — our future generations) will continue to suffer.

Keep it up! What you do matters.

Thanks for your comment and your support… I agree with all you wrote and I know that oppression affects mainly women and sometimes the “circle of oppression” is hard to stop. We are carrying out this workshop hoping that theatre can be a way to talk about something and then to find a (beginning of) solution. The women we work with come from different situations and backgrounds and sometimes it is not easy to conciliate their needs and their ideas of what is “oppression”.

What I can see is that all ofd these women are oppressed: housewifes, students, teachers, etc… and all of  them are aware about the fact that they must load a “burden” every day. In this sense the situation is quite complex and challenging because migrant women try to work with two “parallel” oppressions: gender oppression and racial oppression…

Anyway I hope we’ll have time in Strasbourg to talk about it and to go on sharing our ideas and opinions about this topic…


I really like projects


I really like projects which use arts as a form of denounce and awareness, and your experience is really interesting and I would love to see a performance like that!

The concept of spect-actor is also very interesting, and i think it gives more strenght to the whole thing.

Where did you played your performance? Did you had something like a tournèe or it was more a local thing?

We play our Forum Theatre sessions in Pergine, a small town near Trento. So far we’ve played these sessions only in that town because all the women don’t have the chance to go far away from their house: almost all of them have children and have their “duties” (too many duties) as women and this is also a topic of discussion during our sessions.

We hope that there will be a chance to play outside the town or to create a smaller group of women that will have the possibility to “export” their work and ideas in other places. So far it is just a wish, we will see…