How we use Augusto Boal's techniques in our work

The methodology of Theatre of the Oppressed is the remarkable invention, he would call it a discovery, of Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theatre-maker, theorist and activist who has been our guide and inspiration since we started.

It is a school of theatre-making, which offers theatre as a tool for liberation and empowerment for people. It uses theatre to better understand ourselves and the world around us – and, most importantly, how we might change that world. It is an embodiment of arts for social and political change.

Cardboard Citizens enjoyed a close relationship with Augusto Boal during his lifetime. Adrian Jackson, Artistic Director and CEO of Cardboard Citizens, translated five of Boal’s books into English and collaborated with him on a number of occasions.

We hosted annual visits from Boal through the late 1990s up till 2008, when he taught his work, especially Rainbow of Desires. In the latter years, Adrian taught alongside him, as well as Julian Boal. Sadly Augusto’s planned visit to us in 2009 were cancelled due to his ill health, and he sadly died soon after that on 2 May that year.

But his work lives on, and grows and multiplies, through the teaching and development. Variations and offshoots abound – everything from Playback Theatre to Theatre for Living can be traced more back to Boal. Cardboard Citizens is proud to be connected to the rich international resource which is the Theatre of the Oppressed.

Above the doorway to our HQ in Whitechapel in London stands the statement Augusto used as his election slogan in 1994 – Have the Courage to be Happy. And we try to live up to that, and use theatre to help others to do so too.

FAQ's - answered by our Artistic Director Adrian Jackson

What is the background of the Artistic Director? When and how did your interest in Theatre of the Oppressed materialise? When did you first work with Augusto Boal?

I am a theatre director. I started my own theatre company out of university, directed various productions for a number of companies before I became Associate Director at London Bubble. It was there I worked with the team to make a project which became Cardboard Citizens. All my training has been ‘on the job’. In the early 1990s I had my first chance to work with Augusto Boal, I fell in love with the work and felt I understood it.  It answered a need for me - to make work that addressed important issues to communities in a way that was theatrical and engaging, without being preachy. I started a long relationship with Augusto, and translated five of his books, two from French and three from Portuguese. We worked together on many occasions, in the UK and abroad. His too-early death in 2009 was a huge loss.

Why did you decide to work with homeless people?

After Boal’s first visit to London Bubble in 1990, we decided to set up a project to test out the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology, in particular Forum Theatre. We made a long list of ‘oppressed’ groups we might want to work with, for ideological, personal or practical reasons, and we decided to work with homeless people. This was a time (like now) when homelessness was very ‘in your face’, it felt like a subject that needed talking about. I also had a member of my team at the time who had experience working with housing issues. In recent years I realised that the fact that I left home at 15 after the death of my mother and lived with a number of different families for the last two years of my schooling, it being impossible to live with my alcoholic father, probably gave me a basic understanding and sympathy with some of the feelings homeless people experience.

How and when did Cardboard Citizens start?

The company started in 1991, in the Cardboard City which had sprung up in what was then called the Bullring in Waterloo (now the site of the IMAX cinema). The first members of the company included a number of those shanty-town rough sleepers, along with other people experiencing homelessness and isolation. From these rough and authentic beginnings, Cardboard Citizens has pioneered the use of participatory arts and theatre in particular with homeless people. In those days, nobody thought that participation in the arts could make a real difference in people’s lives, leading to outcomes in everything from wellbeing to employment. Now the picture is very different – Cardboard Citizens has proven that theatre can be a powerful tool for engaging those with lived experience of homelessness in a process of change, and for engaging general audiences to focus on those at the margins of our society. For a full history of Cardboard Citizens please refer to our history page.

Who is Cardboard Citizens’ audience?

Everyone and anyone! One of the reasons we exist is to bring together people who may not normally have the chance to meet to discuss the issues that matter to our society.

Can I phone up/email or come in and talk to someone about my dissertation?

Unfortunately due to the number of enquiries we receive we are unable to help with dissertations on a case by case basis. However, we hope the content of this page and the resources below are helpful to you. To find out more about Cardboard Citizens activity please join our mailing list.