Adapting Boal's legislative theatre : producing democracies, casting citizens as policy experts
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In 1992, Augusto Boal, founder of the globally influential repertoire of performance techniques known as Theatre of the Oppressed, was elected as a vereador, essentially the equivalent of city councilor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Boal and his office staff used theatre as their primary method for collecting citizen input about legislation. His term lasted from 1993 to 1997, and his office shepherded thirteen bills to their successful passage as law. This dissertation examines three twenty-first century Legislative Theatre projects, all drawing on techniques from Boal’s initial Legislative Theatre project but staged in North America. The case studies include Practicing Democracy, a 2004 production by Headlines Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a project that directly engaged the Vancouver City Council; a Legislative Theatre workshop facilitated by Augusto Boal and his son Julian Boal as part of the pre-conference of the annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, in May 2008, an event that culminated with a performance in the Omaha City Council Chambers; and The Eye & Tooth Project: Forum Theatre on the Death Penalty, a 2009 workshop and performance in Austin, TX, exploring how participants could practice lobbying skills through theatre. With these three theatre processes as examples, I explain how using Forum Theatre as the primary method for Legislative Theatre constructs citizenship as a process of collective knowledge-building. These projects stage citizenship as a collaborative act through which citizens gather to teach each other about their experiences with policy. Each production differently constructs performance as a “think tank” epistemology—an embodied way of building and transferring knowledge about legislation. I describe how Legislative Theatre think tanks dismantle traditional discourses of “detached” expertise by constructing citizens themselves as experts. In the process of making these larger arguments, this dissertation also addresses a variety of practical questions useful for future practitioners of Legislative Theatre: How was each project designed? What were its goals? How did the creators apply performance toward those goals? How and why did they forge connections (or not) with lawmaking bodies? For what communities might the projects have been more or less accessible?