Photos: Arquive from
Ma(g)dalena International Network

TEATRO DE LAS OPRIMIDAS: Feminist Aesthetics for Political Poetics

If ever asked to produce a feminist play, Augusto Boal would have answered no. The dramaturge, keenly aware of his social place in the world, of the privileges and limitations it imposed on him, would have said that it would be within his reach to do anti-machista, anti-patriarchal plays, but that a feminist play should be a task for feminist playwrights.

From dramaturgy to methodology, by using the same logic, the creation of a feminist perspective on the Theater of the Oppressed should be the task of feminist practitioners of this method. 

And these feminists were developing within us, the practitioners of the Theater of the Oppressed, who, until 2009, still didn’t think of ourselves as feminists.

I’ve often been asked why TEATRO DE LAS OPRIMIDAS only emerged after Augusto Boal’s death, as if it had more to do with him than with our own process of awareness and transformation. As if he were the protagonist of our history.

Discovering oneself as a feminist is an arduous, slow process that needs space and time. For decades, we have been clogged up with anti-feminist garbage that is widely disseminated in society, with the aim of hiding, confusing, and obscuring the obvious need for a feminist attitude towards the injustices that underpin social relations and gender issues. Patriarchal strategies are widespread and practiced in the most diverse social spaces, including in the world of practitioners of the Theatre of the Oppressed, where these strategies often appear in such a nuanced manner that they are difficult to identify and confront.

Patriarchy manages to keep us in a state of inequality by pitting us against each other, discouraging us from crossing borders, clogging us up with tragic illusions such as romantic love, eternal marriage, sublime motherhood, and other honeyed dreams that turn into traps. But the main strategy is to delegitimize and demonize feminism.

Even though we are critical and attentive people, it took us a long time to challenge the fact that most of the prestigious spaces in the Theater of the Oppressed are occupied by men, especially White, middle class, with higher education, heterosexual, and without physical limitations. It also took us a long time to confront the fact that theater productions addressing the oppressions women face due to their gender, and which often depict oppressed women as victims responsible for the problems they experience, are primarily directed by men.

Despite advocating for political awakening, providing the opportunity to explore new perspectives, and reshaping our perception of ourselves and the world before us, the Theater of the Oppressed still lacked effective anti-patriarchal solutions. 

That’s why, beginning in 2010, we intensified our investigative aesthetic process. Initially, it was exclusively for cisgendered women, but later we opened it up to all people interested in dismantling patriarchy. Our goal was to develop methodological strategies that aligned with our political objectives. 

Our methodology emerged from the desire to broaden our range of actions. We urgently needed to develop theatrical representation processes that did not blame the oppressed or oversimplify the depiction of the conflicts they faced. Our aim was to place importance on the experiential perspectives of these issues, bringing to light the intricate nature of the characters and their experiences. Furthermore, we prioritized the contextualization of the problem in order to reveal the mechanisms of oppression. 

Our objective is to develop the artistic dimension of theatrical production while also fostering discussions about the social structure at hand.

From 2010 to 2023, through the work of groups and artist-activists from Latin America, Europe, and Africa, this working methodology has been disseminated, deepened and systematized. 

The specificities of this practice and the collection of exercises, games, and techniques developed within constitute TEATRO DE LAS OPRIMIDAS. Despite initially arising from an intuitive, unfocused, and broad-spectrum feminism without a clear theoretical foundation, it has evolved into an anti-racist-decolonial-community feminist perspective. This approach interconnects gender, race, and class to create an anti-patriarchal aesthetic-political performance.

As comrade Mariana Villani says, TEATRO DE LAS OPRIMIDAS is “the revolution within the revolution”. A working methodology that emerged from another methodology in order to deepen it, broaden it and also question it.

 SANTOS, Bárbara. TEATRO DE LAS OPRIMIDAS, Feminist Aesthetics to Political Poetics. São Paulo – Casa Philos, 2023