Skip to main content
Theatre Of The Oppressed

Introduction to TO

Lesson 1 - Introduction to TO

Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of play and discovery as essential tools of theatre by reflecting on Boal Games and their connection to acting and oppression.


  • Open space
  • “Games for Actors and Non-Actors” by Augusto Boal

Essential Questions:

  • What skills do I use in theatre?
  • Why is awareness important in theatre?
  • What does it mean to play?
  • Why is play and discovery important to theatre practitioners?

Note: Discussions will be used to check for understanding. Ask the questions and encourage multiple students to answer. Afterwards, support the students’ answers with additional information if needed. (Some answers to questions are written down, indented in farther)


Slow motion race - pg. 71 (Boal)

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Invite students to line up on one side of the classroom. Explain that this will be a slow motion race that will warm up your bodies and minds
  • “The winner is the last person home. Once the race starts, the actors must never stop moving and every movement should be executed as slowly as possible. Take the largest step forward you are capable of. Both feet must ever be fully on the ground at the same time.” (Boal)
  • Discussion
    • What was your experience during this activity?


Tell students that today we are starting a unit on Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and we will be focusing on playing games today



  • Augusto Boal was a theatre practitioner in Brazil. He lived under an oppressive government, so he created Theatre of the Oppressed as a way to discuss oppression and practice revolution. His form of theatre encourages participation from the audience.
    • Ask Students: What is Oppression? (This is a formative pre-assessment. They will do more research about this topic later)
  • He used Games as a way to prepare actors and audience members to do more intense theatre work. We will be playing and discussing Games today.
  • Boal wrote a book called “Games for Actors and Non-actors.” It is a resource that contains a lot of exercises and explanations of how to do Theatre of the Oppressed work. I will read a short excerpt from this book

Read “Games” by Boal - pg. 49 (The paragraphs about the Two Unities)

  • Discussion
    • What do you think Boal meant by “All ideas, images, and emotions reveal themselves physically?”
    • How does that influence our performance?
    • “Bodily activities are activities of the whole body,” we need to practice connecting each part of the body to ourselves
  • Discussion
    • What does it mean to play?
      • Exploration, discovery, questioning, trying
      • For me, play is an essential part of theatre. It should be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean you need to be serious while you are doing it
    • Why is it important to theatre? How do we learn through play?
      • Through play, we have experiences that teach us skills. By doing, we practice.


We are going to play some games. Through these games, we will be practicing skills of expressivity and dialogue. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you experience during these activities. Be prepared to reflect on them at the end of class.


(With each of activities, explain the instructions of the activity, have the students perform the activity, then discuss)

Cross and Circle pg. 50

  • Time: 3 minutes
  • Location: Students stay seated
  • Instructions: Make a circle with one hand. Stop. Make a cross with the other hand. Stop. Do both at once.
  • Discussion
    • What was challenging about this? How does it apply to our discussion about all things being connected?

Minimum Surface Contact pg. 56

  • Time: 5-7 minutes
  • Location: Invite students to find their own space in the room away from walls and other students
  • Instructions: Purpose is to bring your body and its surface into minimum contact with the floor, varying the options and exploring all the possibilities: feet and hands, one foot and one hand, backside only, chest, knees… at one time or another during the exercise the surface of every part of the body must have touched the floor. Passage from one position to another should be one very slowly, to stimulate all the muscles. 
  • Discussion
    • We deal with gravity everyday, but there are thousands of ways of counteracting this force. We must practice de-structuring our habitual movements. 
    • Why is it important to de-structure our habitual movements?
      • In acting, we have to perform a lot of characters that may be completely different to ourselves.

Racing on chairs pg. 68

  • Time: 3 minutes
  • Set-up: Divide class into groups of five. Create vertical lines of six chairs (or have one extra chair for each group if less than five students per group) one for each group
  • Instruction: A group of five actors in a line, one behind the other, stand on their own chair. There is a sixth unoccupied chair at the front of the line. Each actor moves forward so there is an empty chair at the end. Then the last actor passes that chair to the next actor, until this last chair is at the front of the line. The groups race each other across the room.
  • Side-coaching: Be safe! Move carefully but efficiently.

A round of rhythm and movement pg. 92

  • Time: 5-7 minutes
  • Instruction: One person goes into the middle. All others try to imitate them perfectly with sound and movement. Sounds and movement should be different from how you act/sound in normal life. There must be no fear of ridiculousness, we will all look weird. Try to reproduce everything as precisely as you can. Do not try to try and change it to make it more like you. Do not do a caricature. When the leader is ready, they stand opposite of someone else and they switch places. This should be done non-verbally
  • Side-coaching: Make big choices! Try to move exactly like the person in the middle.
  • Discussion
    • What did you discover?
    • How did it feel to move like someone else?
      • When we try to move like someone else, we begin to undo our own mechanisations. We are working to restructure our own way of being.

Colombian Hypnosis pg. 51

  • Instructions:One person is the leader, the other the follower. The follower has to follow the leader’s hand perfectly by keeping the same distance from the hand the entire time. If the hand rotates to the side, the head will rotate as well.
  • For the teacher: Look for engaging images and call ‘Freeze’ when most groups are in an interesting configuration. Have one group unfreeze and observe the images they see. Afterwards, that group freezes in their image and another group unfreezes. 
    • Side-coaching: Keep focused on the hand. Leader, keep the follower safe. Challenge the follower.
  • Discussion
    • What stories were being told?
    • What relationships do you see?
    • How did you see oppression in these images?
  • Repeat this activity and discussion 3-4 times
  • Now, there will be one leader with two followers (one for each hand of the leader). Try to split up the class into groups of 3, but they may still be some groups of 2. Give each student a turn to be the leader.
  • Discussion
    • What was your experience being the leader?
    • What was your experience being the follower?
    • How was this different from only one follower?
  • The final iteration of this game starts with one leader and two followers. The other students sit and watch for a moment. After some time, tell the participants to stop. Ask the followers to put out their hands and have one student go to the four open hands. Resume the activity. Pause again after some time and have the followers on the end put up their hands. Continue adding followers until every student is participating
    • Remind the students to be safe
  • Discussion
    • What was it like being the ultimate leader?
    • What was it like being a follower at the end?
    • How does this activity relate to power and control? 
    • How do you think this connects to oppression?

Final Discussion

  • What did you discover about oppression?
  • How can theatre be a tool to discuss social topics?
  • How can this help you as an actor and person?