Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.
While I was in Morocco last month I met with a member of an amateur theatre company in Casablanca. Youssef and his company set up plays which belong to the tradition of the theatre of the oppressed. Theatre of the oppressed, imagined by Augusto Boal in Brazil and imported to Europe when a wave of South-Americans activists reached Europe, fleeing dictatorships, follows a particular method of playwriting and acting.
Theatre of the Oppressed was born in 1971, in Brazil, under the very young form of Newspaper Theatre , with the specific goal of dealing with local problems – soon, it was used all over the country. Forum Theatre came into being in Peru, in 1973, as part of a Literacy Program; we thought it would be good only for South America– now it is practiced in more than 70 countries. Growing up, TO developedInvisible Theatre in Argentina, as political activity, and Image Theatre to establish dialogue among Indigenous Nations and Spanish descendants, in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico… Now these forms are being used in all kinds of dialogues.
Theatre of the Oppressed is the Game of Dialogue: we play and learn together. All kinds of Games must have Discipline – clear rules that we must follow. At the same time, Games have absolute need of creativity and Freedom. TO is the perfect synthesis between the antithetic Discipline and Freedom.Without Discipline, there is no Social Life; without Freedom, there is no Life.
Source: Theatre of the oppressed
It leaves room for debates at the end of the play, with an actor – the joker- in charge of moderation. Youssef, who is a professor of philosophy by day, tells me that it is a process close to Socrates’ maieutics. Discussions allow people to formulate their thoughts and ideas. Ultimately it leads spectators to become aware of their conditions of existence.
One could think that in a monarchy where religious parties have gained more seats in the most recent elections, the main problem would be censorship. In fact, it is not. There is a lot of self-censorship and of concern about what is decent with regards to religion and the King.
Youssef tells me that even radical movements believe in the legitimacy of the King. This is not solely due to the fact that a republican party would be anticonstitutional and thus ineligible. The highest claim made by the movement of the 20th February – Morocco’s “Arab Spring” – was to ask for a parliamentary monarchy. This is what the press calls the Moroccan exception because the people still believe in the right of the King to be here.
The theatre of the oppressed tries to set up space for discussion. In Morocco, actions aimed directly at the government would be pointless and ineffective. Firstly they would be censored immediately and the activists likely arrested – Moroccan rapper Lhaked was arrested for instance for taking part in the movement of the 20th February. Secondly they would not have any effects, for the mentalities need to change in the first instance. There is no point challenging the system if most of the population believes in the legitimacy of this form of political organisation. Ultimately, people will have to decide, but space for discussion and exchange needs to be made.
Youssef’s company is usually commissioned by organisations to address discussions such as women’s rights, corruption, paedophilia, etc. Drawing from real life testimonies, they write a play, show it and discuss it with the audience. They play on the street or in a designated public space, but it does not always go as planned. Even subjects such as immigration are censored in times of elections. However, whenمسرح المحڭو writes and show a play about the life of Moroccan women, based on real life events, people were not responsive or willing to talk about it. Morality, gender, the family are still sensitive subjects. However the play about corruption, a problem being fought at the moment by governmental campaigns, was a success.
It is a paradox: will people be happy to discuss women issues when it is a problem in the eyes of the government? The sentiment people have towards the King is ambivalent, dialectical, says Youssef. Mohammed VI’s photo is omnipresent, making the king look to be omnipotent. He is the pater familias, the “father of the family”. Theatre could be the space for another form of power, one that is not patriarchal, paternalistic and centralised, one which would come from the civil society. It was envisioned as such by Augusto Boal, as a way for people to realise their conditions of existence. Theatre of the oppressed need to carry out plays until they are not needed anymore.