Lesson #2: Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) and
Theatre for Social Change

This is the second lesson in the SING THE HEART OF THE MAGIC: A Jennifer L. Nelson Story teaching guide. Click here for more information.


Student Outcomes

  • Students will understand the techniques called Theatre for Social Change, and Theatre of the Oppressed (TO).
  • Students will learn the various forms of TO and identify the methods Jennifer and her group, the Living Stage Theatre, presented during performances in jails and other locations, as depicted in the film.
  • Students will identify ways they could use TO to bring attention to a social justice issue that is important to them.
  • Students will develop and implement a TO sketch activity to address a social justice issue they believe deserves more attention and mobilization around it.


“Created by Brazilian visionary, Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) is a form of popular community-based education that uses theatre as a tool for transformation. Originally developed out of Boal’s work with peasant and worker populations, it is now used all over the world for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building, therapy, and government legislation.”

“The Theatre of the Oppressed is a participatory theater that fosters democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among participants. It is a ‘rehearsal theater’ practiced by ‘spect-actors’ (not spectators) who have the opportunity to both act and observe, engendering processes of dialogue and critical thinking. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, the theatrical act is experienced as a conscious intervention, as a rehearsal for social action rooted in a collective analysis of shared problems.”

 Theatre for Social Change is a form of interactive theater designed to lead participants through a process of creating social change around issues pertinent to their own lives through various forms of performative activism.





 Focus Questions

 (Grades 6-12)

1.    Why would a theater company that practices Theatre of the Oppressed and Theatre for Social Change want to present their work in a prison? What are some ways this activity could be empowering for imprisoned citizens?

2.    How do you think theatre can be used as a form of community-based education?

3.    What do you think are the differences between a theater performance that involves the audience and a theater performance that only requires the audience to watch silently?

Main Lesson Activity

Materials: Paper, pencil, computer (Students may decide to use other materials they have on hand to implement their activity)

 Estimated Time: 45 minutes to 2 hours

 (Have students work in pairs or teams when giving them the following directions)

1.    Visit this website with links about Theatre of the Oppressed and learn about the six forms of Theatre of the Oppressed: Forum Theatre, Image Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Rainbow of Desire, Newspaper Theatre and Legislative Theatre.

2.    Next, watch the interviews with Augusto Boal on Democracy Now!

3.    Third, in your pair/group, review these lesson plans that include various Theatre of the Oppressed theatre activities. As a team, select the activity that you would like to lead facilitate with the class and notify your instructor. Once your activity is approved, make the appropriate choices and modifications specific to your class. Assign roles in your team regarding who will facilitate what part of the activity. Be sure to process with your classmates after you implement the activity. What were some of the challenges to implementing your activity? What were some of the strengths? What did you walk away learning once the activity was completed?

Facilitation Guide for Teacher:

1.    If the students have not already viewed the film already, bring students together in a common area where all students can watch the documentary Sing the Heart of Magic in a common area, whether virtually or in-person.

 2.    Focusing Student Attention: Tell the students that you would like to understand the ways they believe attending school and your class, in particular helpful. Tell them that you will call five of them to the front of the class and when you say go, they are to create a sculpture with their body, without speaking where they are illustrating to us the ways they believe school is important. Then, you will say switch and they will illustrate the ways that school infringes on their rights as learners. This activity will be messy at first. They may need the instructions repeated a few times. They may ask if it is necessary to touch another student. Tell them to do what feels comfortable but to be sure to use their facial expressions, body positioning and any props if they wish to create their sculpture as a group. Do this once and process with them the differences between the two poses. Ask the class to give interpretations.

3.    Introductory and Developmental Conversation: Have the presenting group explain their sculpture. Explain that this is a form of Image Theatre and that is a form of Theatre of the Oppressed. Let them know that the woman highlighted in the video did different types of theater like this to engage with audiences and have audiences think about social issues. Ask your class why it is important to be able to share your ideas about things with people who are in leadership roles. Let them know that some people use theater to share these ideas to people who make laws and rules.

4.    Closing assessment Activity: Ask the students to share responses to the following questions: What were some of the challenges to implementing your activity? What were some of the strengths? What did you walk away learning once the activity was completed?