Thursday, September 29, 2011

Invisible Theater

Augusto Boal in the city,
photo in New York Times May 9, 2009

I've been reading about Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed (a name that does not reflect the broad humanity of his work).  In particular, I'm struck by Boal's 'invisible theatre,' in which performances subtly appeared within the movements of everyday life, such that ordinary life became visible in a critical frame.  People walking by saw something happen that might stick in their mind as a metaphor or mark of a larger social issue, and they might talk about it later, but they usually did not know that it was a planned event.  Boal developed invisible theatre as an under-the-radar form of protest in the extremely repressive Argentina of the 1970s, so his performances were politically charged and personally dangerous. 

I'm interested because invisible theatre opens up the ephemeral boundary between everyday life and self-conscious action.  Boal's acts of theatre-in-life made people aware of the realities of their situation - in his case politically - so they might think and feel and act more fully human.  Isn't that what good architecture does? 

Invisible theatre grew out of political theatre, which was the core of Boal's work, and 1960s happenings, particularly Alan Kaprow's insouciant provocations.  In all performances Boal's theatre acts in real life.   In many of these actions, he cast the joker (provocateur) and the witness (teller of true stories) to engage spectators as actors in real life, spect-actors he called them, so that by means of theatre they might become witnesses to their own actions. 

Effective architectural performance is invisible theatre.  Acts of architecture are woven into and out of the fabric of everyday life, without distinction between life and art.  And they can offer moments of clarity, when spect-actors (inhabitants) glimpse a reality of their situation and an opportunity to act as real people in real places.  Acts of architecture can provoke or witness or joke, with the intent to engage our situation - ecological, social, urban - in a fully human way.  

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