Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)

The Psychology of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed

Publication Date



Music and Performing Arts, College of


Theatre and Dance, Department of

BURS Faculty Advisor

Dr. James Al-Shamma

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


Katie Fraley

The Psychology of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed

Theatre of the Oppressed has been employed across decades as an artistic means of inciting societal change for those who have been systemically discriminated against by systems of power. Political theatre has gripped audiences as its own genre of art dating back to Ancient Greece and has itself inspired crusades in the sociopolitical sphere. As audiences watch or interact with a particular performance, they are meant to reject catharsis, an emotional release (which is a desired response, according to Aristotle), and instead leave the theatre in retention of powerful and uncomfortable emotions. Crafty engineering of such reactions organizes groups around a particular theme or movement and uses the force of powerful emotional urges to kindle civic outcry. What, then, is the emotional and mental spark that fosters such ideal cooperation between spectators, or “spect-actors,” in a Theatre of the Oppressed setting, and how can it motivate mass social change? This paper finds correlations between psychology and ways in which Theatre of the Oppressed spurs viewers to analysis and action. In evaluating the ideas of Augusto Boal, the theorist behind Theatre of the Oppressed, as well as certain therapeutic and psychiatric evaluations, this article finds that leaving audience members with uncomfortable emotions is likely to act as a psychological catalyst for social action. By using empathy to call attention to oppressive circumstances, audiences are given a greater awareness of worldly situations and are therefore inspired to group action.

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