To get behind a news story, add to it, dance to it, put it in history or out of context. This is Newspaper Theatre
We continue to draw much insight from facilitation practice, about new ways to reimagine and dynamise citizenship and politics.
From our A/UK friend (and facilitator) Gaynor Smith, we have just heard about Newspaper Theatre, one of the many enabling tricks from the vast box of Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theatremaker and radical educator from the 70s.
We love the way this mixes in different kinds of reality - everything from song to research - to expand the context of a standard newspaper story. Feels both empowering and fun. Try it out and tell us!
Here are its stages:
The news item is read without comment or commentary, but it is detached from the context of the newspaper. The audience is therefore not influenced by such biases as the position of the story in the paper, or the size of the headline.
This technique is the simplest and also the first step of any text transformation, the choosing and reading of a in a group text already makes it theater and a public event.
The news item is read, but information generally omitted by the newspapers is added to give a more “complete” version. This additional information can be sourced from other news, research, or the knowledge possess in the group: The leading questions in this stage are what do we know that is not there? What is left out of?
Two contradictory or linked stories are read in crossed (alternating) form to shed new light on each story, add deeper explanation or provide a new dimension.
Crossed reading can be also a step of the process putting an article or text in the context of other texts adding new information and discovering new theatrical possibilities.
The news item is read (or sung) with a rhythm as a musical commentary, for example: samba, tango, Gregorian chant. The news item is “filtered” by the connotations of the new rhythm allowing for a critical “rhythmical” commentary .
The item is read, while parallel actions are mimed to show either the context in which the reported event really occurred, or to complement the spoken story.
The news is improvised on stage to explore/exploit variants and possibilities. It is open to re-playing, and suggestion and involvement from the audience.
The news item is read, together with facts or scenes that show the same event in other historical moments, or other countries or social systems.
The news item is read or sung with the aid or accompaniment of reinforcing material, such as audio/visuals, jingles, advertising or publicity materials.
Concretion of the abstract
Revealing on-stage what the news often hides or masks beneath clichés, over-used terms or matter-of-fact reporting. Concepts such as torture, hunger, unemployment are shown concretely. Graphic imagery, real or symbolic, is used to reclaim the emotional impact of abstracted concepts.
Text out of context
The news item is presented out of the context in which it was published, for example an actor portraying the Prime Minister delivers a speech about austerity while devouring a huge dinner. The truth behind the words is demystified, for example the PM wants austerity for the people, but not for him/herself.
Insertion into the actual context
In this technique we bring the text into the real context in which the problem happens (for example an article describing a war is conducted in a theatrical battlefield)
Integration or field interview (the lost technique)
This technique appears in a review from 1971 and in which the character in the news is interview on stage like the football players might be interviewed on the half time of a game. This allows for a “hot-seating” / dynamic investigation with the audience of the performance .
When a US-backed coup turned Brazil into a military dictatorship in 1964, Boal introduced "Newspaper Theatre". He set up groups to read the dailies and create a new play each night. "We had dozens of groups. This helped people to understand the news. The military did not like that, that is why they sent me to prison."
It was 1971. Some friends were inside, some were "disappeared". Boal was electrocuted, his wet, naked body suspended by the knees from an iron rod, wrists handcuffed around the ankles. Later, he'd re-enact the scene as street theatre.
He would confess to nothing, so there was little hope of freedom. But news of his torture spread. "People like Sartre, de Beauvoir and Arthur Miller started a movement to help me get free. And I was banned, I had to stay out of Brazil. If I went back I would be in prison again."
He was exiled until 1979 and finally returned in 1986. Initially, he worked in South America, developing the techniques that became Theatre of the Oppressed. "Simultaneous Theatre" was an extension of his newspaper plays, except the action was paused for onlookers to suggest ways the actors could escape the oppression they were suffering. This lead to "Forum Theatre", where audience members actually replaced the protagonist.
The key to his theatre is participation: "At some stage we are told we are too old to play and act, we must become spectators. But we should not be spectators in the theatre, even less in our lives. We should be actors. In the Theatre of the Oppressed we don't have spectators in the sense that you go there and consume something. We have what we call 'spectactors'." He believes we all have the language of theatre within us, that it can be released and put to personal and political use.