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A Dog's Obeyed in Office: Beyond the Boalian Binary

Tim Prentki


This essay explores some of the contradictions and paradoxes in the relation between performance and domination. In particular, it offers a consideration of some ways in which Applied Theatre succumbs to the dominant, despite its rhetoric of resistance, and how it might be co-opted afresh into the service of social and political transformation. The essay follows Paulo Freire’s dialectical method of “denouncing” and “announcing” in order to pursue its own utopia of performance strategies that might take us beyond the neoliberal impasse. The conceptual framework for these explorations is the classical Marxist analysis of dialectical materialism, revisited in order to supply a critique of current practices of domination. The core of the essay invites a reconsideration of Augusto Boal’s binary of “oppressed” and “oppressor” in order that an adaptation of Forum Theatre can be used to invite office-holders, traditionally where the oppressors are located, to examine their relationship to the bankrupt system they serve. To assist this process, the author argues that facilitators of theatre workshops need to reinvent the ancient arts of the fool so that their working space becomes a place where truth can be told to power without resort to the unreal separation of self from other. Instead, a dialogical relationship between self and other is proposed as a means of taking us beyond the bourgeois binaries of good and bad people into an analysis of our own roles within the systems we purport to excoriate. Whilst the essay constitutes a plea for applied theatre to apply itself to those who have made the world and who might be in a position to change it, it recognizes simultaneously the requirement incumbent upon each one of us to enter into a dialectical relationship with our foolish other.


Applied Theatre; dialectical materialism; domination; fool; Forum Theatre; neoliberalism; resistance; social and political transformation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2013.02119