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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

English 876: Week 2- Tactical Performance

Discussion Question:

This week we looked at the potential empowerment strategies put forth by Boal’s groundbreaking “Theater of the Oppressed.” It is important to think of his work at multiple scales: from the tactical (exercises, scenarios, narratives) to the strategic (empowerment for larger campaigns) to the philosophical (what motivates people in terms of agency and engagement?). We’ve viewed and discussed multiple iterations of tactical performance, from the communitarian ethos of Bread and Puppet Theater to the anarchistic interventions of Voina, or the sly and satiric interventionist parody of a “news theater” project such as Iannucci and Morris’ “The Day Today.” Reflect on any aspect of such performances; their intentions, actions, efficacy, etc. Feel free to expand these examples if you have other inclusions.


The “Theater of the Oppressed,” was a really incredible read that reminded me in many ways of the cinematic writings of Third Cinema authors like Glauber Rocha, Fernando Solanas, and Julio Espinosa. The pressure to enable, foster, and excite action in the audience of a performance feels right at home in the way these men pushed for national film to be a mode of engagement with the people, for the people, by the people. While the aspirations of Third Cinema writers feel more directly opportunistic in terms of making and promoting their own films, Boal’s work has a real sense of community, and a desire to open the stage of presentation and performance to anyone.

My thoughts rather naturally drift toward technology and that most capitalistic of mediums: video games. In both the sense of being a participatory medium, as well as the way in which video games are seeking ever greater involvement in involving the player in the game in a variety of ways. Multiplayer and online games often use data generated by, and gathered from, a player in order to tailor their game experience directly, often with exploitive intentions or results. This feels like an inversion of the interactive and participatory nature of Boal’s work, a Theater of Oppression perhaps.

These companies direct the gathered affective and performative spirit of many players in order to direct them at generating capital while profiting from the affective fandom labor of extoling and celebrating a game they are invested in. Virtual reality and augmented reality take and direct this interactivity even more explicitly by, with or without the consent of those not playing, transforming real world spaces into hybrid game spaces. This creates the demonstrations of activity and participation that come with popular new AR games such as the massive Walk-a-thons that followed the release of Pokemon-Go, or the transformation of both private and semi-public spaces into VR dens in which players operate. The “Theater of the Oppressed” seems keen on actualizing and engaging with its participants and asking them to commit to both these tactical performances and to engage them with larger campaigns. Most game developers would love to engage with both of the scales in order to capitalize on the power of seemingly intimate person-to-person performance, and the larger word of mouth hype that so effectively sells games.

I may be oversimplifying the seeming perversion of Boal’s work that some games represent, but as an alternative thought I wonder if Boal’s work takes on a further important modern connection and importance in order to understand, on both a philosophical and ideological level, how our affect for capitalist media properties is being fostered and exploited. Does this mean we cannot enjoy the things we do or play? Of course not. But a keen awareness and understand of these tactics seems important, and the use of tactical performance in order to parody, comment on, and even counter attack against corporate power seems like an incredibly important reason to keep Boal’s work in thought.

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