Augusto Boal (1979, 1992, 1995) described various ways in which actors could use the experiences that audience members had with conflicts and problems to generate material for the “performance” on that day and offer new ideas about peace and reconciliation. Spectators would become “spect-actors.” Every “show” would be fresh, real and relevant. There would be no written scripts, just what the actors are able to coax from those attending. The struggles, challenges, hopes and dreams of audience members themselves become the focus for improvisations. Scenes are “acted out” by actors—used primarily to jump start a scene—and recruits from the audience. Whoever volunteered the issue gets to see other perspectives and possibilities. Everything is innovation!
Using the ideas and techniques of Augusto Boal, a lesson on peace education and nonviolence might look like the following: First, students (or any audience member for that matter) are invited to suggest problems for the group. According to Boal, these should be real and complex. With everyone’s input, new and different solutions will be explored in a variety of ways. For example, someone might want to work on a conflicted relationship that threatens to turn violent. A parent might want to help a child confront a bully at school. Someone else is frustrated with the sensationalized media coverage of crime.
Then, the one with the “issue” or “problem” chooses individuals to play particular roles. The parent in the example above might pick someone to be the student and someone else to be the bully. The “scene” would be set and the action begun. Note that having participation from people with some acting experience can be helpful to get things going. At any point, however, anyone from the audience can yell “STOP” and jump into any of the roles. After each run through you want to ask the person with the problem: “What was new? Was it believable? What did you learn?” Again, the goal is to give the person with the issue multiple and different perspectives along with some new ideas for resolution. The action is usually fast so you have to make sense of it all on the fly. Everyone gets involved. It’s relevant and the audience is both cast and crew.
In Brisbane, Australia, Rotary has established one of its Peace Centers where students from all over the world are fully funded for two years to study peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution. This statue of Gandhi challenges them and everyone else to take more initiative, to be “spect-actors”, so that their lives better match their values.