Newspaper Theatre

This is described as one way to fight state subjugation and win freedom of expression in an oppressed society.

By Shazia Anwer Cheema | October 2021

In the developing world, whenever someone talks about his or her basic right of freedom of expression, the stereotype response comes from the elite class that the right of expression and freedom of thought is not as important as the right of livelihood (source of income, etc). Should the working class not strive for freedom of thought if it enjoys the right of livelihood?

Can a human being survive without having the right to freedom of thought, has been an important question for sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists.

Simon McCarthy-Jones, who is an associate professor of psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, in his recent research paper “The Autonomous Mind: The Right to Freedom of Thought in the Twenty-First Century” indicates that to lose freedom of thought is to lose our dignity which is “the specific ability to control one’s own mental functions,” like attention, memory, planning, rational thought and decision-making. He believes that the ability to think freely is essential to our identity and to violate it is to deprive us of “personhood”.

If losing freedom of thought is actually losing our dignity, that is, the specific ability to control our mental functions, then how can we survive under censorship or subjugating rules?
While studying the philosophy of Augusto Boal, I came across some unusual but interesting answers to the survival mode of freedom of thought.

Augusto Boal, who was a Brazilian theatre practitioner and political activist, said that the human mind has the ability to find means of expression even under the rule of censorship and these means could be unusual and innovative. He himself developed several unusual means of expression and one of such means was using theatre as a tool. Therefore, he is considered as the “Theatre of Oppressed”.

Brazil came under military dictatorship in the mid 60s and military rulers transformed Brazilian media into an “Echo Chamber”. In order to avoid censorship and repression, in 1970 Boal developed new ways of promoting political thought and called it “Theatre of Oppressed” and “Newspaper Theatre” was one of the major techniques of “Theatre of Oppressed”. He successfully fought against censorship through Newspaper Theatre till the time he was forced to leave Brazil in 1971. His method of “Newspaper Theatre” deals with the content of the press that was controlled by Brazilian authorities. Boal, with his team of performers, used to perform at any available corner of busy places in the city. The theatrical performances consisted of at least two performers in which one actor read the newspaper of the day and the second performer stopped the first performer and continued adding the censored part of the news in a sarcastic way.

After the fall of the military dictatorship, Boal returned to Brazil, after 14 years of exile, in 1986. He established the “Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed” in Rio de Janeiro, with the objective of studying, discussing and expressing issues concerning citizenship, culture, and various forms of oppression. During one of his lectures about how to mitigate political oppression, Boal said that a drama togue, writer, playwright, or journalist has a moral duty to reveal the relationships of power and mechanisms of domination to the common man because a common man under the burden of finding livelihood can lose his sense of the difference between freedom and subjugation. His theory gives us a sense that the “Echo Chamber” that is always created by a subjugating regime must be wrecked if we are really honest about developing a society where freedom of expression and freedom of thought can be exercised.

Unfortunately, South Asian media is somehow facing the situation that was faced by Boal’s era in Brazil. I believe that the technique of Newspaper Theatre should be introduced in South Asian media and communication curricula because there are probabilities that this media may need such techniques later or sooner.

Yevgeny Aleksándrovich Yevtushenko was a Soviet and Russian poet, novelist and dramatist. In 1965, Yevtushenko joined Anna Akhmatova, Korney Chukovsky, Jean-Paul Sartre and co-signed a letter of protest against the unfair trial of Joseph Brodsky and had to face court cases and harassment but he continued his quest to raise a voice against Soviet subjugation. In one of his interviews, he said that when the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie, and writers, journalists and dramaturges must stand against silence to keep society alive.

The writer is a Prague-based analyst writing for national and international media outlets. She can be reached at shaziaanwer@yahoo.com. Twitter handle:@ShaziaAnwerCh

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