You are on page 1of 14

Neumann 1

Jonathon Neumann

Dr. Ken Chase

COMM 302

2 May 2016

Dramatic Rhetoric and the Christian Faith: A Dialogue among Theatre Artists

Stanley Fish: Good evening fellow dreamers, Im Stanley Fish; tonight we have two well-known

theater artists as our guests: Peter Brook, famous for his excellent work on theater-making: The

Empty Space and Augusto Boal, founder of the theater form known as Theater of the Oppressed

who was once described by The Guardian as the liberation theologian of theatre. These two

gentlemen will be discussing how this performing art has the capability to make an impact on

society. Perhaps we ought to start with you, Peter Brook, your lifes work, correct me if I am

wrong, serves to remind us of the power of thoughtful and disciplined theater.

Peter Brook: After working many years in theatre I have processed many questions and thoughts

about it, and I wrote my book The Empty Space because in my time I have witnessed and

participated in four types of theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate. One of these is

lifeless and is too often what I see; the other three have the capability to move an audience and

actors in various ways. Deep down I do see theatre as a means of social change but I also ask:

why theatre? I am writing not only to theatre artists but to the civilians who, some would argue,

dont care about theatre. I ask you all: Why theatre at all? What for? Is it an anachronism, a

supernatural oddity, surviving like a quaint custom? Why do we applaud and what? Has the stage

a real place in our lives? What function can it have? What could it serve? (Brook 40). Asking all

of you dreamers these questions is dangerous to us theatre artists because some of you may say:

yes, it is an unnecessary and outdated medium. But I say to you: yes, a good amount of what
Neumann 2

we all experience is a waste and it would be cheaper or more thrilling to just go the movie theatre

to see something that could give you, as you see it, a similar experience. In my book I present

why and how theatre could still be worth our time if we honor it and let it be the holy, rough, and

immediate work that it is. Holy Theatre has so much to give us if we participate. It is the

Theatre of the Invisible Made Visible (Brook 42). Holy Theatre is a vehicle, means for

self-study, self-exploration; a possibility of salvation (Brook 59). I am not making any strict

claims about absolute truth or religion because that is not my aim. My aim is to expose the

sham of Deadly Theatre and move us towards a theatre that we need to help us flourish (Brook

64). Rough Theatre, which I think I would put Augusto Boals work into

Augusto Boal: I slightly agree but it is not just Rough Theatre, it is more than that. My theatre

may be what you categorize as Holy, Rough, or Immediate depending on the context. However, I

think we have different starting points on the definition of what theatre is.

Brook: Yes, I was just thinking along the lines of theatre of the people for the people. You not

only include actors but non-actors as well

Fish: We will get to Mr. Boal soon enough, please continue.

Brook: I didnt mean that there isnt more to it; in fact, as Im sure you already know, that I think

that Rough Theatre saves the daythe theatre on carts, on wagons, on trestles, audiences

standing, drinkingThe Rough Theatre is close to the people: it may be a puppet theatre, it may

as in Greek villages to this day be a shadow show (Brook 65-66). In fact, I think it is more

appropriate at times than Holy Theatre. Theres a place in theatre for the audience to shout back

or interact crudely with the actors; it is very interactive and this is a theatre we need to re-attain

with all the high class theatre that exists because theatre is for all. The Holy Theatre deals with
Neumann 3

the invisible and this invisible contains all the hidden impulses of man. The Rough Theatre deals

with mens actions, and because it is down to earth and direct because it admits wickedness and

laughter the rough and ready [is sometimes] better than the hollowly holy (Brook 71). Boal, I

hate to speak for you again, but one of your influences, Bertolt Brecht, was a significant

contributor in this area of theatre and he should be acknowledged for his emphasis that a good

theatre artist is politically and socially informed so he is aware of things that should change.

Today, I think this type of theatre is strongly needed.

Lastly, the Immediate Theatre is theatre in the moment. In this type of theatre I focus

more on the process of making the work and the need for actors discipline in the midst of

repetitive work; I am more focused on the process of the actors, director, and stage-hands.

Though I make a divide amongst these types of theatre, the divide is not strict, one type of

theatre can mold into another or devolve into deadly theatre, and I dont want to say one is more

necessary than the other.

Fish: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. While you were talking I observed that you brought

up an argument that has been around since theater-making or, more broadly, rhetorical theory has

existed; there has been a suspicion of rhetoric since Plato questioned Gorgias on his sophistic


Boal: Well, Plato was strongly against the arts of poetry and theatre in a Republic.

Fish: Yes, exactly, to use Richard Lanhams terms, it is a disagreement as to whether we are

members of the species homo seriosus or homo rhetoricus (Fish 1616A). To clarify, this split in

Western intellectual work is concerned about how we go about living, do we believe there is set

truth that we have to adhere to, perhaps religiously, or do we continue to discover truth
Neumann 4

persuasively? Do we mirror reality or do we shape it? The quarrel between rhetorical and

foundational thought is itself foundational; its content is a disagreement about the basic

constituents of human activity and about the nature of human nature itself (Fish 1616A). This is

central on how we go about living our lives. Many dreamers are asking how much room there is

for persuasion because of its danger and because it questions the notion that there is absolute

truth. Also, as theatre artists, you both are highly suspicious to the adherents of homo seriosus

as actors of homo rhetoricus because of the power persuasion holds. One could argue you are

relativists without anything to base your lives on; all you do promotes chaos and disorder. I think

you, Boal, would have a good defense to such an accusation.

Boal: Wow, I havent even been able to talk for myself and Im already the one who has to create

an apology for theatre.

Fish: Sorry, Mr. Boal, that is not what I meant, but I promise we will get to you in a moment.

Brook: I would not say I am like Nietzsche, whom we often attribute the negative term

relativist. However, Any formula [for theatre-making] is inevitably an attempt to capture a

truth for all time. [But] truth in the theatre is always on the move, [as you hear what I say], it is

already moving out of dateIn everyday life, if is a fiction, in the theatre if is an experiment.

In everyday life, if is an evasion, in the theatre, if is the truth. When we are persuaded to

believe in this truth, then the theatre and life are one (Brook 140-141). I think we discover truth,

but, as I said earlier, my goal is not to specify about truth because I dont want to involve myself

in such a quarrel. I see how such a debate exists because there is a lot of danger in eloquence

without wisdom or empathy but that is why we need to be aware of what is going on around us

and we need to seek the good of society. Additionally, I dont think that debate about truth is why
Neumann 5

theatre is struggling to stay alive; many love entertainment and movies and they are willing to

participate, to a degree, in stories. But the stories we, the artists, are telling do not have much

discipline or effort put into them, and oftentimes spectators are missing out on the power of story

because they dont really know how to participate.

Fish: Many of tonights dreamers are very interested in this debate that is still going on in

conservative and religious circles.

Brook: Well, I dont think either of us are at all homo seriousus or even strictly homo


Fish: One particular dreamer, our producer, wanted to focus on your side of the argument

tonight, and, we will give the audience, who I am sure has people from the other side, a time to

respond. Yes, it may be a bit biased, but, honestly, all of us have biases, filters, and prejudices,

and as a developing rhetorician our producer has spent much of his life unknowingly identifying

as homo seriousus and he is questioning that. He is even questioning the divide we have made

between the two. Like I said for those of you concerned about this prejudice, we will have time

for questions at the end.

Dreamers in the audience slightly murmur.

Fish: Lets move the conversation towards you, Boal; I dont really have a question to bring you

into the conversation, so feel free to catch up to us.

Boal: Before I jump into this discussion of homo seriosus and homo rhetoricus, I am going

to explain my form of theatre so you know what I do and why I do it, and I am confident that my

work will speak for where I stand on this supposed debate. Theatre, as Brook briefly mentioned,

is for the people. Too often the oppressed live lives influenced by a monological society that
Neumann 6

suppresses voices. Life should be a life of dialogue! My lifes work is The Theatre of the

Oppressed, [which in] all its forms, is always seeking the transformation of society in the

direction of the liberation of the oppressed. It is both an action in itself, and a preparation for

future actions. As we all know, it is not enough to interpret reality: it is necessary to transform it!

(Aesthetics of the Oppressed 6) So, a big part of my work is to help remove the outside voices

that forcefully control the lives of the dominated populations. For me, Theatre has nothing to do

with buildings or other physical constructions. Theatre or theatricality is the capacity, this

human property which allows man to observe himself in action, in activity. The self-knowledge

thus acquired allows him to be the subject (the one who observes) of another subject (the one

who acts). It allows him to imagine variations of his action, to study alternatives. Man can see

himself in the act of seeing, in the act of acting, in the act of feeling, the act of thinking. Feel

himself feeling, think himself thinking. (Rainbow of Desire 13). Artists dont own theatre; I

think everyone should have the tools of expression and questioning that we do. However, I

support the idea of an artistic citizen, someone who is willing to enter a community and ask the

hard questions and initiate conversations. I want to be clear that the artistic citizen is not looking

to come up with the solutions as much as he or she is an individual in an active community

seeking change. An individual coming in and trying to fix something is problematic and

patronizing. However, a good artist is someone who is willing to initiate this conversation even if

it is dangerous. My work was dangerous; in fact, in 1971 I was captured by the Brazilian

government and tortured for four months; after which I was exiled from the nation.

In a section of my book Theater of the Oppressed I wrote about art and Aristotelianism,

Aristotle believed that the arts and politics dont work together, yet in his argument I think he

argued just that. Aristotle constructs the first extremely powerful poetic-political system for
Neumann 7

intimidation of the spectator, for elimination of the bad or illegal tendencies of audience. This

system is, to this day fully utilized not only in conventional theater, but in the TV soap operas

and in Western films as well: movies, theater, and television united, through a common basis in

Aristotelian poetics, for the repression of the people (Theater of the Oppressed, Introduction).

Theatre can be political, and too often it is abused politically. Yes, I have been influenced by

Bertolt Brecht. Not only are a number of my workshops based off of his ideas, but also I esteem

highly his work for his community. At the same time, to be clear, I dont want to be seen as just

another rambling Marxist who has nothing to contribute to dialogue that is so often controlled

by immoral capitalist cultural oppressors.

A louder murmur in the audience followed by:

Fish: Please everyone settle down there will be time for questions at the end! Please give our

guests the right to speak; this is a sacred space for debate. Gestures to Boal

Boal: (speaking over the settling dreamers) And, I have to say that many of these conservative

religious circles you spoke of earlier partake in hypocritical practices. Christianity, followers of

the Christ, for example, say they live to serve the oppressed yet for hundreds of years their

authoritarianism and forceful laws and conformities developed from interpretations of the Bible

have hurt many people. I hate to go on this tangent but I was just thinking, earlier you mentioned

we have a producer, may I ask who he is and why we are here?

Fish: Wellto avoid revealing too much I will let you know he is a white American middle class

educated Christian theater artist and rhetorician. At least thats the way he initially described

himself which I noticed is quite an analytical definition of him.

Brook: That may true but it also helps us, to an extent, understand why we are here.
Neumann 8

Fish: Yes, and, quite frankly, I dont know why we are here.

Boal: Okay, so hes a Christian, that explains why he is working out this whole absolute truth

debate. I apologize for the tangent, I will continue. I believe that over time the ruling classes

took possession of the theatre and built their dividing walls. First they divided the people,

separating the actors from the spectators: people who act and people who watch the party is

over! Secondly, among the actors, they separated the protagonists from the mass. The coercive

indoctrination began! (Theater of the Oppressed 119). I think it is time we, the people, got our

voice out again, not in a violent warfare revolution but in a cultural revolution,

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a dreamer: (Interrupts) We are starting a cultural


Boal: Exactly, and I think theatre, as you, Fish, said earlier, is a form of rhetoric that can be used

to fight oppression. Some say rhetoric is a weapon, well, I would go further to say that The

theatre is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield it (Theater of the Oppressed 122).

Brook: I cant tell if you are disqualifying the theatre that is inside the walls or if you are

saying it has overtaken what theatre qualifies to be and it needs to be matched with your Rough

Immediate Theatre. I think it is awfully ignorant to say that theatre with an established audience

and actors is useless in the realm of social change. I can vouch that good theatre is a means of

walking alongside people and asking them to examine themselves and the world around them.

Fish: Yes, if I may interrupt, I agree, Mr. Boal, I appreciate your enthusiasm and clarity but it

sounds as though you are disqualifying other forms of theatre, additionally, I want to hear a clear

statement from you concerning the homo rhetoricus and homo seriosus.
Neumann 9

Boal: No I am not discounting the power of story, but Brook, who attends progressive stage-play

like Angels in America: a Gay Fantasia on National Themes but rich white Democrats in New

York? Arent you concerned that they will just go home, take a bath and not really think about

their participation in this need for social change? They are partaking in an oppressive system;

they have forgotten how bad it is because it is just so familiar. As Brecht argued, the spectators

need to have the familiar made unfamiliar so they are reminded of their power and capacity to

change the way things are. They need to collaborate on solutions that arent easy, that is one

reason why I created forum theatre.

Brook: Stage-plays are not useless. I agree there is a problem that after a night at the theatre we

are automatized into getting up and leaving straight away (Brook 131), but there are solutions to

that that do not involve overthrowing the traditional theatre space. What about storytelling and

exploring new worlds? Isnt that beautiful? And isnt it exhausting to only do Theater of the

Oppressed? Also, speaking of Brecht, I dont see how humor can solely be used in the Brechtian

sense of causing the audience to reconsider their inner self; have you never enjoyed something

for simply being what it is and not solely for its political or social message? What about the

spectacle that attracts the audience? And does the spectacle part of theatre solely exist for you to

get your questions across?

The dreamers become somewhat restless, murmuring things to one another

Boal: Brook, I will respond, but I want to make sure everyone knows about forum theatre first.

Like I said earlier, all should have the privilege to be actors on this stage, and we, humans, are

dialogical in nature. Forum theatre is a type of theatre that allows the audience, the spectators, to

stop a performance, maybe even a traditional stage-play or Rough Theatre as you put it, and take
Neumann 10

the place of a character in the scene. Perhaps this spectactor or spectactors can intervene.

This requires the audience to be active and consider possible solutions with each other; it also

puts the audience in a place where they have to see how difficult it is to deal with situations that

are out of our hands, like so many people do on a daily basis. This type of theatre continues

today in theatre workshops as well as some established theatres like Chicagos Goodman


Now, Brook, I am not arguing that my approach to theatre is the only approach, but like

you said it has the capability to transform the dominant Broadway scene that is only for the rich

and does not really move them to change communally or individually.

Brook: (Interrupts) You do realize that is false, right? I have seen people moved even in the

ivory towers as you call them.

Boal: Deadly Theatre has become the tradition of entertainment, and the people going to

Broadway think they are living just fine lives when they are so often intentionally or

unintentionally oppressing their neighbors. I would not say that Theatre of the Oppressed is the

only form of theatre; do other types, my artist friend, enjoy yourself!

Also, Mr. Fish, to briefly answer you I identify homo rhetoricus and I dont care if you

give me that label of relativism. I have seen what the established people under the law of homo

seriosus do; they say Im right youre wrong and the conversation ends there. I am not an

anarchist nor do I promote disorder exactly; I seek to shake the established order, not

individually, mind you. I live with the hope of a better world for us all, and that requires

questioning established ideas such as the created idea of absolute truth. Therefore, I would not

say I am a relativist; I do, however, argue that you dreamers are heavily influenced by what you

see on the television and online. The world around you influences you! Im not just talking about
Neumann 11

advertising but television programs such as How I Met Your Mother or Friends, which are two

shows that numb the people into not caring about the injustice they so often promote.

A few shouts of anger rise up in the audience.

Unnamed Dreamer 1: Is he accusing us of being bad people? Were all trying our best damn it!

Fish: OKAY! On that note I think we should allow the audience to speak.

Brook: One moment everyone! Yes, lets not dehumanize anyone involved in this: the oppressed

or the supposed oppressors. People have a lot on their minds and theatre reminds us we are

human! We need to empathize to begin to make a difference. We need to reconnect and

remember! Also, Im sure Big Brother is going to help solve all our problems; we can

definitely trust a government over the advertising companies and gigantic corporations that

produce television. As someone who was oppressed by a big government I wonder why you are


Boal: Brook, we are theatre artists, we dont have strict solutions we come alongside people and

ask questions; we seek to change the world not fix it. Also, like I said, Marxist is a label and with

that label comes all of the failed governments.

Brook: You were a politician; you have to come up with some solutions from the people! ...I

apologize, Boal, I am getting flustered because I myself have some of the same questions but I

have to say I think you are contradicting yourself; you say down with the walls of the

established theatre! yet those very walls are housing the work you started. We need to transform

the theatre as well as society, not overthrow it!

Unnamed Dreamer 2: (shouts) Down with the establishment!

Neumann 12

Fish: I am sorry Mr. Brook and Mr. Boal, I must open this conversation to the audience now.

Unnamed Dreamer 3: (shouts) Theyre all just using words to manipulate us!

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a dreamer, stands in the audience. The audience grows a little quieter.

Fish: Everyone please be quiet, a prominent voice in this debate is speaking.

Saint Augustine, a dreamer: There has been a lot of eloquence spoken this evening with not

much guidance; how can a Christian trust anyone or anything but Scriptures inerrant and

infallible words? Yes, we do interpret them but they are the only truth we know of. The Bible is

called Gods revelation for a reason, it is revealed truth despite all of the lies that the fallen world

tells us. When I was younger I attended the theatre, but all that was there was a mirror of

something that was already misguided and full of sin.

Fish: St. Augustine is beginning to sound more like Plato than his actual self; his words appear

misinterpreted. I dont think he came to such concrete conclusions about rhetoric or theater.

Numerous dreamers begin to stand up and shout over each other.

Mark Lewis, a dreamer: (Shouts out) Theater is an imperfect mirror of the world around us! It

helps us be seen and see the world and people around us! I remember Wheaton College over 20

years ago was really suspicious of the arts

Chad Klopfenstein, a dreamer: (Shouts at the same time as Mark) Being an artist is living a

life thats focused on creativity, and pushing on the edges of peoples expectations, and asking

questions, and going places that require courage!

Neumann 13

Unnamed Dreamer 4: (Shouting at the same time) All this talk is a waste of time! If you like

theater dont act like it is more than it is: entertainment, and get a job and stop complaining about


Jonathon the Dreamer stands

Boal: Look, I see the Dreamer that produced this!

Jonathon the Dreamer: Everyone please be silent!

The dreamers, including the host and his guests, grow silent yet move around chaotically with

their stories embodied in their movement.

Jonathon: Youre all just voices, caricatures, and imperfect mirrors of people!

Jesus: (Still) No, I AM!

Jonathon: Areare you another dreamer? Are you actually real? I dont want to misinterpret

you. You said

Jesus: I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the good shepherd. I am the Word that became

flesh and dwelt among you, humanity. I love you, Jonathon, I died for you, I rose from the dead

and conquered death for you. I sit at the right hand of my Father and I will come back to judge

the living and the dead, I am with you always and will be with you until the end of this age.

Jonathon: How are you real? I know youre real! Butyou seem so farhow do we know the

Word is all true? I mean, I do, but I dont. Im being torn apart with this homo rhetoricus and

homo seriosus debate. Is it even a debate? Take control! I give it to you!

Jesus: Be still and know that I am God.

The dream ends.

Neumann 14

Works Cited

Boal, Augusto, and Adrian Jackson. The Aesthetics of the Oppressed. London: Routledge, 2006.


Boal, Augusto. Theater of the Oppressed. London: Pluto, 2000. Print.

Boal, Augusto. The Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. London:

Routledge, 1995. Print.

Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. New York: Atheneum, 1968. Print.

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. Engaging Performance: Theatre As Call and Response. New York, NY:

Routledge, 2010. Print.

Fish, Stanley. "Rhetoric." Ed. Patricia Bizell and Bruce Herzberg. The Rhetorical Tradition:

Readings from the Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's,

2001. 1609-627. Print.