Prototyping The Future Society through Theatre for Social Change

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“Sometimes the plays speak what everybody knows; sometimes they speak what nobody says. Sometimes they open paths or unveil truths; sometimes they challenge the way things are done or understood”
Leonard and Kilkelly

Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed argues “The theater itself is not revolutionary: it is a rehearsal for the revolution”, his claim reflects the notion that theatre as a fabricated space serves as a place for people to practice changes making. Therefore, the goal of theatre for social change is to create works in progress, or prototypes of the the future society co-designed by the participants. Even thought the scope of the theatre for social change is broad, there is a common theme of human empowering through participatory activities. Unlike other kind of theatre, theatre for social change is a performance ensemble to raise awareness about the impact of social issues through community engagement process. This concept of engagement that blur the boundary between audience and actor transforms theatre to become a simulation for the participants to play around with different factors, scenarios, and choices of action in order to simulate the consequences. This trial and error process has an aim to tease out all of the necessarily steps that would take for the society to arrive at the agreeable condition that benefit society as a whole.

Embodied Learning

Theatre for social change is one of many frameworks that can be used to solve problems and create changes in society. However, the unique part of the theatre for social change is the theatre element, which utilize and engage directly with the full human body. Many methods for coming up with solutions only utilize the cognition part of human to think through problems and write down thoughts. With theatre, there is the embodiment process that allows the cognition to connect with the physicality and actions of the person. Base on the theory of embodied cognition within neuroscience, the activity that connect between the sensory and motor brain systems on the one hand and cognition on the other hand can better enhance human ability to learn. Therefore, theatre for social change provides new insight to the social problem by allowing the participants to heuristically learn and visualize the problems through their body.

Changing power by changing posture

On top of the embodiment part of the theatre, the communication between people to people using body is also critical. In many cases, the concept of “social change” can be vague and general. People can speculate and come up with ideas around better policies, uncorrupted government, democratization, and etc, which are abstract concepts. However, by participating using body to manifest this abstract ideas, we can now understand the problem at the human level, which is the fundamental element behinds all systems. By observing and playing around with the embodied body, a human being can rehearse the process of changing power dynamics and social constructions by changing the body posture. For example, in image theatre a participant acts as a sculptor to mould other people acting as statues into the image that capture scenario in society. The use of body language to portray the scene not only visualizes what happens in the community, but also invites other people to contribute idea without verbal communication.

Make the invisible seems visible

In theatre for social change, there is a reflection process that can unpack the invisible power in the society. These invisible power are socially constructed rules, norms, or practices that human unconsciously take it for granted. For example, in the magic finger exercise where each participant follow other participant’s finger to form a chain structure. A micro-movement from a person on top of the chain can cause massive chaos to many people further down the chain. One of the question that can help make sense of this exercise is “who is at fault for creating massive chaos?”. The answer to this question can be the person on top of the chain because there are many people that follow that person. However, there is also a hierarchical structure that put a person on top of the chain in charge, which is also problematics. This exercise helps unpack the abstract idea of systematics oppression, where people are put into oppressor and oppressed position by the system.

Theatre for Social Change and the Future

When come to social change, It is undeniable that science and technological advancements has shaped society in ways beyond our imagination. To expand upon Augusto Boal’s work, I would argue that theatre also plays a significant role in influencing technology development, which direct/indirect controls human’s behaviors. The performance of science fictions such as Star Trek has featured many futuristic ideas that later become modern day technologies such as mobile phone, video conference, tablet, etc. The notion that the science fictions have been continuously changing society by projecting future possibility would make science fictions a part of theatre for social change. However, science fictions in the past have been created by only a small elite group, which is different from other kinds of theatre for social change. My question forward is how can we challenge this prior status quo and bringing the sense of public engagement of the theatre for social change to science fictions.

In conclusion, theatre for social change is an art form that it’s aesthetics come from the sense of human empowering through participatory activities. The power of theatre element allows a human being to understand societal problems using the person’s full body, and also convert abstract ideas and unnoticeable power within society into something tangible. These demonstrate of theatre for social change as a prototype created by people for people that serve beyond a tool for solving today’s challenge, but also a tool to reimagine a better future.


Leonard, Robert H., and Ann Kilkelly. Performing Communities: Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities. Oakland, CA: New Village, 2006. Print.

Markus Kiefer, Natalie M. Trumpp, Embodiment theory and education: The foundations of cognition in perception and action, Trends in Neuroscience and Education, Volume 1, Issue 1, December 2012, Pages 15–20, ISSN 2211–9493, https://

Kiefer, M., and L.W. Barsalou. “Enlighten: Publications.” Grounding the Human Conceptual System in Perception, Action, and Internal States. MIT Press, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 08 May 2017.