My Rainbow of Desires Experience

Posted on: 14 November 2013

Written by: Volunteer

I have had the immense privilege of taking part in the professional training workshop led by Adrian Jackson, Rainbow of Desires 1. It is not easy to sum up in a few words what those three days of intense emotional-theatrical work were, but I will do my best.

For those of you who are not familiar with Augusto Boal’s ideals, the practice of Rainbow of Desires deals with breaking down internalised oppressions, which he names cop in the head, for the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing within society. It features a series of theatrical techniques that help visualise oppression and deal with them more clearly and consciously. It is a branch of the wider term coined by the same practitioner - Theatre of the Oppressed.

I should probably start by saying how compelling Adrian was, as well as every other participant. Drama therapists, actors, social workers, journalists, students - these are only some of the amazing people who contributed to making the training such a special experience.

Each morning, a series of warm-up exercises got the ensemble in the right mood and focus but it was the gripping facilitation that got everyone in that buzzing state of mind. “We cannot work without stories-” was one of the first phrases Adrian said, “this work is about your stories”.

We shared our anecdotes of oppression in pairs - my partner (an anthropology PhD student who had lived with Amazonian tribes for various months) opted to listen, so I narrated. The most interesting and relevant stories were then selected to be used for an introductory game of image theatre, which captures the crucial moments of the narratives with still tableaus in order to then analyse them. The chosen individuals were then made to re-create their tales by moulding selected partakers into various still poses, to end up with a large-scale representation of their mishaps. Whoever was not part of it ‘played’ the audience, who had no clue as to what stories the imageries were telling and who were asked to give their own interpretation of each display.

“You are not trying to guess, it’s what you see and what you feel” - this conception was amplified by an analogy to art galleries that I found deeply fascinating: the descriptive tags typically found in such spaces are a removal. This is because they give a pre-conceived vision of the art piece, which is bound to, at least to some degree, forcefully block the observer’s perception. I think we all eventually came to the realization of how this was marvelously relevant to Boal’s concepts.

Then one at a time, each actor involved in the frame, including the oppressed, would step out and change this depiction to try and give a positive outcome to it. “How would you change the image? How do you want it to be? What is your desire?” were some of the questions Adrian was asking to get the flow of the exercise going. The diversity of responses with regards to what a ‘positive outcome’ entails was enthralling.

The notion of images in theatre was meticulously explored throughout the weekend. Boal’s machines were extremely well received by everyone. The machines start with a single word - the essence of them - and the final product is a conglomerate of entities each looping a distinct movement and sound that together form their own interpretation of the word. We did this with the term ‘therapy’ and interestingly, but not surprisingly, the impressions ranged from someone standing with an analytical look, rubbing his chin and going "hmm"; to another one lying on the floor, hands in hair and screaming helplessly.

Something I found particularly revealing was the application of the Rashomon effect (a term derived from Akira Kurosawa’s homonymous film that refers to contrasting versions of an event from various persons) into Boal’s theories as an image theatre technique. A small group from the ensemble had pre-rehearsed a scene that told a true story in which one of them was involved. The scene was played plainly once throughout then repeated through the eyes of each character. All of this was done using different still images for each version, in which the actors were stuck whilst playing their characters. I felt that this was not only a hugely effective analysis of the motives and desires of every character but it also made the scene more light-hearted, so that the audience could effectively distance itself more.

Then we got to the crux of the matter - the Rainbow of Desires is an emotional rollercoaster. The story on which we focused turned out to be an extremely powerful one. It is hard to offer a sense of what it was like without giving away the person’s confidential story. What I can say is that I was utterly flabbergasted by the effect it had on most people - crying.

The practice of Boal’s fundamental theory in Rainbow isolates every desire that the oppressed conceals and presents them through still images prompted by the protagonist as well as the audience. Ultimately, those desires attack the oppressor - the actors playing the desires, once again stuck in their imageries, have to confront s/he who plays the oppressive part. In our case, who played the oppressor had nothing to do with the story in real life but could not bear the pressure put by the desires of the oppressed in the played scene, so burst into tears. Both characters’ statuses shifted ever so strongly by the end of the process - the burdened was indeed empowered to a degree in which oppressed and oppressor were at the same level.

When I applied for a placement with Cardboard Citizens I thought I knew what to expect but I now realise I had no idea. Through this professional training I learnt that, in practice, Boal’s theories are infinitely more penetrating than on paper - their application to real life is something that, once endeavored, no one can deny the value of. Rainbow of Desires 1 has been a whole lot more inspiring than what I anticipated – I will treasure what I have had the pleasure and honour to learn, listen and share. It truly was a memorably overwhelming weekend.

- Giacomo Bruneli 

If you would like to know more about Cardboard Citizens’ upcoming training, click here

Images are a courtesy of Philip Polglaze 2013


With thanks to

Arts Council England Lottery funded