Friday, August 13, 2010

The Art of the Kuringa (English)

The Curinga[1] (Joker) is a multifunctional card in the deck. In each game, a specific function.

Augusto Boal baptized the facilitators of the Theater of the Oppressed as a “Kuringa”: artists with a pedagogical function; practitioners, studious and researchers of his Method. A Kuringa could be defined as a specialist in a constant process of learning. Someone who not only knows the techniques that constitute the Tree of Theater of the Oppressed, but also that it represents the pedagogical structure of the Method, composed of coherent and interdependent branches—fruits discovered from the need to effectively respond to reality.

To exercise the function of the Kuringa demands rigorous knowledge of practical and theoretical TO’s foundations—ethical, politics, pedagogy, aesthetic and philosophy—while at the same time, being sensible to the demands of reality and capable of reinventing the known, to ultimately tend to the concrete needs of each group.

A Kuringa must be able to enter a scene and act, to conduct workshops and theoretical and practical courses; organize and coordinate popular groups; orient the production of Forum Theater performances (from the creation of images to the collective text); to mediate theatrical dialogue in Forum Theater and in Legislative Theater sessions, to stimulate the concretion of concrete and continuous social action and, of course, systematize his or her experience so that it serves other practitioners and contribute to the development of the Method.

The Theater of the Oppressed is a joyful and pedagogical method, an efficient instrument of communication and inquiry for concrete alternatives to real problems, through aesthetic means. It creates conditions so that the oppressed appropriate the means to produce theater and consequently, amplify their expressive possibilities. By eliminating the barrier between the stage and audience, the TO establishes an active, democratic, and purposive dialogue.

The Kuringa is the one who facilitates this Dialogue, establishing horizontal communication that is both investigatory and goal-oriented. To facilitate does not mean to offer answers or present paths, but to help in the analysis of alternatives presented with questions and inciting comparisons, that encourage expression and guarantee a space for a diversity of opinions.

In the Theater of the Oppressed, the functions of the Kuringa are diverse and complex—from the aesthetic identification and representation of a conflict, to the discussion of strategies and their viability, to the steering of the transformation of the reality set on stage.

Whoever occupies the function of the Kuringa must assist people to discover their own potential, to let them know themselves better, to express their ideas and emotions, to analyze their problems and to search their own alternatives. The Kuringa is not someone who has the correct answers, but someone who formulates questions that generate responses that provoke new questions. It’s not about finding the perfect answer, rather stimulating possible answers that depict a desired reality and to make that reality palpable.

To take on the role of the Kuringa, it’s necessary to incessantly search a specialization in diversity, through a multidisciplinary formation and attitude, because the Tree of TO feeds itself on human knowledge to be able to promote concrete actions. It’s necessary to know of theater, culture, education, psychology, politics, ecology, economy, and whatever more is possible— associating knowledge with sensibility and good sense is an essential attitude.

TO is widely practiced around the world, in diverse languages, cultures and geographies, and it serves the universalization of knowledge and the common good, basing itself on respect for specific local identities, while radically opposing mass uniformity.

Although it is expected that its practitioners follow the same theoretical and practical foundation—ethical, pedagogical, aesthetic, philosophical, and political, systematized by Augusto Boal—TO in India must be Indian, or Mozambique’s Mozambican, or Palestine’s Palestinian, or Canada’s Canadian, and Brazil’s Brazilian. TO should be identified with the locale specifics where be practiced.

The rigorous attention to the basis of the Method guarantees a global identity that allows a practitioner from India to recognize himself in a Forum made in Mozambique. And the principle that this technique must be in service of people, considering their concrete needs and specific location demands, requires and promotes diversity. The Theater of the Oppressed must be the same in every place, being at the same time, specific in each one of them.

The Groups of Theater of the Oppressed—GTO’s—work in varied issues, from domestic, urban and sexual violence, to agrarian reform; from AIDS prevention to racial, social, and gender discrimination; from sexual plurality to labor rights, among others.

These are issues of many lives, of many places; therefore, how can someone train to assume the role of the Curinga? How can we guarantee a qualification that takes into account such great complexity?

Qualification must, essentially, be uninterrupted and long-term, so that it does not restrict itself to theoretical studies, depend on the practical experimentation and demand human maturity. Theater of the Oppressed can only be appropriated by someone who generously shares his/her knowledge and experiences. It is a method that it is only learned by teaching and one which is only taught being open to learning. This process of formation just can take place giving time its time.

Paraphrasing Antônio Machado[2], a Kuringa is a traveler who makes his/her way by walking. This journey begins in its multiplication. The way is infinite. Its diverse destinations are the overcoming of oppressive realities.

While having a solid base, cemented in Ethics and Solidarity, TO is not a static Method or conclude: it amplifies with each discovery and deepens in each systematization. This dynamic is the principal challenge in the formation of the one who wishes to take on the role of a Kuringa.

A Method in constant movement and development, in principle, cannot have formed specialists. Its practitioners must be people in movement, in a state of learning, conscious that knowledge is a life-long endeavor and not a bureaucratic accumulation. Throughout his whole life, Augusto Boal was in motion, facing each discovery as reference point for a new beginning.

In Theater of the Oppressed, practical action feeds theoretical production which must be, at the same time, its foundation and starting point.

Augusto Boal initiated the systematization of his TO Method during the decade of the 1970’s, in Brazil (Newspaper Theater) and continued discovering techniques in his period of exile in Argentina (Invisible Theater), in Chile (Image Theater), in Peru (Forum Theater), in France (Rainbow of Desire) and everywhere else he went to before returning to Brazil in 1986. In Rio de Janeiro, he founded the Centro de Teatro do Oprimido,, with a team of Kuringas, and did not stop (Legislative Theater) his continuing research of Aesthetics of the Oppressed towards the end of his life, to constantly amplify TO’s arsenal of exercises and games.

Throughout the 23 years as Artistic Director of Centro de Teatro do Oprimido— CTO[3], Boal personally took care of the formation and realization of Kuringas from his team, through Theoretical Seminars, Practical Laboratories and Center of General Studies. Activities included the analysis and production of theoretical texts; evaluation of project development; revision, experimentation and systematization of exercises, games and techniques of the Tree of Theater of the Oppressed and its dramaturgy; and study of political and social themes. Jokers formed through their practical application in socio-cultural projects and analytic reflection in laboratories and seminars. Their qualification was forged in a continuous process of experimentation and theoretical production.

In the Centro de Teatro do Oprimido, Kuringas made their qualification way beginning with TO community groups where they initiated their process of multiplication.

Claudete Felix, Portuguese and Literature teacher, acted in a group of cultural presenters, supervised by Boal. Helen Sarapeck, biologist, and Olivar Bendelak, chemical engineer, were part of the group Arajuba na Moita. Geo Britto, sociologist, collaborated in a group comprised of trade union bankers. Flávio Sanctum, pedagogue, was member of two groups, GHOTA and Artemanha. Claudia Simone, educational psychologist, initiated her experience organizing the group Pirei na Cenna. And I, Bárbara Santos, sociologist, in the group Virando a Mesa, formed by teachers.

Among associated Kuringas: Cláudio Rocha, arts educator, commenced his experience with the group Pressão no Juízo, in Pernambuco; Yara Toscano, psychologist, and Kelly di Bertoli, professional actress, through CTO projects in São Paulo.

More recent members of the team are Monique Rodrigues, of the group Panela de Opressão, and Alessandro Conceição, of the group Pirei na Cenna.

Multiplication can be initiated formally, within a group and by gradually amplifying its reach through workshops and courses; organizing and coordinating community groups; producing performances; mediating theatrical dialogues, stimulating concrete and continuous social actions, and producing systems of their practical experience.

In the current structure of CTO, there are Practitioners of the Method acting as Kuringa, as Assistant-Kuringas and as Community-Kuringas.

Assistant-Kuringas are practitioners that assume specific responsibilities in practical activities, not yet having the autonomy to conduct entire works as a whole. This experience functions as supervised training and a strategy towards their qualification.

Community-Kuringas are members of a TO groups that outstand as an internal coordinator, who master a specific theme for performance, and have the conditions to lead exercises and games, to orient rehearsals and facilitate theatrical dialogues, exercising the Role of the Kuringa in the particular surroundings of his or her collective. This community work, at first restricted to the specifics of the group, can stimulate the amplification of this Role for other themes. It’s a strategy for qualification that guarantees the autonomy of our community groups.

Kuringar[4] means to mediate dialogue between the stage and auditorium in sessions of Forum Theater or debate in sessions of Legislative Theater, promoting dialogue in any activity of Theater of the Oppressed. Kuringar means to stimulate the spectator to leave his position as consumer of a cultural product and be, in its place, producer of culture and knowledge, or instead of citizen: agent in the transformation of reality. The Act of Kuringar, by itself, does not transform a Practitioner of Theater of the Oppressed into a Kuringa, but is an essential exercise for his or her formation.

The intense diffusion of Theater of the Oppressed in Brazil provoked a need to create programs for the qualification of its Practitioners, in order to guarantee access to the fundamentals of the Method and to adequately exercise its practice. Throughout the past twelve years, these programs were pedagogically structured by the CTO team, not to form Kuringas, but to offer a solid basis for everyone who wanted to begin a journey as Practitioners of the Method.

To exert the role of the Kuringa, the activities of multiplication are essential; therefore, the development of these skills has been the center of CTO’s qualification programs, which benefitted activists from cultural groups, social movements, and socio-cultural institutions, who utilized TO in their community activities, in order to make them more dynamic, diverse, and amplified.

The current programs coordinated by CTO to continue the qualification of Practitioners of the Method do not distinguish themselves solely on their territorial dimensions—Brazil, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, with ramifications in Angola and repercussions in Senegal—but, more importantly, by their innovation and consistency in its pedagogical structure.

From the approximately 700 Practitioners of Theater of the Oppressed that were, or are currently, qualified by CTO between 2006-2010[5], many where, evidently, emerging as participants of a new generation of Kuringas, influenced by diverse cultures, identities, experiences, knowledge and personalities. A generation that will follow Boal’s dream that the whole world can exert the basic, human right to make theater and to express him or herself through aesthetic means.

The accumulated experience of this historic process points out the need to advance the systematization of programs for the qualification of Kuringas. Programs that benefit from the conquests attained, search for the resolution of identified insufficiencies, advance the strategies accompanying projects developed by those already formed, and stimulate action through networks, theoretical production and international communication.

The Theater of the Oppressed has not yet completed four decades of existence; nevertheless, it is present in five continents, being utilized by hundreds of practitioners, benefitting thousands of people. Its practices are diverse, in dimensions, action areas, styles, goals and results.

The impressive diffusion of the Method creates a need to strengthen the foundation and basic principles of the Tree of Theater of the Oppressed and to systematize its pedagogical structure, in order to guarantee its authenticity, wherever it is being applied.

Being a Kuringa or being in the process of becoming one, Practitioners of Theatre of the Oppressed must commit to the humanistic, pedagogic, and democratic essence of the Method. Ethics and solidarity as fundamentals and guide. Multiplication and organization as strategies. The promotion of continuous and concrete social actions for the transformation of oppressive realities as a goal.

Translation: Kyoung Park

[1] Curinga is the original terminology and comes from a creative process of acting that Augusto Boal developed in the Teatro de Arena, in São Paulo-Brasil, during 1960s. Afterwards he used the same title to identify the Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner and its expert (which mean the one who is in the continuing process of research and learning). Normally, Curinga is transle into English as Joker. On the international communication, Bárbara is adopting the word Kuringa.

[2] Spanish poet.

[3] Av. Mem de Sá, 31 – Lapa – RJ / RJ - Brasil CEP: 20.230-150 55 21 2232-5826

[4] We could say that this is a specific verb in TO language which expresses an important role of the Kuringa (Joker): Kuringar (jokering).

[5] The projects developed in this period had the support from the Brazil government: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Culture. The last one is the bigger actual partners of CTO.


  1. Barbara -
    Thank you for this well thought out article on the real-life work of a Kuringa.
    I especially appreciated this quote, "The Kuringa is the one who facilitates this Dialogue, establishing horizontal communication that is both investigatory and goal-oriented. To facilitate does not mean to offer answers or present paths, but to help in the analysis of alternatives presented with questions and inciting comparisons, that encourage expression and guarantee a space for a diversity of opinions."

    It is one of the most beautiful parts of being a Kuringa. I feel honored to be part of a process where people are practicing their power, using their voices, and creating a new world through their actions and ideas. It is such a joyous feeling and it is only the beginning of a long but brilliant road of working towards liberation.

  2. Barbara I am only starting on the road to understanding T.O. but this article is one more step in the long road. Thanks a lot.
    Jim Aherne - Project Director ALa - Galway, Ireland