Games Classes: What We Played

In October of 2011 T.O. Philly held a series of short drop-in classes that bought together an assortment of games and exercises to be used with any group. Whether working with kids or young adults in a classroom, actors or dancers on a stage, organizers and activists fighting for a cause, or even friends or family in our communities, these games are useful tools to bring people together while thinking outside the box. We made time and space available after each session to strategize how we use these games in the work that we do.
Below is a list of games that we played each week, along with a little overview. Many games have been passed along by other practitioners of Theatre of the Oppressed, some directly from T.O. founder Augusto Boal, or via his book Games for Actors & Non-Actors. Other sources are given below:
Week 1:
Name Three Times—Circle name-game where the person in the middle tries to get out by saying someone's name three times without interruption.
Writing Names—A partner name-game in which people tell each other about themselves and then write each other's names in the air using different parts of the body.
Cat & Mouse—Tag game with duos of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder while a mouse runs away from a cat. The mouse can escape by joining a duo, thereby turning the person on the other side of their neighbor into the new mouse.
Walking in Pairs—A series of theatrical walks that each person performs for and with a partner. We played with eye contact, speeds, sizes, distances, moods, mirroring, opposites and several made-up environments or situations.
Unifying Rhythms—Adapted from Boal's "Carnaval Em Rio," individuals make different movements and sounds and then morph them into one unified rhythm.
Closing Clap—In the circle, all start with hands apart, then try to bring them together at the same time.

Week 2:
Whoosh Boing Zap Freakout—Variation on classic circle games like "Pass the Clap" or "Zip-Zap-Zop" where a sound and gesture is passed around or across the circle. Picked up from members of Chicago's RedMoon Theatre.
Enormous Elephant—First layer is a name game where each person picks an alliterative animal identity, second layer is a rhythm game with an ever-changing pecking order. Adapted from "King Elephant" in The New Games Book and a more modern version called "Big Booty" that we picked up from some prison abolitionists in Pittsburgh.
Go Tag—Another one from The New Games Book, originally from India, a line of people conspire to catch a single runner.
Empty Chair Tag—One chair per person, all filled but one. The person who's "it" walks toward the empty chair and it's up to everyone else to prevent them from sitting down.
Switching Places in the Circle—Similar game, only chairs are in a circle with one fewer chairs than people. People switch places while the person stuck in the middle runs for a free seat. Can also be played without chairs.
The Red Shoes (a.k.a. "Big Wind Blows")—Similar game, only the person in the middle makes a statement that's true about themselves and all who share in that truth get up to find an empty seat. In Theatre of the Oppressed we often "up-level" the game by playing a second round focusing on experiences of oppression.
Animal Tracker—Partner game where each person who has their eyes open leads their partner with eyes closed around the room by making animal noises.
Week 3:
Hey You! What's Your Name?—Circle game where one person points at another, asks their name and moves across the circle to take their place while that next person continues the process. We played 3 rounds: 1st with the question, 2nd without the question, 3rd the answer being the name of the pointer.
Captain's Coming—The Crew must follow orders given by the Captain(s) or else walk the plank: Captain's coming! At ease! Crew to Port/Starboard/Stern/Bow, swab the deck, Captain's ball, chow time, and maybe some other orders we made up along the way.
Peruvian Ballgame—Classic Theatre of the Oppressed game developed in Peru. Each person makes and plays with an imaginary ball, then swaps it with one person, then a second, before trying to find and reclaim the ball that each originally had. Our version was extra hard because we swapped balls 3 times before trying to find our originals!
The Cloth Game—Members of two teams try to score points either by tagging a cloth or tagging the person who tagged the cloth before they can get back to their place in line. This game comes from the Jana Sanskriti Theatre of the Oppressed movement in India, and also appears in Augusto Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors book using a hat instead of a cloth.
Blind Obstacle Course—Another Jana Sanskriti game. Two teams each send a member out with eyes closed to sit in a chair, write their name on a piece of paper, sit in another chair and then click 2 sticks together. Sighted teammates can give verbal guidance to aid (or abet) their teammate.
Find Your Mama Like A Little Penguin—In a circle, each person makes a non-vocal noise with their mouths and remembers the sounds of those on either side of them. All players close their eyes and wander around the room, then try to get back into place by recognizing the sounds of their original neighbors.
Handshakes, High-Fives & Hugs—Each person has one other person with whom they shake hands, a different person that they high-five, and third person to hug. Facilitator calls out "Handshake! High-Five! Hug!" and everybody must run and pair up with the right person on cue.
Circle of Hands/Crossed Hands/Hands to the Floor—Rhythm games using patterns of hands making rhythms on and off the floor.

Playing the Cop in the Head

This is a notice about past events. For information on upcoming events, click here.
A Theatre of the Oppressed Performance
Friday, October 14th, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
Studio 34 • 4522 Baltimore Avenue
right on the #34 trolley line in West Philadelphia
A free event • donations welcome
THE COP IN THE HEAD is a Theatre of the Oppressed technique that deals with internalized oppression. Whenever we stop ourselves from doing what want to do or saying what we need to say, there may be discouraging voices and experiences from our past that hinder our actions. In this interactive performance, we’ll take these “cops” out of our heads and deal with them one by one, with the aim of disarming them altogether.
FOR MORE INFO please call 215-730-0982 or send an email to "" and click here to attend the event on Facebook.

A Theatre of the Oppressed Glossary

Like any profession or educational system, Theatre of the Oppressed has its own terminology. Some terms are derived from traditional forms of drama, others from anti-oppression pedagogy, such as popular education. One of Theatre of the Oppressed's goals is to "multiplicate" (from the Portuguese verb "multiplicar"—to multiply), meaning to make its language and methodology accessible to as many people as possible. So far this aim has been largely successful: Theatre of the Oppressed is now used by millions of people in more than 70 countries.
In hopes that more people will put Theatre of the Oppressed into practice, we have started a glossary of terms here—"started" because this is an open document. If you want to add an entry or alter a definition, leave a comment on this page!
Terms Commonly Used in Theatre of the Oppressed:
  • Actor: A person who performs an action, whether onstage or off.
  • Ally: A person with privilege who takes action in support of oppressed people. (Also see potential ally.)
  • Antagonist: A character in conflict with the story’s protagonist.
  • Cop in the Head: A Theatre of the Oppressed technique aimed at dismantling internalized oppression.
  • Difficultator: A facilitator who offers challenges to a group as part of a workshop process.
  • Dynamization: The process of adding movements, sounds and words into a piece of Image Theatre.
  • Facilitator: A person who directs the flow of a discussion or workshop. Literally “one who makes things easy.”
  • Forum Theatre: A play performed in front of an audience in which audience members can step onstage, take the place of a character or characters and change the story’s outcome.
  • Games/Gamesercizes: Group activities that get people comfortable with themselves and each other, build trust and develop skills necessary for working with the language of Theatre of the Oppressed.
  • Ideal image: A desired, improved variation on the Real Image in Image Theatre.
  • Image: A motionless sculpture made from human figures.
  • Image Theatre: A form of Theatre of the Oppressed that uses collectively constructed still images to convey meaning.
  • Institutional power: The ability or authority to decide what's best for others, to decide who can access resources, and to exercise control over others. 
  • Joker: The facilitator/difficultator in a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop.
  • Kinesthetic: Relating to the body and/or movement.
  • Mask: An image that an actor takes on to embody a character.
  • Mirror: When an actor or actors take on the image, movements, sounds, words, characteristics and/or actions of another actor.
  • Objective observation: Responding to an image with commentary on its physical nature alone.
  • Oppressed: Anyone who is subject to others having power over them.
  • Oppression: The combination of prejudice and institutional power which creates a system that discriminates against some groups (often called “target groups”) and benefits other groups (often called “dominant groups”).  
  • Oppressor: A person who exerts power over another person. (Also see passive oppressor.)
  • Passive oppressor: A person who oppresses by taking actions that support oppression and/or failing to take action to help the oppressed.
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed: A practice of teaching and learning developed by Paolo Friere that inspired his friend Augusto Boal to create Theatre of the Oppressed.
  • Player: Participant in a theatre workshop or performance.
  • Potential ally: A person who has the power to help an oppressed individual or group but may not have taken actions to actually help.
  • Power: See institutional power.
  • Privilege: Personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional systems that benefit members of dominant groups at the expense of members of target groups. Literally means "Private law."
  • ProtagonistA main character from whose perspective a story is told.
  • Rainbow of Desire: A specific therapeutic theatre technique, and also a family of techniques, aimed at dismantling internalized oppression.
  • Real imageA representation of an oppressive situation as seen by the people who create the image.
  • Sculpt: The process of creating images with people’s bodies.
  • Self-sculpt: To create an image with one’s own body.
  • Simultaneous Dramaturgy: A technique for rehearsal and performance where onlookers can freeze a scene, direct actors to do something differently, then unfreeze the scene to see the changes.
  • Spect-actor: A participant in the Theatre of the Oppressed, both spectator and actor.
  • Subjective observation: Responding to an image with commentary based on perception, speculation and intuition. 
  • Technique: An intricate Theatre of the Oppressed exercise, more complicated than games.
  • Theatre of the Oppressed: A system of theatrical games and techniques that examine and dismantle dynamics of oppression.
  • Theatre pedagogy: The use of theatre to develop language and social awareness; Theatre of the Oppressed is a form of theatre pedagogy.
  • TO: Abbreviation for "Theatre of the Oppressed."
Again, this is an open document: If you want to add an entry or alter a definition, leave a comment on this page!