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Augusto Boal illustration by Alan Hindle

By Alan Hindle

Saturday October 1, 2005

Augusto Boal’s struggle for pension

Augusto Boal, 74, one of the last true giants of the international theatre world, has been fighting Brazilian bureaucracy for the last nine years to obtain his legally guaranteed state pension.

Shortly following the 1971 publication of his book Theatre of the Oppressed, Boal was arrested by the junta military government controlling the country and tortured for four months before being released into exile. Fleeing from Argentina to Paris he began developing and disseminating his revolutionary social action theatre techniques, setting up a dozen drama schools around Europe. In 1986, following the overthrow of the dictatorship, Boal returned to Rio de Janeiro and ran for public election, becoming a Vereador, or city councilor, in 1992. Since 1996, however, when at the age of 65 he should have begun receiving his senior’s pension he was refused because he is still classed as an enemy of the state.

Boal appears never to have talked openly about his time under the torturer’s lash. According to Brazzil Magazine there were several standard methods of inflicting pain for information and recreation used by the authorities between 1964 and 1986. They ranged from bouts of drowning to ‘simple’ psychological torture, such as were reputedly discovered in use at Abu Graib. “The Telephone” was another method consisting of simultaneously clapping both ears of the victim from behind to create a pressure pocket crushing the inner eardrums and then of course electric shock brought about by connecting wires between a car battery and the subject’s eyes, genitals, underneath toe and fingernails and on the back around the kidneys. One particularly cruel game was the “Parrot’s Perch”. The victim’s wrists and ankles were tied, behind their back, to a metal bar and they were suspended by the bar between two tables and left to hang a foot above the ground. This could only be used for a couple hours at a time as more than four hours in this position tended to result in death.

It can be safely supposed some variation of these tortures were used on Boal during his four months of incarceration, yet when given the chance he moved back to Brazil and ran for political office in the hopes of helping heal his homeland. This takes an uncommon courage and love for one’s birthplace, yet now in his old age he is being refused a pension because he is still, officially, a ‘menace to society’.

Last year Boal required medical assistance while in the US but did not have insurance for treatment there. David Diamond, artistic director of Vancouver’s Headlines Theatre and a friend, wrote and rallied the worldwide performance community, raising over $20,000 to pay these bills and is now attempting to evoke a similar response, but for letters of support.

As Diamond explains, Boal is not a pauper, it’s the principle at stake.
“[Augusto Boal] does work all over the world, and a lot of his earnings go into his companies. I don’t know the amount, but I would suggest the issue here is he’s legally entitled to the pension. The trouble is in giving him amnesty for his work in Brazil.”

Every drama student has experienced some aspect of Boal’s teachings. Readers wishing to make their voice heard should send an email to [email protected] and a BCC (blind carbon copy, so the receiver does not have to see who else is receiving) to Boal’s lawyer, [email protected] and Augusto himself, [email protected]

Diamond informs me over a thousand letters have already reached wavering bureaucrats. Another thousand might push them to act and not merely observe lethargically from behind their own red tape.