The Art of Legislation

Augusto Boal

Former Greater London Council Debating Chamber, County Hall, London
27 November 1998

It was theatre, fiction. Even so, it showed possible paths: by means of theatre, law can be made. Theatre as politics, not just political theatre. – Augusto Boal

A series of workshops with activists from different groups in and around London culminated in a one-off performance at the former Debating Chamber at County Hall. Writer, performer and social engineer Augusto Boal, well known for his Legislative Theatre practice, ‘passed’ proposals for changes in London housing, education and transport.

Augusto Boal, who died in May 2009, was in the United Kingdom in the Autumn of 1998 on a lecture tour coinciding with the publication of his book Legislative Theatre. Artangel invited him to present a project applying his theories and experience in the pursuit of change within three major areas of public life affecting London: housing (where we live), education (how and what we're taught) and transportation (how we get from A to B). Boal introduced his ideas and this project for London at Conway Hall, 28 October, and then conducted a series of workshops to generate debate and to contrast opinions within a mixed group of practitioners and activists for change in these areas.

The final event on 27 November was the United Kingdom's first glimpse of legislative theatre in action as an animated event in the resonant setting of the former debating chamber at County Hall, a location devoid of political debate since Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council in 1986.

Image: Procession inside the Debating Chamber at County Hall, London, as part of The Art of Legislation, 1998. Still: Augusto Boal

Making The Art of Legislation

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The Solemn Session consisted, first, of the invocation of divine protection (I sought protection, as you can imagine, from the two excellent friendly gods, Apollo and Dionysus); this was followed by the presentation of each of the three scenes, with spectators intervening in search of legal solutions. – Augusto Boal

Making of The Art of Legislation

Excerpt from Hamlet and the Baker’s Son: My Life in Theatre and Politics, 2001 by Augusto Boal

In London we did a Solemn Symbolic Session. Organised by Artangel, it was a condensed session of Legislative Theatre. Three subject groups – directed by Adrian Jackson (Transport), Paul Heritage (Homelessness) and Ali Campbell (Education) – presented short pieces in the Debating Chamber of the Greater London Council, which was closed down during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. I presided over the session, seated in the imposing Chairman’s Chair, so heavy as to be immovable, surrounded by well-known public figures and writers – Lisa Jardine, Tariq Ali and Paul Hallan – and a lawyer (Mark Stephens). Julián Boal and a young woman linked the table to the public, who were installed in the erstwhile seats of the legislators. At my side, Orlando Seale, and actor from the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Tim Wheeler, director of Mind the Gap, an arts and disability organisation, dressed as my guardian angel. A band improvised the music.

The Solemn Session consisted, first, of the invocation of divine protection (I sought protection, as you can imagine, from the two excellent friendly gods, Apollo and Dionysus); this was followed by the presentation of each of the three scenes, with spectators intervening in search of legal solutions. At the end of each forum, spectators drafted the laws in their own manner, writers gave them a literary form, lawyers added the legal trappings; at the end of the evening I put these to the vote.

It was theatre, fiction. Even so, it showed possible paths: by means of theatre, law can be made. Theatre as politics, not just political theatre.


Solemn Symbolic Session of Reopening of the General London Council

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Solemn Symbolic Session of Reopening of the General London Council (GLC)

As spoken by Augusto Boal GLC Debating Chambers
Sunday 22 November 1998

In the name of Thespis, the first Actor who dared to jump out of the religious Chorus and improvise his own profane words, think his own thoughts, realise his own actions and, by so doing, he invented the Protagonist and created Theatre under the protection of two excellent Gods: Dionysus, who invented Joy and Happiness, and Apollo, who invented Beauty and Order;

in deep respect for Ken Livingstone and all the Legislators who made the Law in London until 1986, those men and women who made this building to be the House of Words and the House of Reason, before it became the House of Silence;

in the name of the people of London, who have the right to let their own hearts beat in their own rhythms, to speak their own diverse voices and minds freely;

In our own name, all of us, we who take the responsibility to propose this Solemn Symbolic Session of Legislative Theatre; we, who believe that the “purpose of theatre was and is to hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”, and further, we who believe that, if we don't like our image reflected in that magic mirror of the theatre, we have the right to invade that mirror and transform those ugly features into more agreeable ones – and, in so doing, transform ourselves and invent our future instead of merely waiting for it – we have the right to come back to real life to create a new and more humane reality around us;

Finally, in the name of Democracy, in the name of Freedom, in the name of Desire, in the name of Good Sense, we declare open this Solemn Symbolic Session.


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Tonight the derelict debating chamber in County Hall will once again resound to animated discussion thanks to an experiment organised by the Brazilian theatre pioneer, Augusto Boal. – Dominic Cavendish

Selected Press

The great debating chamber in the old County Hall lies bleak, dark and empty, a stage without actors or lines. Mothballed in 1983 when Mrs Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council, its oak desks are covered in dust-sheets, and the panelling with spiders. The 94-year-old symbol of London’s civic democracy is now owned by a Japanese hotel corporation. But tomorrow evening 300 people - including, it is hoped, Ken Livingstone, Jeffrey Archer and the other would-be mayors of London - will occupy it for a piece of interactive theatre led by a few professionals but mainly by housing and transport activists. The audience will be asked to turn into actors, to ‘express their desires’ and to enact solutions to the social problems the players express. – John Vidal, The Guardian, 26 November 1998

London is not Rio, but we may well be ready for reform in some areas. Boal is to work in London for a month with artists and activists employed in housing, transport and education towards an ambitious event on November 27 in County Hall. Artworks will be on display, but there will also be debate - the result of workshops held during the previous week - aimed at making new laws. Lawyers and politicians will be available. While it is unlikely to prove more than “symbolic”, says Boal, some pleasure may be gained from trying to influence events in the old GLC headquarters. – Heather Neill, Times Educational Supplement, 6 November 1998

If you've ever sat through a council meeting, you'll know just how close the proceedings often come to amateur panto. Social scientist and theatrical pioneer Augusto Boal goes the whole hog towards dramatising politics with The Art of Legislation. – Evening Standard, 27 November 1998

About Augusto Boal

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Augusto Boal

Hamlet says in his famous speech to the actors that theatre is a mirror in which may be seen the true image of nature, of reality. I wanted to penetrate this mirror, to transform the image I saw in it and to bring that transformed image back to reality: to realise the image of my desire. I wanted it to be possible for spectators to transgress, to break the conventions, to enter the mirror of a theatrical fiction, rehearse forms of struggle and then return to reality with the images of their desires. This discontent was the genesis of the legislative theatre in which the citizen makes the law through the legislator. – Augusto Boal

The late Brazilian writer, politician and theatre director and innovator Augusto Boal was a visionary in drama, who reinvented political theatre and used theatre as a method of social change and reform. Boal trained as an industrial chemist in Brazil then studied drama at Colombia University, simultaneously completing his masters in chemical engineering. Whilst in New York he wrote and directed his first play The House Across the Street (1955).

On returning to Brazil, Boal became director of the Arena theatre, São Paulo, and pioneered new methods in agitprop theatre, taking plays into the Brazilian countryside and devloping audience participation. Arrested by the Brazilian military junta in 1971 and exiled to Argentian, Boal continued to practice his ideas and eventually in 1974 published his much acclaimed book, Theatre of the Oppressed.

Boal was a professor at the Sorbonne and a member of Rio de Janeiro's city council in the mid 90s, where he developed Legislative Theatre. He worked in the UK with the Royal Shakespeare Company and notably with Cardboard Citizens. In his lifetime he received many honorary doctorates and was awarded the Pablo Picasso medal by UNESCO and The Cross Border Award for Peace and Democracy by Dundalk Institute of Technology. Boal was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, the year before his death.

Images: Augusto Boal in the former Debating Chamber at County Hall, London, November 1998

Inner City

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Inner City

Inner City explored the interface of the city and the word in both its spoken and written forms. It will encourage writes and artists to excavate a range of urban places and contemplate the changing nature of city environments and the counterpoint between narrative and place; between language and location.

Writers and thinkers of all kinds — from architectural and social historians and urban geographers to scientists, philosophers, poets and novelists — have been invited to consider different aspects of the inner city, and work with us to define an appropriate form for the expression of their ideas, spoken or written, live or recorded.

A significant opportunity to speak to new audiences in new ways, Inner City builds on the current appetite for new thinking across art forms and relocates it in the many centers of the metropolis — in the places we think we know,  as well as the places that elude us.

Projects range from the re-invention of a traditional form of address (the lantern lecture; the walking tour) to pre-recorded audio guides for particular places by artists; the urban environment viewed as a historical network of personal experience, pathways and relocollections; an A-Z of the city's insides.

Surface Noise

The Art of Legislation

The Vertical Line

Rodinsky's Whitechapel

The Missing Voice (Case Study B) 



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Who made this possible?


Comissioned by Artangel as part of Inner City, a series exploring the interface of the city and the word in its many forms. Inner City encouraged writers and artists to excavate a range of urban environments and to contemplate the chnaging nature of the city and the counterpoint between narrative and place, between language and location. Produced with assistance from the National Lottery through the A4E scheme administered by the Arts Council of England. Funders and collaborators: Bloomberg and Whitechapel Gallery.

Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.