Leadership Theatre Event

David M. Boje  


Page Born on: December 24, 2001


Page Index: | Image Theatre | Invisible Theatre | Forum Theatre | Writing up Team Commentary | Purpose and Process of the Leadership Theatre Event (skit) | Brecht's Epic Theatre | See Boal Games of Power with McDonalds examples | Study guide for conducting Boal with bit of Brecht workshop 2003 | McDonald's, McDonaldland, & McDonaldization main web site |

Web Directory: |Assignment Schedule| Leadership Theatre Resources | Syllabus|

This page contains help and hints on designing effective in class Leadership Theatre skits. For the basic roles of the skit and how it is evaluated, see Purpose and Process of the Leadership Theatre Event (skit). For a cool project, try creating a Matrix Story Game (does not have to be done with dice and board, just create character cards and use some Rules of Matrix Story Games

Background - Inspiration for Theatre of Leadership owes much to Augusto Boal (1979); first in his book Theater of the Oppressed, translated from the Spanish Teatro de Oprimido (1974a); a more recent collection of his talks and training approaches, in Games for actors and non-actors (1992); and his latest take, Rainbow of Desire, The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy (1996). Boal’s theory is we are part spectator and part actor, and when we cross the divide between audience and stage, to join with the actors,  this makes us spect-actors. Boal designs three kinds of theatre that we can apply to leadership: Image, Invisible, and Forum). Note there are more choices for designing your skits; see Boje's (2001a) for a Dozen more Experiential Exercises in Theatres of Leadership

Introduction - Leadership is theatre. We begin with a brief overview of Aristotle's Poetics, then turn quickly to Boal's (1992) three kinds of theatre (Image, Invisibility, & Forum) we can apply to leadership training. Leaders perform all six poetic parts of theatre that Aristotle (1450a: 5, p. 231) wrote about in 350 BCE. But, I shall hypothesize that their ordering has changed in this postmodern world, where spectacle has more value than plot. The following lists the elements in the order of importance Aristotle gave them:

  1. Plot - Aristotle believed story (plot) the most important of the six parts; plot is a combination of incidents and is the purpose of the theatrics; the incidents arouse pity and fear in the spectators (e.g. seeing the suffering by some deed of horror), other times amusement or irony. In comedy, the bitterest enemies walk off good friends at the end of their conflict.

  2. Character - The second is character, "what makes us ascribe certain moral qualities to the agents (actors)" (1450a: 5, p. 231). Characters reveal the moral purpose of the agents, i.e. the sort of thing they seek or avoid (1450b: 5, p. 232). Moral purpose of the character is revealed by what they say or do on stage (1453: 19, p. 242)

  3. Theme - The third element is thought (i.e. theme), shown in all the characters say and do in proving or disproving some particular point, or enunciating some universal proposition.

  4. Dialog - Fourth, is the diction (dialog), the verbal and non-verbal exchanges among characters. This is resource to express character, plot, and theme.

  5. Rhythm - Rhythm can be fast or slow, repetitive or chaotic, gentle or harsh. I.e. The leader character can be a workaholic making everyone work at fast and harsh pace. The rhythm can slow down or build up to give emphasis. 

  6. Spectacle - Aristotle thought spectacle, though an attraction, to be the least artistic of all the parts, requiring extraneous aid (1450b: 15, p. 232 & p. 240); it is the stage appearance of the actor; what the costumier does; pity and fear may be aroused by spectacle, but better to arouse these emotions in the spectators by the plot, the incidents of the play (1453, 13, p. 239). 

Since Aristotle's day, spectacle has moved from sixth place to first, and leadership has become more about conducting spectacle than plot and character; the scenery has overtaken attention to the story (or plot). For More Intro to Leadership is Theatre, please click for THEATRICS OF LEADERSHIP. For more on spectacle, see SPECTACLE STUDY GUIDE.  Next is an overview of three types of theatre (Boal, 1992). Incorporate just one type per skit. 

Image Theater (Silent Theatre in Animated Body Sculpture).

Image Theater sets up a stage, in which we can see the body motions and interactions, in what is known as a body sculpture. Image Theater is a silent theater, a great stage to begin leadership training. 

With Image Theater we could act out the qualities Ritzer (2000) describes in McDonaldization; the efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control that comes from combining Max Weber’s bureaucratic-authority with Henry Ford’s assembly line, and Frederick Taylor’s principles of scientific management. It is this process of rationalization, repetitiveness, and routine that we may overlook as a quite terrifying theater.

In Image Theater, once we have worked out the aspects of Fordism, Taylorism, and Weberism on stage, and we can visualize in Visual Theater some of the oppressions on stage, we can rescript the poses, interactions, and get some discussion of what a more ideal visual image would look like.

McDonald's Example: A presenting team might stage an Image Theater of McDonald’s that would be collective, animated, body sculpture. Script writers could research the McSpotlight web site and enact a scene from the famous McLibel trial http://www.mcspotlight.org/. There are other alternatives, such as taking a conflict-event from a team member's experience of bad leadership; or, how about two famous leaders caught in an everyday situation of oppression, such as sexual harassment, dealing with a character who is aggressive, a boss who is drunk or some kind of pain in the butt workaholic? Possibilities for skits are infinite, but usually involve a situation of conflict between characters, some kind of oppression is present. The McDonald's situation, is just an example; choose your own scene (Read up on the McDonald's example). 

Actor's Roles - The skit begins with characters taking their STATIC IMAGE on stage. Each actor claims a space on the stage.  The scene is frozen, waiting for the Director to clap and bring it to animated, dynamic life. Someone could depict the statue of a young teenager, smiling and about to say a scripted greeting from behind a counter (mouthing the words, but not actually speaking). Another person would be flipping burgers, another stuff bags with fries.  A few would be pretending to wear headsets so they can multi-task (produce and take orders from the drive-up window). Other bodies would form statuesque poses of customers waiting in lines acting bored, or seated at tables pretending to eat. Kneeling actors could pose as children engaged in play. 

Director's Role - Director gives the signal (clap) to animate the model of McDonald’s on stage. Director can also freeze the actors (e.g. Simon Says "Freeze your pose" but again no words are uttered; its all body language). The director coordinates the sequence of episodes in the skips with some GRAND CLAPS (Loud and directed at the entire group of players). Secondly, there are a series of softer claps done in rapid or slow succession to control the rhythm of a specific episode. It will take practice to get characters and director into coordination. 

Scene 1: Strike a Pose - Cast members could, for example, assume statue poses of various worker, manager, owner, and customer roles (and processes) that make up McDonald’s fast-food factory.  enact the various scenes, scripts, and poses of McDonald’s Theater of Leadership Robots. 

Scene 2: Director Claps for 1st Dynamization (RHYTHM) - With a clap of your director, the static pose, animates and becomes dynamic. The Rhythm of the dynamization is fast, repetitive, and mechanistic; be the machine. McDonald's Theater could be scripted as a bureaucratic and Tayloristic assembly line tragedy. This production theater is a highly bureaucratic and scientific management script, a fast food assembly line. In 1st Dynamization, the spectators see a collection of individuals on stage, each doing their own rhythm, but not interacting. Throughout the skit, the Director can clap fast to speed up the rhythm, or clap in slower pace to slow it down to a stall, to a freeze frame; then clap more rapidly to speed it up. (Note - Director clappi9ng each time can get kind of annoying. So limit its use to training and rehearsing).

Scene 3: Director Claps for 2nd Dynamization (CHARACTER) - With this grand clap, the interaction begins. The individual Character begin to interact with each other. It is all non-verbal (no speaking roles; no narrator). Good skits have a conflict; interaction brings this out. 

Scene 4: Director Claps for 3rd Dynamization (THEME)- The theme of oppression starts to be dramatized by the players, as they interact. The point is to make the oppressive image become as real as possible. 

Scene 5: Director Claps for 4th Dynamization (PLOT). Here is where the pity and fear emotions get evoked in the spectator.  Its time to call forth the enactment of the tragic flaw, the one spectators seek to avoid in their own life, so they do not have the same fate.  Rehearse the skit - try out a oppressive scene, then ask, "what is the consequence" of this leader (or other characters oppression) on each other character?  And how will each character react?  Show acts of submission and resistance in the characters being oppressed and dominated. More variations - the Director could clap with more vigor and the actors who are oppressors could oppress more, intensifying their oppression; and the oppressed could be more resistant to the oppression with each rapid series of claps. Use succession of claps to keep the rhythm in the pace you are seeking. Bring it down to a standstill, to accentuate the shift in audience attention to the next step. 

Scene 6: Director Claps for 5th Dynamization (RESOLUTION).  How will the oppression being staged be eliminated?  You could fire the leader (not usually). You could train the characters to be more organic and less robotic (but that would change the theme of McDonaldization). You could add some new characters that change the chemistry of the performance. You could picket, boycott, or revolt (maybe there would be change). The point is to try out a resolution and see what reaction it gets from the spectators. 

Rescripting Leadership Theatre of McDonald's. One variation would be, for the Director to enact three magic wishes. For example, the director could wave a pretend wand over one of the oppressed characters, and extend the hand with three raised fingers, so both audience and character see the gesture. With each wish, the actors on stage start to change the motions and repetitions to try out alternatives to robotic leadership, so the spectators (in the audience) and spect-actors (on stage) can see what a change here or there would mean to McDonald's leadership.

Example, transform the real McDonald's model of leadership into an’ ideal model,’ in which the oppression (to customers, workers, animals, and managers) has been eliminated.

Curtain: Stop the Skit - when all liberation possibilities have been explored; all conflicts are resolved; if you like a happy ending go for that, otherwise, let the tragic flaws of the characters reach their tragic ending. After all these are character traits, and traits, do not change. 

Post-skit, COMMENTARY - Now the discussion begins. Words are absent in the skit, but not during the commentary; make the discussion as rich and interactive (with the spectators) as possible. The commentators relate the skit, as performed, to the reading assignments for that week. For example, the 1st Team is doing a skit with topics such as supermen/women; Machiavelli; McClelland, etc. Commentators could relate the skit to how "will to power" of supermen/women plays out in the oppression or the manner of its resistance; there could be a Machiavellian character; or someone could comment upon McClelland's 'need for achievement,' 'need for power,' or 'need for affiliation.'  You don't have to cover every aspect; pick out what is interesting for you and the class to explore. The bigger question we explore in this week, is about "traits" (what are the traits of leaders, both oppressive (tragically flawed ones) and romantic (heroic ones). Commentators can make the plot, characters, rhythm changes, theme, dialog, and spectacle clear; can also ask the spectators for script-changes, other resolutions, etc. 

Here are some additional ideas:

What conflict? E.g. McDonaldization is a theater resisted by workers tired of minimum wage and being treated like robots with only unskilled job options; resisted by managers who also perform like robots following very tightly coordinated scripts; and by consumers who hate fast food (others love it, think its like church, very routine; worship at the Golden Arches). Other conflicts: animals who do not like to become fast food; child labor making those toys that go into the Happy Meals (see Invisibility Theatre). 


Complaints from employees range from discrimination and lack of rights, to understaffing, few breaks and illegal hours, to poor safety conditions and kitchens flooded with sewage, and the sale of food that has been dropped on the floor (McSpotlight, 2001a).

How to apply Aristotle's Six Elements of Theatre to the Leadership Skit (Good stuff to do in post-skit commentary):

1. Plot: The McDonald's plot is to deskill workers and managers so they become robots in the machine. Good plot evoke pity and fear in the spectators; the spectator says in their head, "Dude, I do not want to be a cog in a machine." In seeing tragic theatre, the spectator is being taught a lesson; they do not want to end up experiencing the same fate as a character on stage, who has a tragic flaw. 

Subplot - depict just how scripted to its very core the modern corporation is, and how resistant we as consumers, workers, and managers are to changing those scripts.

2. Character - The moral purpose of each "character" is revealed by what they do or say (note: it is body speak, no words or sounds; it is image theatre). Typically, some characters are oppressed; others are oppressors (each has their unique moral purpose). Oppressors comes in many types: the angry boss, the bureaucratic rule follower, the pompous jerk, the workaholic boss trying to impose that rhythm on everyone else, the aggressive leader, the Machiavellian leader, etc. 

3. Theme: Aristotle's third element is THEME, and the theme of this sample skit is McDonaldization. The McDonald's Theme of an Image Theater Event, for example, would be a performance of McDonald’s (or Burger King, Wendy's or other fast food place) is to depict, not only its Weberian (Max Weber), Taylorist (Frederick Taylor), and Fordist (Henri Ford); it is the terror of being a robot in the machine. In English, when we give up our theatrical authenticity and become McDonald's leaders, we give up our personal power, and it becomes theatrical capital for others to control; owners who get rich from our robot leadership. 

4. Dialogue - Each actor acts out a McDonald’s theme of oppression. But, there is no spoken dialog. Just body language, the give and take of interaction, that constitute the episodes.

5. Rhythm - Body movements and rhythmic motions of body parts depict each episode of oppression. E.g. Could depict in McDonald's body sculpture, the standardized leader performance script, the routinized jobs, the same thing, same time, same place staging of working and eating games, makes it possible for us spectators to analyze the mechanistic aspects of McDonald’s. It is moving sculpture of the McDonald’s model of production and consumption. It depicts the repeated motions and scripted interactions between workers, between workers and managers, and between workers and customers.  The rhythm is machine-like and the people are robot-like in their repeated motions and interactions. 

6. Spectacle - This would be costuming; props and scenery. Not necessary to an artistic performance. Redundant says Aristotle. 

Instructor Follow-on to this Script - The instructor (Boal calls his role the ‘joker’) consults the audience and removes actors from the stage that have no apparent function or convey no meaning. The instructor might ask others to join the players on stage, or ask the audience what other characterizations are needed, or other forms of oppression, or other resolutions. Here is a basic structure (modify and adjust as needed).

Getting the entire audience to take parts in a full class animated body sculpture of McDonald's leadership. 
Instructor (Joker) signals participants to inter-relate their body motions to form the McDonald’s machine, live in class.
Modeling various kinds of oppression, suggested by the audience. 
Read up on McDonald's example

Invisibility Theater

Invisibility Theater is not realism; it is reality (Boal, 1992: 15).

Invisibility can add some verbal dialog, but the scenes should carry themselves with mostly the body language. Invisibility Theater brings the absent reality (most oppressed character) on stage; it becomes visible, no longer hidden or taken for granted reality. Note, you may want to start with a short scene of Image Theatre, to give the audience a good sense of the situation. 

Purpose: To act out real life, live situations of leadership, where the Theatre of Leadership is on center stage, where carnivalesque protest leadership resist status quo leadership. To get people in the real life theatre to debate their roles and plots in their day to day drama; to see the scripts they live and take for granted. Why? To subvert taken-for-granted normal behavior in a public space into reflected and debated roles and scripts. Its dramatic, its real, its alive, its passionate, and these are situations that require lots of leadership skill to address. Most of all, we can use Theatres of Leadership, on live stage, to try out solutions. Its about solutions, its not about ragging on corporate greed (always fun, but not the point). 

There are two types of Invisibility Theatre:

Type 1: Inviting Invisible Characters on Stage - Invisibility Theater brings the absent characters, those with roles in global capitalism onto the stage, so they become visible to the spectators. Here we continue the McDonald's example (you might want to try Taco Bell; demonstrators are now on tour protesting Taco Bell in cities across the land (Click here for Taco Bell info) ; why? - over their oppression of farm workers; another site). You don't have to do McDonald's or Taco Bell. These are mere examples (you could choose to do something on Disney, Nike, USAS at NMSU, or some other corporation, whose leadership is always in the spotlight). Choose whatever situation suits your fancy. Note: the example that follows is for illustration. You choose your own plot, theme, and subplot. You can rehearse Type 1 theatre scripts, then take them on the road, into the "real" in Type 2 invisibility Theatre.  

Example of Type 1 - SWEATSHOP FASHION SHOW Spect-actors are instructed toward articles of Reebok, Adidas, Nike, or New Balance (or others such as Kathie Lee Gifford clothing, Guess, Gear for Sports, Patagonia, Game, etc.). For background reading on sneaker companies, consult http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje. See USAS at NMSU site. Have each member of the class wear one high-priced garment to class, that they think was made in a sweatshop. 

Step 1 - Each spectator/model picks an article of clothing from wardrobe, made in a third world country. 

Step 2 - Instruct spectators to research the conditions of work, the health, safety, and human rights in the country from which their garment comes (tell them to look at the tag and do some research). Consult http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/nike/nikewithmap.html  for factory listings in sneaker industry. For other factories - do Google or other search for [ENTER these terms --  "work conditions" AND "country name" AND "boycott"]. Do another search on "Boycott" and "factory name"  -- This will get you info on activist research on the company and country.

Step 3 - Each spect-actor writes up an index card about the working conditions of the country and/or factory where their clothing or sneakers are made. They also write down their own name, the country, the factory location on the card. Each card is several sentence, but not longer, since that would get boring. 

Step 4 - Hand the card to the Master of Ceremonies of the anti-Sweatshop Fashion show. MC will read your card as you do a fashion runway walk in your sweatshop garment. The theatre begins as the master of ceremonies, using a microphone or megaphone, reads from each card as the actor crosses the stage. The point of the show is to provoke the audience into becoming spect-actors, to verbally express their view in debating the cohorts planted in the audience. 

Cohort Roles - In the audience, strategically seat several members of the team as cohort Actors.  Their role is to agitate the audience into becoming spect-actors.  Half play the role of those in favor of sweatshops, and half play the opposite role, against sweatshops. In sum, your team has several roles (a Master of Ceremonies, Floor models to model sweatshop goods, cohorts in favor of sweatshops, and cohorts against sweatshops.


"Welcome to our Sweatshop Fashion Show, a combination of political theater and educational comedy. Today, you’ll see our models displaying some of the latest fashions made in Asia, Latin America, the United States, Australia, and Canada” (from script I am writing). Instead of supermodels in barely clad silk dresses costing thousands of dollars, these garments are made in sweatshops, sold at our campus apparel store or local Wal-Mart. In such shows, staged on college campuses, on city streets, and in at the mall, models enter and walk across the catwalk wearing the latest Nike, Disney, Guess, Gap, Van Heusen, Tommy Hilfiger, and Wal-Mart brands as announcers comment on poverty wages and abusive working conditions. Your university has no doubt hosted similar Sweatshop Fashion shows highlighting working conditions in the garment industry in not only Latin America and Asia, but in metropolitan cities. Maquila Solidarity Network (2001a) even provides fashion show script ideas."

"This is Monica, she works in a Reebok factory in China. She earns 26 cents an hour for 10 hours work. She works 20 days straight and then has a day off. She lives in the factory dorms with 9 other women. She is 22 years old and wearing the Reebok sneakers she can purchase after 30 days of work, assuming she had no deductions for food, dues, etc. (original)."

Cohort 1 - "Man this is bogus. Who cares if their clothes are made in sweatshops. We buy the label. The label is what matters? Nobody cares!"

Cohort 2 - "Women work for 20 cents an hour or less in China to make these clothes. That is not enough to feed anybody."

Cohort 1 - "Sure it is. It costs a lot less to live in china than here."

Cohort 2 - "Right, you mean to starve, don't you.!"

Our next model, Sheila, is wearing body-hugging Guess jeans that were made in Mexico. Doesn’t Sheila look great? The Guess brand image is hot and sexy… Actually, "hot and sexist" is probably a better description of working conditions for the women sewing Guess products. Hot as in sweatshops, and sexist as in supervisors. An investigation of four Guess contractors in Mexico in 1998 found evidence of forced overtime, violations of child labor laws, unsafe working conditions, discrimination against pregnant women, poverty, repression and fear. Thank you, Sheila.” (MSN, 2001a) [See Boje, 2001g for references].

Cohort 1 - "People just want to look good. They don't care about sweatshops. Get a clue. Nobody is going to change their fashion habits because of this fashion show!"

Cohort 2 - "I care. I think other people care. We want to know who makes the clothes on our backs. I want to know why executives making millions of dollars a year, are so cheap they pay heir workers chump change."

A word to the MC: Keep the descriptions short and sweet so as not to bore the audience. 

The point of the Invisible Theatre is to make some oppression visible on the stage, and most of all, to get the spectators involved in the debate, so they stop being silent passive uninformed spectators, and start debating the oppression. The point is to make an invisible oppression visible; it is to make the unconscious conscious of the theatre they are already within. That is, to make the theatre of global capitalism visible theatre, where spect-actors debate the script, roles, and enter into the dialog.

After the anti-sweatshop fashion show, conduct discussions between the fashion, cohorts, fashion models and the rest of the spectators in the audience. Ask what could cohorts do to provoke more discussion among the spectators, ways to seduce them into being part of the dialog, instead of passive consumers. 

Type 2: Making the Invisible Theatre Visible -  Life is theatre. But, when Invisible Theatre is ready, it is not performed in a traditional theatre (Boal, 1992: 6). So instead of staging your play in an artificial place called a theatre or a classroom, you take your show on the road, and enter the public theatre of 'real' life (of course classes are real life!). Augusto Boal, for example developed scripts with roles for actors, then did the shows in the Paris Metro, on ferryboats, in restaurants, and on the streets of cities such as Stockholm. This type of Invisible theatre "involves the public as participants in the action without their knowing it" (Jackson, 1992: xx). The public moves out of its sleep walking role to become active spectators, who act in a piece of theatre; they become spect-actors in their own life; through the play, they reflect on their roles and life scripts, and dirty little plots they take for granted. While Invisibility Theatre happens and even after the event, the spect-actors do not know it is "theatre time" rather than just more "real life."  How?  For example, Child Labor - Beneath the stage, girls in their early teens use fake ID’s, their tender age ignored by bribed officials, are working 16 to 20-hour days, for about twenty pennies, in Third World sweatshops to produce McDonald’s toys, sold to consumers who save a few cents. 

Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh and Hello Kitty toys sold with McDonald's meals in Hong Kong are made at a mainland Chinese sweatshop that illegally employs children to package them… The children, as young as 14, work 16-hour days for the equivalent of about $2.95 -- barely the cost of one McDonald's meal in Hong Kong, the Sunday Morning Post reported (The Associated Press Date: 08/27/00 22:15).[i] See more on McDonald's example

In Vietnam, there are similar allegations of child labor used to make Disney toys sold at McDonald’s, but these children earn only 6 pennies an hour and work seven days a week. Corporate theater becomes a set of staged acts and performances scripted to mislead the spectators, when a scandal breaks. For example, the National Labor Committee also alleges Happy Meal toys produced at Keyhinge factories in China have mandatory 14 to 15 hour shifts, such as the Chi Wah Toy factory, where in 1992, 23 workers were hospitalized and three died after benzene exposure.

Example of an Invisible Theatre Type 2 Script - Several actors rehears a scene and they play it in a public space. For example, rehearsing a scene about child labor used to make Happy Meal toys, then taking that play into the public space of a McDonald's restaurant. The customers, employees, managers, and owners of the McDonald's do not know they are an audience about to be seduced into becoming spect-actors. The goal is to get the public involved in an argument or provocation staged by the actors.  

Press for Larger Image

First Actor presents a Happy Meal toy and says, "This Scooter Bug toy has an antenna, that can break off and choke my child. I read that Fisher Price has asked that we return this toy to any McDonald's restaurant. I am returning it for a replacement toy. Hand them this flier (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission or this Channel 3000 article or Channel 7 article). (If you do not have a Scooter Bug, bring back a Lord of the Rings toy, Toy Story II, Bug's Life, Poh Chi II, Snoopy World, or Monsters, Inc. toy, See Toy List; 2nd list; 3rd list; 4th list). 

Second Actor, standing next in line - "I heard that Happy Meal toys are made by teenage laborers making 6 cents an hour. I don't think parents should give children toys made by other children working in sweatshops in Vietnam and China till 3AM. . 

Third Actor, also standing in line - "I collect Happy Meal toys. Its my Hobby. I don't think McDonald's employs kids in sweatshops. If they do, its a ay for poor folks to earn a living 

Second Actor - "Living. You call 6 cents an hour a living. McDonald's is cheap. They can afford to pay a decent wage, like 22 cents an hour to kids in China and Vietnam." (this is said while looking at others in line, to invite their comment.)

Third Actor - "How do you know what a decent wage is in Asia. Maybe six cents an hour is a pretty good wage there. It sure beats starving to death.  McDonald's is good sound free enterprise. You don't know what you are talking about. Do you?"

First Actor - "Look I just want to get a different Happy Meal toy for my kids. My kids don't care who makes these toys. They just want them. Do you have those new Mighty Kids Meal toys?" 

Second Actor - "Lots of Kids in America care that their toys are not made by slave labor."

Third Actor - "What are you talking about. There is no slave labor. These kids have a choice. China is a Free Trade Country; no one is forced to work if they don't want to, not in a McDonald's factory."

First Actor - (facing Second Actor)  "Listen, since you don't like it here, can I have your Happy Meal toy if  you are not gonna keep it?" 

Second Actor - "Children in China and Vietnam slave away to make these toys. 

Third Actor - "Listen America has more serious problems than worrying about child labor in Asia. We have to take care of our children here first"

Second Actor - "Oh I get it, you want little kids  to work during recess by putting together Happy Meal toys. Maybe some of those Monster Inc. or Lord of the Rings stuff, since everyone like those toys so much. Besides, they're young, and have nimble fingers and all, and it's not like child labor's that bad a thing, hello? Hello? Get a clue."

Third Actor - "You talk like these kids are workin' like those kids in a (bleep)in' Charls Dickens novel! What's your [bleep]in' problem? You deprived of Happy Meal toys when you were a kid?"

First Actor -"My kids love their Happy Meal™ toys. My daughter loves Dr. Laura Beanie Baby doll. Push the dot and it makes the cutest face. My kids don't really care where the toys come from or who makes them. They are kids."

Second Actor - "Hey, show your kids the video When Children Do the Work (1, 2, 3), which graphically portrays the harsh conditions of McDonald's and Disney toy-makers' sweatshops and how some children are robbed of their childhood. Your kids need to know that other kids work in not only China but in El Salvador and Honduras, in areas Zoned for Slavery.

Third Actor - "I'll bet you the kids in El Salvador, working in those factories, are glad to have even 12 cents an hour. I suppose you want people everywhere in the world to be paid the same as Americans?"

Second Actor - "Works for me. Why should there be mega gaps of wealth between countries?"

Third Actor - "Get a clue. Its called the Free Enterprise system."

First Actor - "What does it have to do with me if a Vietnamese 10-year-old is chained to a machine or if children are exploited in Honduras? I just want to get a Happy Meal toy for my kid."

Second Actor - "Its Zoned For Slavery, not Free Enterprise!" (1)

ETC. - The point of this type of Invisibility Theatre is to take your play into the public space of democratic discourse, to invite public citizens to enter into the dialog and debate. You as actors set up the dialectic arguments, keeping the scene moving with point and counter-point, looking to the spectators to join in and become part of the action. 

Augusto Boal (1992: 6) says "One point must be clearly understood: Invisible Theatre is theatre; it must have a text with a scripted core, which will inevitably be modified, according to the circumstances, to suit the interventions of the spect-actors."  Before heading to McDonald's or some other public space, rehearse your script then be ready to improvise as the spectators become spect-actors. I have developed McDonald's as a sample script. Pick an issue that for your team of actors is of burning importance, something that will be a concern to spect-actors. 

It begins with setting a realistic scene on stage. If we construct an Invisibility Theater we want to bring some characters into the restaurant, normally uninvited, such as the child labor making the toys for the Happy Meals, the animals on their way to the slaughter house, the trees in the disappearing rainforests, or the indigenous who can no longer live off the land they can no longer own, or the family farmers who have sold out to take a job on a factory farm or given up.  The many so-called victims of McDonaldization would become visible performers in Invisibility Theater. 

Variations - Besides animals and kids making Happy Meal toys being absent characters (Carol Adams uses term 'absent referents), there could be scenes with sexism or racism as the absent referent. Note: I am not saying the McDonaldization involves these variations (just some suggested themes for skit scenes).

Sexual Harassment - There could be a feature added, such as sexual harassment. The theme might be the vulnerability of males or females in robotic roles to sexual aggressors. A bit a leg nudging between a manager and a worker is enough to evoke the scene of sexual harassment. Be sure that characters agree before the skit, what kinds of touching or intimidation is allowable (respect human boundaries of characters). Other aggression can be shown without touching, with the verbal banter, where actors stare at one another, the guarded poses, etc. Find a public place, and act out a bit of harassment, having one of the actors' defend man's right to harass, another actor, ask that opposite role. Boal's group performed sexual harassment plays three times in the Metro in Paris, on the Vincennes-Neuilly line (1992: 6). At each stop on the Metro, an actor or two would get on a particular car.  One actor played the Female Victim, who sat down, as various other actors took seats in other parts of the subway car.  At the third subway station, a Male Aggressor, got on board, sat down opposite the Female Victim, and started nudging his leg against the young woman's thigh. Another male actor defended the man's right to harass, saying the woman looked so beautiful, she begged for such attention. Another actor, took the view that women, beautiful or not have the right not to be harassed on the subway or anywhere else.  The Female Victim kept up her  protest, but in several staging of the play, not a single by stander intervened. A new play was constructed; this time a good looking Male Victim was harassed by two Feminists who got on at another subway stop.  As the various other actors got on the car, the debate unfolded, much like the first example. However, this time, the by standers no longer stayed silent, they objected to the harassment of the Male Victim. 


Racism -  Could elect to act out a situation where characters of a certain skin color, eye color, ethnicity, hair style, etc. are being oppressed by a person playing the role of racist oppressor.  You could show the usual kind of pairing of people of similar character traits, being opposed by those with other traits. Interesting and conflictful dialogs could ensue as actors enact and defend racism. Boal (1992: 12-14) gives the example of a group of actors that boarded a boot headed for a zoological garden in Sweden. A Black Woman actor took a seat in a visible spot. An Italian Male actor and a female playing the role of a Drunkard sat near by.  The actors wait until the boat is quite crowded. The Italian Male begins the provocation by asking the Black Woman actor, "what are you doing here, sitting while white people are standing, without seats. An angry Black Woman gets up and give a White person her seat. The Drunkard Woman actor confronts the Italian Actor and says,

:You said that this was a land for whites - fair enough, this is a land for whites, white Swedes; and you're Italian. Get out of that seat" (Boal, 1992: 13). 

An actor playing the role of an Office Worker approaches the drunkard Woman and insists she get up and give him her place, because though the Drunkard is Swedish, she is drunk and unproductive as a human being, of questionable value to the human race. 

You can image the extraordinary effect this performance had on the crowd of passengers.  They all started arguing at once, about the relative differences in human rights among different nationalities, races or economic classes of people. 

There are many other variations, such as age, gender, disability and other issues. 

The point of Invisible Theater is to bring the off stage and the beneath the stage up front and personal onto the center stage. It is to get people on the street to enter into a self-reflective debate about taken-for-granted oppressions all around them.  There could be delicious and oppressive episodes. The finale, is to invite reflection (in the commentary), and to enact some leadership solutions to problems raised (in post commentary, act II of the skit - not required just an idea). 

This example is a leadership struggle in two forms of theatre: spectacle and carnival. The McDonald's example, is a clash of the Spectacle of McDonald's leadership caught in conflict with the resistance of Carnival leaders (protesting various causes). For example, animal rights, ecology, vegetarian, feminist, anti-sweatshop, and anti-globalist activists would become customers at the McDonald’s, their theatrics would be carnivalesque, full of parody, protest, and satire. They would be waving signs with slogans like McMurder, McGreed, and McJob. The owners and managers (maybe workers) would resist the carnival, bring in the police, have the carnival actors arrested, send them to jail, and even put them on trail (these are examples, do not do them all). 

The scenes could also move from toy factory, to rain forest, to slaughterhouse, and all these scenes would be juxtaposed with the scene of a family giving their order to the McDonald’s clerk.  Animal rights activists would want to gut a cow on stage and let it bleed on the stage, but family values spect-actors would prefer imitations to the real thing.

More Sample Scenes - Picture Ronald McDonald trying to get the spectators in the audience to notice his clowning around, to focus their attention on chasing all the Burger heisters from the main stage. To keep the focus of audience attention on the clown, and away from the Invisible Theatre being performed on stage.  This is not the silent theater of Image work; here spect-actors would say provocative things like”

“Ronald, do you kill the animals yourself?”

“Ronald, how many trees are cut to make these packages?”

“Ronald, do you think your have the right to cut down the rainforests to make grazing land?”

“Ronald’s how many chickens live in a cage?”

Ronald, of course, would not respond, but just keep on distracting the audience. Ronald is a spectacle character. This is a provocative engagement, an on stage encounter between spectacles of corporate power and the carnival of resistance movements.  And it is corporate power that is in the McSpotlight. 

Another Example: New Mexico State University - Suppose a group of actors such as United Students Against Sweatshops,  set up an Invisible Theatre scene at an NMSU basketball game. As you know various college sports teams at NMSU are sponsored by Nike, Reebok and Adidas.  The garments our college teams wear are made in  sweatshops by mostly quite young women (mostly teens 14 to 19 years old). They make garments for the $30 billion apparel market, and the $2.5 billion collegiate garment industries.  

"Check out those Swooshes on those Uniforms!"

1st action

A group of Actors take seats near one another, right in the middle of a crowd at a basketball or volleyball game. They arrive one at a time (prepare by reading up on United Students Against Sweatshops to make a script before heading to the game). For example:

2nd action

Two actors begin to grumble, saying, "Why are our team players wearing sweatshop uniforms?" "Don't our players know their uniforms are made by teenage women working for poverty wages in sweatshops?" Keep in mind this is a non-violent disturbance, meant to provoke dialog among the sports fans at the game. People at games do shout out things at the game. It is part of the social convention.

3rd action

Two students chant "STOP Stop Terrorizing Oppressed People."  STOP wearing the Swoosh!  Two other Actors play the role of spectators who just want to watch the game. They respond with "Nobody cares where the uniforms are made or who makes them; we just want you to be quiet so we can watch the game." "We are here to support our team."

4th action

A sort of contest and debate develops between the protestors and the fans, but parties trying to convince the spect-actors around them to support their cause. "I suppose you want us to boycott Nike!"  "No, not a boycott, just want better wages for women making those uniforms. Is that too much too ask?" "If it is not a boycott, what is this?"  "Hey, we think that our universities can demand better working conditions from the factories making our uniforms." Etc.  As the scene unfolds and spect-actors join in the argument, improvise the responses you make. "How much money do our coaches get to make our teams wear those symbols of slavery?"  One variation is to raise a banner or poster saying, "No More Sweatshops" or STOP. 

More info see United Students Against Sweatshops 

For more info on constructing Theatre projects on this theme, see: Dozen more Experiential Exercises in Theatres of Leadership

Rescripting - Invisibility Theater (type one, played with a knowing audience) once it has established its oppression claims, can (like Forum Theatre) then turn towards solutions. The audience participates in rescripting the oppression played out on the stage. Vegetarians would want more salads, soy substitutes for chicken, fish, pork, and beef. These new scenes could be acted out to test worker, owner, and customer reactions.  A more festive Invisible Theater can be staged, one where people can move their tables and chairs, make special orders, take their time and eat and talk for hours. This would attract the slow food folks, but may alienate the vegetarians and animal rights activists who would want to change the menu to non-meat and for vegans non-dairy cuisine.

Possible Theme and Script - We do not need to go to Vietnam or China to find examples of McDonald’s employing children. The U.S. Department of Labor's most recent six-month child labor enforcement sweep, netted several McDonald franchises and corporate stores:

McBee Enterprises, which operates a McDonald's Restaurant franchise in West Bridgewater, MA, was fined $6,750 for employing ten 14/15 year old minors contrary to the hours standard…

A McDonald's Restaurant corporate store in Milford, MA, was fined $1,800 for employing two minors beyond the hours permitted…

Pabenco, Inc., operating a McDonald's Restaurant in Brockton, MA, was fined $4,000 for the unlawful employment of twelve minors UUS Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, 2000).[ii]

Rescripting - reenact scene with adult workers, not children; with non-robotic leaders' fire the clown. 

Forum Theater

Forum Theater is a sort of fight or game, and like all forms of game or fight, there are rules (see example of Forum Theater). We also had some fight or game in Invisibility Theatre. But, in Forum Theatre, the rules of the game are made much more explicit. The game rules can be modified, but they still exist, to ensure that the players are involved in the same enterprise, and to facilitate the generation of serious and fruitful discussion (Boal, 1992: 18). 

Another key difference between Invisibility Theatre and Forum or Image theatre, is that the audience gets much more directly involved, crossing the line to becoming actors on the stage, or making the whole room a stage blurring all the boundaries. Actor and spectator fuse, to become "spect-actors." In Forum Theatre, the spectator becomes the protagonist (crosses the proscenium arch to go on stage), trying to overcome the oppression presented by the antagonists (oppressors). The boundary between audience and actors is no more; they are now just spect-actors, all helping to stage the game: trading roles, suggesting rule changes, and script changes. 

The point of Forum Theatre games is to get beyond the antagonist and protagonist, win versus lose, good guy versus bad guy rut. The point is also to do leadership on stage, to experiment and transform oppression on stage, and to take that resolution beyond the training ground, to change the world. The goal is to open up pathways of liberation that can result in less spectacle, and more festive organizations in a must less predatory capitalism.

Each character, as in Invisibility Theatre, is presented "visually," in such a way as to be recognizable, independent of any spoken script (Boal, 1992: 19).  In Forum theatre, the starting script delineates the moral purpose of each character, so the spectators (not yet spect-actors) can easily recognize each ideology performed. The theme is a "social error: which is being analyzed and explored during the Forum skit. 

Forum Theatre takes up where Image and Invisibility Theatres left off. To start the game, you may want to do a short Image Theatre scene to set the context, or a brief scene of the Invisibility of certain stakeholders to a situation.  At a point where the audience gets the sense of the game they are about to play, the spectators, one by one are invited on stage to become spect-actors. You collectively turn to crafting solutions, on stage and live. Here is a sample sequence of staged events for Forum Theatre

Scene 1 - Start off with an image theatre, a certain image of the world is presented by the main actors to the spectators (here the audience is in their seats, and the actors are on stage, as in traditional theatre). 

Scene 2 - Second Clap by the Director - The oppression in the  scene is made obvious. A director signals the players to animate and if need to have some dialog and interaction to enact the theme of oppression. Good script writers are needed to make Forum Theatre workable. That is, the game much be set up so that catastrophe is not the only outcome possible for the protagonist. For example, if the theme is pure physical aggression, then there are not many options beyond karate, kung fu fighting, or running away. In short, these scenes do not set up oppression that is of much use for Forum Theatre exploration, or to hone leadership skills. Rather, script more internal, psychological oppression scenes, where physical aggression is not the only option. If the only result of sexual harassment is rape, then it is not a great topic for Forum Theatre. However, if it could have been stopped along the way, then it has possibilities. If the situation is a strike by the workers, then how could it have been avoided becomes the theme, and various plots can be scripted. 

Scene 3 - The director claps to signal the protagonist in the scene to act out a planned solution to the oppression in the scene. 

Scene 4 - Clap again, to freeze the performers into a static pose.  The director then asks the spectators if they agree with the solution advanced by the protagonist. Probably not. The director informs the spectators they are all spect-actors. All the spect-actor has to do is yell "STOP" and go onto the stage, assume the position of the protagonist (who heads to the sideline, and can coach the spect-actor as needed, or keep it real, i.e. "generally McDonald's owners are not great fans of animal activists, vegetarians, etc."). Then the Director claps, the scene continues, but the actors react to the new character now on stage. 

Step 5 - The main actors replay/continue the same exact scene, but the spect-actors come onto the stage and intervene to change the vision of the world presented by these actors into a world as it could be. If no spect-actors change the world, then the actors keep playing the theme of oppression without any resolution.  In other words, audience members, are invited to take the role of the protagonist and play out their idea of a resolution. 

Scene 6 - The Director can clap rapidly, to indicate to the main characters to intensify their oppression. This is the game that is being played.  The spect-actor tries to find a new solution, to change the world - by resisting the intensified strategies. Protagonists can be inventive, such as by bringing other spect-actors on stage to play the role of lawyer's police, judges, parents, customers, etc. This is the game, the spect-actor (protagonist) - trying to find a new solution to the oppression and aggression presented by the actors. For this to work effectively, the actors must be able to give and take, to respond to the various dialog and action presented to them by the protagonist.

Scene 7 - The spect-actor can give in, give-up, or drop out of the game, then a new spect-actor rapidly heads for the stage, by yelling "STOP." The Director then Claps loudly to get the scene rolling again. 

Scene 8 - If a spect-actor wins the game, and breaks the game of the game of the oppressors, then that spect-actor gets to replace one of the actors, and act out their idea of a more intensified oppression. 

The Joker (instructor) and Director of the skit, can also elect to add realism to the event. For example, asking a character or spect-actor to dare a little more, to who what they are capable of on stage. Joker and Director  provoke people on stage to stretch a bit more in their acting, and dare to challenge leadership assumptions.

It could happen that in the Forum Theatre game, no solutions work. However, it is still awesome Forum event if a good debate happens in the discussion. 

A McDonald’s (just an example) Forum Theater takes the confrontation between antagonists and protagonists to a new level, and allows for stop-action script changes, and revisions to the plot, scripts, and games so that transformations can happen.  This is done in the above steps by having the main character stay in their oppressor roles, and inviting spectators, now spect-actors to try out various resolutions, and win the game. 

In Forum Theater, more than the other two, spect-actors can call STOP to the staged performances, make a change in the actors, develop a new script, or change directors.  Any spect-actor can stop and restart the scene. Scenes are played again and again, with different lines, props, and characters, to fine-tune tactics and strategies to overcome felt and manifest oppression.  Forum Theater is solution oriented, a place also to test the consequences of a script change. 

Changing the rules of the Theatre game. The game of confrontation between protagonist (spect-actor) and antagonist in Forum Theatre has rules of engagement.  This allows the game to be played with a change in the rules, new rules, and new tactics can be tested for limitations and consequences.   

The point is to explore a model of action that might, in this example, improve McDonaldization, or replace it with a new more festive game. 

Post-Forum, COMMENTARY - In the commentary portion, the script writers and director debrief. They explain the plot, the theme, etc.  

Here is an example of Forum Theatre - Forum Theater for conflict resolution by Michael Soth There is also an article in March-April  2002 UTNE Reader (p. 58). 

Forum Theatre for consulting
Mixed Company - Forum Theatre - workshops and consulting
Theory article on Forum Theatre as simulation
Theory article - Joseph Kallanchira, SVD Using the Stage to Communicate the Word
Theory chapter -CHAPTER VII: THE VIDEOGAMES OF THE OPPRESSED (This chapter is part of Gonzalo Frasca's Thesis.
McDonald's, McDonaldland & McDonaldization main web site


Writing up your Team Commentary 

Get Passionate in your Theatres of Leadership. For example, in writing up the commentary on your script. Discuss: Why change the script, if the spectators are packing the theater?  McDonald’s, when confronted with charges of child labor practices, points to its script, its code of conduct, which prohibits its subcontractors from doing such things. When customers threaten to boycott the chain, then McDonald’s promises a full inquiry and more visits to the factories by monitors. If it is a major story, blame it on "inadequate record-keeping" by the internal and external auditing system. If all else fails, cancel the contract with the maligned City Toys factory, and contract with another in China.  But, if McDonald’s really cares about children, should not the children and their families be compensated over and above the poverty wages they received in abusive sweatshop conditions?

In your commentary, sort out the facts. For example, there are earlier sweeps for child labor in McDonald’s that go back to 1996, with fines as high as $53,550 at a single franchise.[i] In 1997, there were 129 different recurring violators by corporate and franchise McDonald’s owners (Mendoza, 1997). 

Be sure to resituation (click here for study guide). That is, take the situation of oppression that you acted out in one of the three Theatres (Image, Invisibility, or Forum) and craft some solutions to the conflicts you engages. 

Please include a reference list in your commentary. Please post to Web CT 24 hours before the scheduled performance by your team. 

Looking for more ideas on Team Presentations of Theatres of Leadership

Purpose and Process of the Leadership Theatre Event (skit)
Boje (2001a) Global Theatrics and Capitalism 
Dozen more Experiential Exercises in Theatres of Leadership


Aristotle (written 350BCE). Citing the (1954) translation Aristotle: Rhetoric and Poetics. Intro by Friedrich Solmsen; Rhetoric translated by W. Rhys Roberts; Poetics translated by Ingram Bywater. NY: The Modern Library (Random House). Poetics was written 350 BCE. Custom is to cite part and verse. I.e. Aristotle, 1450: 5, p. 23) refers to part 1450, verse 5, on p. 23 of the Solmsen (1954) book.  There is also an on line version translated by S. H. Butcher http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html 

Boal, Augusto (1979). Theatre of the Oppressed. Translation by Charles A. & Maria-Odillia Leal McBride. Originally published in Spanish as Teatro de Oprimido in 1974. NY: Theatre Communications Group.

Boal, Augusto (1992). Games for Actors and Non-actors. Translated by Adrian Jackson. A conflation of two books, Stop C’est Magique (Paris: Hachette, 1980) and  Jeuz pour acteurs et non-acteurs (Paris: La Découverte, 1989) with additions by Boal. London/NY: Routledge.

Boal, Augusto (1995). Rainbow of Desire, The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. NY: Routledge.

McDonald's Workers Resistance Web Site http://www.geocities.com/mwrposse3/alternative.htm

helpful tips as how to get paid your full wage, knowing your rights, alternative recipes and the ever helpful 'Ten thingsto do in McDonalds when it's dead'

McSpotlight Debate http://www.mcspotlight.org/DR/workers/index.html 

Ritzer, George (2001). The McDonaldization of Socieity. New Century Edition. First Edition, 1993. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press (A Sage Publication Company).


[i] (1996) US Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration division press release. “Smithburg Inc., doing business as McDonald's, 381 S. Chicago Rd., Coldwater, Mich., has been assessed a civil money penalty of $53,550 by the U.S. Department of Labor for alleged federal child labor violations” accessed November 18, 2001 http://www.dol.gov/dol/esa/public/media/press/whd/ch3618.htm

[ii]  The Associated Press (2000). McDonald's toys come from sweatshop that employs children.  Date: 08/27/00 22:15 accessed November 17, 2001 http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/business.pat,business/3774b670.827,.html

[iii] US Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division (2000). August 29, 2000 Press Release Accessed November 18, 2001 http://www.dol.gov/dol/esa/public/media/press/whd/whd20000829.htm





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