Our Work

Our Work

Theatre of the Oppressed NYC partners with community members at local organizations to form theatre troupes. These troupes devise and perform plays based on their challenges confronting economic inequality, racism, and other social, health and human rights injustices. After each performance, actors and audiences engage in theatrical brainstorming – called Forum Theatre – with the aim of catalyzing creative change on the individual, community, and political levels.

You can see videos of our work here. 

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A workshop attendee writes out the systems of oppression

Our History

TONYC was founded in 2011 by Katy Rubin, who trained with Augusto Boal in Rio, in 2008. After returning to New York and discovering a lack of effective "popular theatre" – interactive theatre created by communities facing oppression – Rubin helped form the Jan Hus Homeless Theatre Troupe, which is now called Concrete Justice (TONYC’s flagship troupe).

Since 2011, TONYC has grown rapidly in response to a real need from communities in crisis for social change. Our team of Jokers – the people who help facilitate workshops and performances – now collaborate with TONYC’s troupes to create more than 60 public performances a year.

Current and Past Troupe Partners

AIDS Center of Queens County, Ali Forney Center, Breaking Ground, Center for Court Innovation, Housing Works, The Fortune Society, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, Neighbors in Action, Red Hook Community Justice Center

Current Funders and Grantors

National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural AffairsThe Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation; Tikkun Olam Foundation; New York Women’s Foundation; Brooklyn Org; The Howard Gilman Foundation; and The Ms. Foundation.

Our Fortune Society Troupe poses after their November 2018 performance, \

What is Theatre of the Oppressed?

Theatre of the Oppressed is a format of theatre activities and performances that engages communities in social change. Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC) bases its work on a methodology created in the 1970s by the legendary Brazilian theatre director and activist Augusto Boal, who was himself inspired by Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As a form of activism and artistic practice, Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed is now used in over 70 countries around the world.

LaGuardia Performing Arts Troupe Bows

What is Forum Theatre?

In Forum Theatre, the actors present an original play chronicling an unresolved problem resulting from systemic oppression. Once the play is finished, the audience is invited to step into the play and share possible ways to attack this problem and respond to the antagonists, in what’s known as an Intervention. The actors in the play are prepared to respond to the audience member, known now as a Spect-Actor. This process of play performance and interventions is facilitated by a Joker. The goal is to engage in various problem-solving strategies that the community can use to fight back against the oppressions they face.

Theatre of the Oppressed NYC has established "popular theatre troupes" all over New York City in collaboration with a range of local communities, including homeless adults and youth, people living with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, veterans, formerly incarcerated people, and court-involved youth. These troupes devise and tour original, interactive plays inspired by real-life struggles – the problems they face everyday – with the intention of engaging peers in theatrical problem-solving which can help inspire concrete, social action. Each troupe creates one to two shows a year which are performed in theatres, community centers, shelters and drop-in centers; and at conferences and festivals including TONYC's own annual Legislative Theatre events.

Legislative Theatre: Compromising Positions

What is Legislative Theatre?

Legislative Theatre brings a Forum Theatre performance in front of an audience of legislators, community policy-makers and the impacted community, with the intent to develop policy ideas that are generated by the impacted community. As TONYC as an organization has grown, Legislative Theatre has grown with it.   Legislative Theatre and the arts as an agent for change are vital tools for educating policy-makers, engaging constituents, challenging the status quo, and altering policy for the better. Read the full report here.

Spect-Actors vote on policies at Legislative Theatre

How does Legislative Theatre Work?

WATCH original plays based on the actors’ lived experiences.

ACT on stage to brainstorm alternatives to the problems presented. Jokers open the stage to Spect-actors to rehearse new ideas. Everyone writes their ideas on notecards that are processed and sorted by the Policy Advisory Team.

VOTE with government representatives. Policy-makers present proposals based on the collected ideas. The crowd debates each idea. All present vote on the proposals. If the majority of people accept the idea as presented, the government representatives make a promise to act on those ideas after leaving the theatre.

One hour before a Legislative Theatre show, audience members meet with community partners and activists to get prepared to engage on the issues being presented.

Omari looks on



2019: Compromising Positions: Stay & Pay

2018: Apartment Complex

2017: Legislative Theatre Fest

2016: The Housing Circus

2015: Inside/Outside

2014: Can't Get Right

2013: Save the Drama