This method is a form of an interactive theatre. It shows problematic social situations (e.g. exclusion, discrimination, oppression, conflict, etc.) and encourages the audience to intervene in the play and try to discover more constructive and effective ways of dealing with such situations.
- to help participants understand the mechanisms of challenging social issues, such as exclusion, discrimination or violence
- to encourage participants to actively search for creative and more effective ways to respond to such situations
- to empower and motivate participants to take action and stand against exclusion and discrimination in real life
- enough space and chairs for everyone
- space for the stage
- flipchart and markers
- some extra chairs to be used on the stage
- some optional requisites: masks, scarfs, etc.
The method itself does not require specific preparation, but rather a good training of the facilitator. In terms of the room, it is important that there is enough space for small groups to rehearse their ‘plays’ and a space for the stage. It does not have to be a real stage, but just a space that is somehow clearly marked to be the place for the performance part (in that case, please remove all unnecessary materials from the stage area that do not belong to the actual play). Prepare one flipchart and a couple of markers to record the strategies and ideas developed by the participants.
Step by step description
- Introduction: You may explain briefly where the method is coming from and that its motto is ‘Rehearsal for Reality'.
- Warm-up: Before starting with the Forum Theatre, you need to warm up your participants for drama expression. Depending on the time that you have, you may select several smaller exercises addressing various aspects of drama work: focus/concentration, voice, emotions, body, connections, trust, etc. (see further tips and resources below). The following example could be useful in a workshop setting:
Show your feeling:
Participants are standing in the circle. One by one they say their name and express how they feel with a gesture. All other participants repeat as a mirror, both the name and the gesture.
Each person is focused on the 4th person to the right. If that person does something, the person repeats it like a mirror, but just a bit amplified (e.g. 15%). The task for the whole group is to stand still and do nothing as much as they can.
Participants turn their backs to the circle. The facilitator reads out loud a profession (e.g. bus driver, student, teacher, superhero, superstar, president, etc.). After a profession is called out, the facilitator counts from 5 to 1 and on 1 all participants should turn around and portray that profession with their bodies.
Participants are divided in small groups, still standing in the circle. While one group is given a task, the other participants have turned their backs on this group and cannot watch. The task is given on a piece of paper, e.g. school, excursion, exam, conflict, power, social inclusion. The group has 5 seconds to set up a group image of the given term. The facilitator counts down from 5 to 1 and on 1 all other groups turn around and need to guess what is represented in the image set by the first group.
- Preparation of scenes: At first, you need to divide all participants into small groups and present them with the following tasks:
- Pick up a real-life situation dealing with social exclusion (or other topics, such as discrimination, conflict, oppression, etc.) and prepare a short theatre play called ‘Anti-model’.
- The play should not be too long (especially if you are limited with the available time).
- The play should present a clear situation that will be understandable for the audience without additional explanation.
- The play needs to be rehearsed and lines need to be fixed, since it will be necessary for the actors to repeat their play several times.
- Very important: When setting up their scenes, the group members play the story up to the culmination of exclusion (or similar) and at this point, the play stops. They do not act out any resolution or happy ending.
- Forum Theatre: The setting is just like in a theatre, including a stage and seats for the audience (useful hint: make sure that it is easy for people in the audience to approach the stage). The audience is given instructions about the procedure: At first, they will see the original play as it is, and afterwards there will be further explanation about the next steps.
Clap your hands once as a sign for the actors to start. When they finish acting, do not forget to ask for a round of applause. Ask the audience: What did they see? Furthermore, ask them about the roles in the play: Who is being excluded (protagonist) and who is being oppressive in the story that they have seen?
Afterwards, tell them that during the second performance of the same play they will have the chance to make a change for the protagonist. If they have an idea for an intervention, they need to raise their hand and shout STOP! Then they come on stage, replace the protagonist and try out the intervention they had in mind. The other characters are instructed to act accordingly within the limits of their characters. Tell them that this is not about magical solutions, including miraculous change of characters from bad guys to good guys. Encourage as many interventions from the audience as possible. After each intervention, thank the person and get them a round of applause, then ask the others in the audience what the person intervening tried to do and what was different. You may also ask the people in the play what the effect was on them.
Reflections with the students / questions for debriefing
Collect all interventions (no matter how big or small they were) that made some sort of change in the story and write them down on the flipchart paper. Summarise them together with the group at the very end of the workshop. If you have time, this might be an input for discussion about how to use these strategies in future situations.
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
Apart from the 'STOP ACT!'-type of intervention, you may also suggest other interventions, like ‘STOP JUSTIFY!’ (giving your audience the possibility to explore the motivation of the characters in the play) or ‘STOP FEELING!’ (if they would like to better understand the feelings of the characters in the play at a specific moment).
Reference / original source of the method
The initiator of this method is Augusto Boal, see also: Games for Actors and Non-Actors. By Boal Augusto, translated by Jackson Adrian. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
Further tips and resources