Forum theatre of Augusto Boal

Goals of the exercise: Encourage participants to look at the situation from a different perspective and let them think of different solutions.
Age of the participants: 13+
Number of participants: 6-8
Duration of the exercise: at least 60 minutes, up to 120 minutes
Materials: none

Step by step

This activity is in the format of forum theatre, an interactive play where the audience can influence the script or become actors themselves. The original “script” is a scene from the everyday life experiences of the respective group members which represents an unresolved conflict. In the forum phase, the so-called play-in phase, the audience gets out of the role of a passive viewer. Conflict resolution ideas are played, tried out and reflected in a play of roles.

1. Preparation

  1. In the scene elaborated by the group (the so-called model scene) the individual roles should come out clearly. Not only by the text of the persons, but also by their behavior. Their appearance should be clearly recognizable, as well as their desires and intentions. It is helpful if every figure wears a proper sign of their role (e.g., a cap or a bag).
  2. For the play we need one protagonist (the oppressed person for whom the conflict ends badly) and one main antagonist (the so-called oppressor who makes the life of the protagonist difficult). Both figures often have 1-2 comrades that, more or less, support them. There are also 1-2 persons that are neutral.
  3. The interaction with the public is led by a character called the Joker. The Joker leads through the theater play and establishes the link between the stage and the audience. He / she is a mediator, who should also take care that certain rules (such as no violence (!), mutual respect, etc.) are respected. At the beginning, the Joker welcomes the audience, then maybe does some short warm-up exercises with the audience and names the title and the location of the forum theater piece.

Play along

  1. It will be clarified who of the characters can be exchanged. As a rule, only the oppressed person and their “supporters” can be exchanged. The idea behind it is understandable: Even in real life, oppressors can not simply be exchanged and their actions need to be solved in a positive way. Sometimes there are also requests to add new people or make time leaps. How to deal with such proposals, is in the hands of the Joker.
  2. The play is performed once and then, the audience should think of the changes that could be made. A good way to initiate reflections is to let the audience discuss their ideas for a few minutes in small groups. If there are a few ideas, the piece is played a second time until someone from the audience calls “stop” and takes on the role of the oppressed. A good piece should provoke the audience in such a way that they can not stand to see the same situation again and therefore they feel the impulse to want to change something. In most cases, there is a personal emotional concern that causes someone to intervene.
  3. Now if a person comes to the stage, it is favorable, to support with applause.
  4. The stage shouldn’t be a classical one surrounded by headlamps. It is beneficial if the audience is close to the stage, so that the spectators don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to put themselves in the limelight.
  5. Stage and audience range are preferably at the same level. It should not be spoken so much, but the newcomer should get the prop of the oppressed, to dive into the role symbolically and then start with the idea.
  6. If the scene now continues from the desired time, it is for the remaining actors important to stay in their role. Of course a lot of changes will happen, but the basic intentions of the opponents remain the same and the goal is to maintain their dominant position.
  7. The scene will be played until the situation dissolves or the new person can not play longer. With a simple “stop”, anyone can cancel again his / her intervention at any time.

Debriefing

After the performance the experience will be discussed together.

  • Ask what the person who intervened has achieved, what he/she wanted, how he/she felt and which thoughts he/she had in mind?
  • Ask the other actors how successful was the new person and what his/her actions have changed for them?
  • Ask the audience about their impressions.
  • When you feel ready. You can begin again to play the scene until someone calls “Stop” again.

The number of interventions depends on the timing and the creativity of the audiences.

  1. 1. The Joker welcomes everyone, introduces himself and the actors and explains briefly the background and the procedure of the Forum Theater.
  2. The Joker leads the warming up.
  3. The Joker leads to the scene (e.g. small introduction: where and when does the whole scene play take place, title of the scene, presentation of the characters, etc.).
  4. The scene will be played once – no intervention by the public yet!
  5. The Joker suggests the following game rules and ask for agreement:
    // who wants to intervene in the scene, must call STOP
    // say STOP once again when the intervention is over
    // no violence to solve the oppression or self-assertion!
  6. The Joker invites the audience to intervene when the scene is played for the second time.
  7. The scene is played a second time.
  8. When someone calls STOP, the scene freezes. The appropriate audience
    player indicates where he / she wants to get in, changes the protagonist and plays his / her proposed solution to failure or success.
    The joker intervenes if rules are violated.
    If nobody says STOP and the scene runs without intervention, he asks if there are ideas for alternatives in the audience. If someone has a verbal idea and you do not want to play , maybe someone else is willing to play the proposal. If not, let the actors implement the proposal (this corresponds to the technique Simultaneous Dramaturgy). A variant is the animation by ‘invisible’ actors in the audience, who start restraint with interventions.
  9. After the intervention leave the actor to go back to his/her real role. The actor will be joined by the audience applause. The Joker thanks for the intervention and asks some questions:
    // to the actor in the role of the protagonist:
    What have you tried? How did you feel? What have you achieved?
    // to other players (such as witness roles):
    What has changed? How did you feel about it?
    // to the antagonist (= clear antagonist of the protagonist):
    What has changed? How did you feel about that?
    // to the audience:
    What did the intervention show, was it successful? Are you satisfied with that proposed solution or the alternative?
  10. Scene continues or resumes until someone calls STOP … and all
    continue, as long as the spectators want to participate.
  11. The Joker concludes the interventions and starts a discussion

Reflection

The reflection is part of all the elements of the theater of the oppressed. After every greater exercise, it is possible to reflect with the participants how hey have done and what changes have been made. Above all, picture and forum theaters make something with you. Room should be given to the new ones to articulate experiences and to be able to exchange with one another. For a larger group it is good to work in small groups. It is also helpful to comment on certain questions, such as:
// What do I take with me?
// What have I learned?

Important

You can think about any situation in the participants life to play.

Debriefing

  • Which possible alternative solutions or action could be implemented in everyday life? Under what circumstances?
  • How did you feel to be able to change a situation you don’t like?
  • Do you think this is possible in real life?

Authorship/adaptation or source: Patterned after the practice of Augusto Boal
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