Introducing Forum Theatre
Have you ever been to the theatre and had a really inspiring experience? You saw a really interesting piece of political theatre and came out burning to talk to your friends about it. You go for a drink and end up banging the table in frustration that you can't do anything about issues in the play. Sure, the play got you feeling engaged and motivated, but so what? What can you do about it?
Forum Theatre is a form of interactive theatre designed to create just that opportunity to change the ending and to figure out what you can do about the issues. A group of performers act out a scene or short play about a social justice issue relevant to the audience. At a critical point, the "Joker" - effectively a workshop facilitator or host - stops the action and turns to the audience to ask what they would do in the place of the protagonist. A facilitated conversation ensues and eventually audience members may be invited onto the stage to act out solutions.
Its inventor, Augusto Boal described Forum Theatre as a "rehearsal for action in real life." It's a space where people can explore their issues and possible solutions in the safe environment of the theatrical event. Forum Theatre is an internationally practiced method for directly engaging audiences in social justice issues and yet it remains a relatively unknown form of theatre outside the circle of creative practitioners working in the field.
The aim of Forum Theatre is to turn the passive spectator into an active participant in the event, or what Boal called a "spect-actor." In describing Forum Theatre, Boal said the technique "consists, in essence, of proposing to a group of spectators, after a first improvisation of a scene, that they replace the protagonist and try to improvise variations on his actions. The real protagonist should, ultimately, improvise the variation that has motivated him the most." He believed Forum Theatre is "a question sincerely asked of the audience, in the form of a theatrical scene. It is the sincere desire to confront diverse opinions, ideas, action."
Forum Theatre is one of the main techniques created by Augusto Boal for his Theatre of the Oppressed, an arsenal of theatrical techniques that sit within the broad tradition of applied arts, or art for social justice. What unifies Boal's techniques are the common goals of moving the spectator to action and liberating people from oppression. Boal's methodology developed from his experiences as Artistic Director of the Arena Theatre in Brazil in the 1950's and 1960's and from his work with the revolutionary government of Peru in the early 1970's. He continued to develop his methodology over the course of his life, adding new content and adapting his theories as they were tested in new environments. Forum Theatre was one of the key pillars of his method, along with Newspaper Theatre, Image Theatre and Invisible Theatre.
On September 20-22, Brown will host a three-day, introductory workshop on Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre. Bookings are filling up quickly and there is a definite buzz among those theatre folk on College Hill that are in the know.
The workshop is an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds and with various levels of experience to participate in the development process of Forum Theatre. Workshop participants will start with games and exercises developed by Boal to develop trust and build community. Together, participants and facilitators will develop a Forum Theatre event, starting with the sharing of personal stories, through the development and rehearsal of theatrical scenes, culminating in a public event during which the scenes will be performed and audience members will make interventions on stage.
Acting experience is most definitely not needed, just a desire to explore social justice issues in a creative and supporting environment and a desire to share that exploration with an audience.
Spaces are still available for the full workshop. A free public performance will take place on Sunday, 22nd September at 6pm in the Crystal Room in Alumnae Hall on the Brown University campus if you are interested in seeing a Forum Theatre event without making the commitment to the full weekend, or if you are a little hesitant about performing in public.
The workshop is co-hosted by the Center for Public Humanities and the Theatre Arts and Performance Studies department at Brown University. It is part funded by The Brown University Creative Arts Council.