You are on page 1of 41

Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Forum Theatre –
a tool for community cultural development
and social change

Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to
live now as we think human beings should live, in
defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a
marvelous victory.
— Howard Zinn, 2006
(You Can’t Stay Neutral on a Moving Train,
Beacon, 1995)
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented
society to a person-oriented society. When machines
and computers, profit motives and property rights, are
considered more important than people, the giant
triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism
are incapable of being conquered.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam" address delivered to the Clergy and Laymen
Concerned, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Definition of terms I
Community Cultural Development is defined as:
- a process in which a community creatively determines
and expresses its identity, celebrates its differences and
addresses issues of importance. It is guided by a
philosophy of community involvement and ownership.
- involving collaboration between professional artists and
- the community will be involved at every stage of the
project: in planning and management, in originating the
ideas, collaborating in creative development, participating
in the realization and presentation of the project, and in
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Definition of terms II
The term community can be defined by:
- A group of people who are linked to one another in some
kind of distinguishable way.
(communities that are geographically bounded – towns,
rural municipalities, housing estates, micro-regions,
neighbourhoods, etc. People in these communities are
linked by their places of residence, and sometimes by their
- A group of people sharing a space or an interest.
(in stricter definition, community can be called such if
people are aware of what links them; there is a certain
continuity in the presence of a member in that community;
relations are developed within community to support its
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Definition of terms III
Community my also be defined as

- People involved in the system have a sense and
recognition of the relationships and areas of common
concerns with other members.
- The system has longevity, continuity and is expected to
- Its operations depend considerably on voluntary
cooperation, with a minimal use (or threat) of sanctions or
- It is multi-functional. The system is expected to produce
many things and to be attuned to many dimensions of
- The system is complex, dynamic and sufficiently large that
instrumental relationships predominate.
- Usually, there is a geographic element associated with its
definition and basic boundaries.
(James B. Cook: Community Development Theory)
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

The community cultural development

 The community cultural development field is global, with a
decades-long history of practice, discourse, learning and

 In Europe and much of the developing world, the work of the
field was recognized by cultural authorities, development
agencies and funders as a meaningful way to assist
communities coping with the forces of modernization.

 As the phenomenon of globalization accelerates,
community cultural development practice is more and
more widely recognized as a powerful response to current
social conditions. The precise nature of this response always
shifts as social circumstances change.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

characteristics of community cultural development

 Community, to acknowledge its participatory nature, which
emphasizes collaborations between artists and other
community members;
 Cultural, to indicate the generous concept of culture (rather
than, more narrowly, art) and the broad range of tools and
forms in use in the field, from aspects of traditional practice,
to oral-history approaches usually associated with historical
research and social studies, to use of high-tech
communications media, to elements of activism and
community organizing more commonly seen as part of non-
arts social-change campaigns; and
 Development, to suggest the dynamic nature of cultural
action, with its ambitions of conscientization and
empowerment and to link it to other enlightened community-
development practices, especially those incorporating
principles of self-development rather than development
imposed from above.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Conscientization, from the Portuguese conscientizao of
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is an ongoing process by
which a learner moves toward critical consciousness. This
process is the heart of liberatory education. It differs from
"consciousness raising" in that the latter may involve
transmission of preselected knowledge.

Conscientization means breaking through prevailing
mythologies to reach new levels of awareness—in particular,
awareness of oppression, being an "object" of others’ will
rather than a self-determining "subject."
The process of conscientization involves identifying
contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming
part of the process of changing the world.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

"The practitioners and thinkers in community cultural
development do not suggest that making theater or murals
can substitute for the other social and political acts that
create a humane and equitable society. But these community
cultural development activities are demonstrably the best
available tools to teach the skills and values of true
citizenship: critical thinking, interrogating one's own
assumptions, exercising social imagination and creative
problem solving, simultaneously holding in mind one's
immediate interests and the larger interests of the community
as a whole."
— "Community, Culture and Globalization"
Don Adams & Arlene Goldbard, Rockefeller Foundation,
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Forum theatre - a social learning and changing process
The learning process is
"reflecting on experience to
identify how a situation or
future actions could be
improved and then using the
knowledge to actually make
This can be individual or
group based or within

 The left side of the vertical
arrow represents doing
tasks, the right side
observing tasks. The upper
half represents feeling (being
creative and emotional), the
bottom (logical) thinking.

 People usually have their
own preferences in one of
the four learning styles: they
are more exploring,
analysing, decision-making
or acting types. A well-
balanced team consists of David Kolb (1984)
people with different learning
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Forum theatre – a tool for social change and community
The cultural intervention as a method of adult learning (using
art – theatre, drawings, etc - to explore and understand the
civic behaviors) is an important tool toward creative
communities and build adult’s awareness about their role
within the society and their personal and community
developmental needs.

- is a tool that helps people to explore local needs and an
creative end constructive way; increases creativity of people,
as a key ingredient for positive strategic thinking and
increases the sense of local identity (which is a basis for
deeper involvement in community life).

- is a specific body of techniques designed to teach people
how to take an active role within their community, both
through their local government, and through directly finding
solutions to a problem in their particular community, whether
it be environmental, social, political or economic.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Forum theatre – a tool for social change and community

- as method, encourages ludic learning which offer people
possibility to communicate easier, to see things in a new
way and liberate for stereotypes; promote the equality; offer
the possibility to create a vision.

- it aims to positively influence the associative local
capacities and the capacity to analyze local problems.

- it hopes to create a stimulant and flexible working
environment, so that new behaviors, new kind of
relationship can be exercised and learned, in order to
consider also the needs of oppressed/powerless members
of the community.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

The Challenge

The idea of testing the Forum Theatre method in different
communities, from different countries, with the aim to transfer it
through experiential methods to those who need it appeared as
a challenge for the seven partners implementing the Forum
Theatre (FT) – a method for adult civic education GRUNDTVIG
1 project.

Although the method itself is not new, in the partners’ countries –
Italy, Malta, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria - it is rarely
used and almost never transferred to the local initiative
groups, as a method for community development.

All the partners had previous experience in adult education and
a special interest for active citizenship, elements that provide the
needed coherence for a common project.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Acting out to find solutions

Forum theatre is a way through which adults explore their
needs and possible solutions by acting the situation
(oppression) they feel and face.

It is a way through which adults build understanding of
their situation and explore in a creative and flexible way
the needs and potential solutions.

The marginalized people can express their problems and
their feelings and learn a way to become “heard voices”.

Applying this method at European level, we can develop a
strong instrument for helping people to be more involved in
community life and in influencing public policies.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

From heros to Freire and Boal
Story teller/
Religious Priest + active Anthic interpreter +
worshippers theatre audience
Early communities

Mystery and Miracle plays
Outdoor setting,
out of the church
Theatre of the
Actor +
Classic Actor + passive
Augusto Boal
theatre audience
16th Century
Theatre Actor + reflective
posing audience
Berthold Brecht
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Freire and Boal

Freire and Boal were both Brazilian, both arrested and
imprisoned, both exiled, both returned to their
homeland, both worked in different fields to help fellow
Brazilians who were on the periphery of society and
both won international repute.

Freire and Boal first met in 1960 when the latter was
touring with Arena Theatre in the northeast of Brazil,
where Freire grew up.

Freire powerfully influenced Boal’s thinking and,
indirectly, his practice.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Augusto Boal
During the 1950's and 1960's, Boal began to develop the
philosophy that led to Theatre of the Oppressed (TO). It was
a tradition that audiences were invited to discuss a play at the
end of a performance. Boal felt that such a practice restricted
the audience in the role of viewers to the action presented.

While touring in northern Brazil, Boal developed a process
whereby members of the audience could stop a
performance and suggest different actions for the actors
who in turn carried out the audience suggestions – thus giving
the spectators themselves an opportunity to come up with
their own solutions to their collective problems.

This was the birth of Forum Theater and that of the spect-
actor which transformed the theatre of Augusto Boal.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Monologue = oppression

A definition of oppression made by Boal:
“Oppression is a relationship in which there is
only monologue, not dialogue.” (Boal, Augusto. The
Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy.
London, 1995 )

In the Theatre of the Oppressed, oppression is
defined, in part, as a power dynamic based
on monologue rather than dialogue; a relation
of domination and command that prohibits
the oppressed from being who they are.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Theatre of the Oppressed
The Theatre of the Oppressed was developed by
Augusto Boal, who had experimented with many kinds of
interactive theatre.
His explorations were based on the assumption that
dialogue is the common, healthy dynamic between all
humans, which all human beings desire and are capable
of dialogue, and that when a dialogue becomes a
monologue, oppression occurs.
Theatre then becomes an extraordinary tool for
transforming monologue into dialogue. "While some
people make theatre," says Boal, "we all are theatre."
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Forum Theatre – aiming social change

 Through such participation the audience became
empowered to imagine changes, practice the changes,
reflect collectively on the suggestions made and become
empowered to generate social change.

 In Boal’s own words “A Forum is a question posed to
the audience, seeking answers. The question has to be
clear. If the spect-actors are to be able to intervene and
offer alternatives, and if the Forum is to enrich our
understanding, the central idea must be perceptible to
all” (Boal, Augusto. Legislative Theatre. London, 1998)
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT methodology
The participants create the images and narrative to think
about power in relation to:
 Showing what they could do if they had power.
 Speculate about what they would do if they had power.
 Arrive at some assessment of what power they would need
in order to improve current circumstances.
 Postulate a range of narratives that cannot be achieved by
power structures that exist at present.

However dominant a social system may be, the very
meaning of its domination involves a limitation or selection of
activities it covers. In terms of standard research practice,
this leads to the dominance of correlation and documentation
whose validity depends on the approval of established
regimes of thought (Foucault, 1980).
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT methodology
 Therefore, experiential Forum Theatre does not accept that
all social experiences have been exhausted. It potentially
contains space for alternative acts and alternative intentions,
which are not yet articulated as a social institution (Williams,

 Through non-verbal images and narrative primarily created
by the participants, with the researcher as facilitator, the
action of thinking perceives reality as process and
transformation, rather than contemplating the status quo.

 The experiential nature of Forum Theatre, in a research
workshop setting, proceeds to investigate such contextual
realities by means of abstraction through coded dramatic
situations created by the group as a whole.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT working phase

sessions to create
1. Choosing the communities working script
 selecting the group
 exercises
 criteria for selecting the group
 methods for building group cohesion
Analyse and
 involving leaders of the communities upraise improvised
 involving key persons from the scenes

2. Selecting the theme
 Criteria of a good-enough issue/theme
for FT (Relevant, Credible, Unsolved, Make required
Consensual) changes
 Challenges in finding the issue/theme
 Processes of selection and finding
consensus in the group
regarding the theme
 Testing the chosen issue/theme.

Rehearse finalized
script for
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT working phase
3. Build the script and script analysis
 Organising and ranking ideas, factors, issues
 Analysing factors, steps, relationships
 Participatory learning tools
 Planning
4. Communication and promotion
5. Rehearsing the play
 Working on the play
 Stage dynamics and settings
 The characters
6. The Jocker
7. The moment of truth
 The last chance for checking all technical details
 Introduction / actors, audience, rules
 Presenting the play / stop in dramatic moment
 The action of the joker + examples
 The reaction of the audience / do not reacting, debate, taking
decision about changing roles
 The new play with the new actor / actors
 The action of joker / reaction of audience
 The debate about solutions / finding solution
 The invitation for future plays
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT working methodology
 The decoding or deconstruction of images and narratives
requires moving from the abstract to the concrete. The actors
are always acting out the characters they roughly imaged,
but it is the active audience, the whole research workshop
group, that supply a narrative.
 Forum Theatre participants in the audience are asked to
identify character and power relationships in the image and
how they are related to the wider social construct.
 This is followed by the audience identifying education, social,
employment and life-skill needs for all characters in the
image of a transforming narrative.
 According to Aristotle’s Poetics, something underserved
happens to a character that resembles ourselves.
 This flux and reflux of active-information from the abstract to
the concrete occurs during an analysis of a narrative image
and leads to the supersedence of the abstraction by the
critical perception of the concrete (Freire, 1990).
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT working methodology
 The experiential structure of image, character and
transforming narrative evident in Forum Theatre is different
from role-playing. Role-playing depends on an individual
portraying somebody and usually entails the individual
drawing on his or her own experiences to develop a role, an
individual constructed role that is then performed to a
workshop audience.
 This encourages the individual to draw from their own real
issues and can lead to uncomfortable situations where the
participant becomes the focus and is separate from the wider
 Active-information can change and decide developments. As
emancipatory research enables people to show and to
speak, so they become part of the struggle and the struggle
becomes part of the research effect. All that happens only
happens because there is a struggle (Freire, 1990).
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Elements of Forum Theatre (FT)

FT implies the development of a short play presenting a
situation of oppression. This is presented to the target
audience that has to identify the oppressed characters.

At the end of the play the audience is asked by the Joker
if any of the characters could have acted differently in a
way that would have changed the end of the play.

The play is played for the second time. This time,
however, members of the audience have the possibility of
stopping the play and replacing a character to
demonstrate their ideas for change.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Elements of Forum Theatre (FT) - The Joker

Boal created a character which he called the Joker.
The Joker is a specific figure within FT, whose function is to
mediate between actors and spectators and in all ways
possible assist the latter’s participation within the drama
enfolding. His/her task is to facilitate, but not control the
theatre event.
The Joker is Boal’s innovative contribution to community
theatre committed to social change.
The Joker has to explain the rules of a FT presentation and
s/he is the ‘master of ceremonies’ during the performance.
He has to create a safe place where people feel free to
exchange their stories and look for solutions to their collective
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Good practice in using forum theatre

 The idea of testing the Forum Theatre method in different
communities, from different countries, with the aim to
transfer it through experiential methods to those who need it
appeared as a challenge for the seven partners
implementing the Forum Theatre (FT) – a method for adult
civic education GRUNDTVIG 1 project.
 Although the method itself is not new, in the partners’
countries – Italy, Malta, Hungary, Poland, Romania and
Bulgaria - it is rarely used and almost never transferred to
the local initiative groups, as a method for community
 All the partners had previous experience in adult education
and a special interest for active citizenship, elements that
provide the needed coherence for a common project.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Goal of FT project

The aim of the overall project is to explore, learn about and
adapt the Forum Theatre method in order to use it as a
method for adult civic education.

‘The project intend to develop, test and disseminate - at
the European level - an innovative cultural approach
aimed to help different target groups (communities or
marginalized groups) to be more visible in community
life and, even more, to influence public policies’.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Project’s partners

Workshop for Civic Initiative Foundation,

Association For Istenkút Community,
Academy of Humanities and Economics in Lodz,

Romanian Association for Community Development,

Ministry of Education – Education Division, Malta

Municipality of Colleferro, Italy
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences


To develop FT as a method of working with adults in
order to develop civic competencies and increase their
capacity to play an active and responsible role within
the local community.

Develop a network of co-operation among European
organizations using cultural methodologies to promote
civic competencies.

Improve organizational capacities to develop
information, guidance and counselling services for
adult learners and adult education providers and
marketing the organizational competences at national
and European level.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Main activities

The project tested the Forum Theatre methodology in
different communities – in rural and urban areas; after this
we completed a comparative analysis of the implemented
process and of the results achieved.
The organizations involved into the project gained valuable
know-how through the research in their local communities
and through the transnational inputs of the partnership.
The sum of good practice examples and various aspects of
the implementation process helped us to develop a
consistent methodology for efficient implementation of the
Forum Theatre method.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Outcomes and outputs

• The partner organizations developed their organizational
capacities to provide adults education services - through FT

• More then seventy four social development practitioners from
the five countries in which the method was tested (the Maltese
partner having the role of the expert and consultant) develop
competencies in using this method (learned the theoretical basis
and applied it).
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Outcomes and outputs

 A web site dedicated to the F T Method as an adult learning
tool, with an english version and versions in national
languages of the partners.

 The first steps towards a European network of FT
practitioners: the web site and a new project proposal for
supporting the development of this network

 Photographic exhibitions in all partners’ countries, presenting
images from all the steps made in the project
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT themes in our communities
Romania: the gap between the teachers and the students,
oppression and violence in schools and corruption of the
teachers; a village which faced a real tragedy few years ago
when it was an earth caved in, with unemployed people facing
poverty and domestic violence; families keeping the teenagers
home to work, not allowing them to study; conflicts in community
caused by land property rights; theft from the corn crops.

Hungary – the evil mentor (problems in mentor-volunteers
relationship); parents run away from their responsibilities; family
conflict; Women in adult education;

Poland – abortion; homosexuals coming out in the family
(other ides explored: intolerance, drugs, lack of safety,
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

FT themes in our communities

Bulgaria – lack of active citizenship; lack of emergency health
services; conflicts in community because of acute competition
for tourists (economic competition); children not allowed to go to
sport activities because of school competition; an old person
everybody was afraid accepting new ideas/challenges

Italy – lack of communication between doctors and patients;
youth unemployment; relationships within a psychiatric centre;
lack of safety provided by authorities/ feeling of insecurity
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Theatre improves action
FT method is helping community activists to develop their skills
and make them more effective:
trains them as facilitators of group dynamic techniques,
designed to enhance democratic group process, community-
building and solidarity;
stimulates reflection on and discussion of both the structure
of organizing models and strategies and the changing nature of
political organizing;
provides them with the opportunity to work with other people in
a safe space, in order to explore and confront issues of power
and oppression that concern them;
provides a work frame designed to enable people to apply
and adapt elements of the training they’ve received in intensive
FT workshops.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

Other related types of forum theatre
 In Image Theater, the body is used to create images that help
participants explore power relations and group solutions to concrete
problems. Subsequent acts recreate the same scenario of
oppression, but other members of the workshop are free to
intervene at any time in the dramatic action to offer or propose
alternate solutions to the original oppressive action.

 Invisible Theater is one of the techniques of the Theater of the
Oppressed, in which "actors" create "theatrical" situations in public
places, but where the public does not realize that a performance is
unfolding before them; can be "performed" anywhere -in city streets,
in restaurants, on public transportation, etc. It’s a type of guerilla
theater, and has been used by political activists all over the world
around numerous issues big and small.

 Legislative Theater, which pushes Forum Theater a step further, is
Boal’s most recent innovation. This method of governing came to be
called legislative theater in which ordinary people, usually restricted
to the role of voters, were encouraged to become legislators.
Brazil now has 13 laws that were created in legislative-theater
forums, and experiments in legislative theater-type work have since
taken place in London, Toronto, Munich, and Paris.
Learning from FORUM THEATRE Experiences

“The conviction that there is an actor in each of us is the driving
force behind a form of drama that seeks to awaken consciences
and change lives” Angusto Boal