Learning with the Forum Theatre

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Students play a game on the first day with the Forum Theatre Group. In this game, they created physical images to represent the oppressed and the oppressors. 

It’s been a couple of exciting weeks here at the EarthRights School. Many visitors have been coming in to teach the students (on a side note- this is one of the aspects that makes ERI so cool; many past alumni stay well-connected to the school and come back to share their experiences by teaching the students for a couple of days or even longer). One group that came to visit was the Forum Theatre Group.

Before the Forum Theatre Group came to visit ERI, I was only vaguely familiar with Theatre of the Oppressed and its role in building peace and dialogues in societies. However, over the course of a week, I learned a lot about how it can be conducted and the impact it can have.

For those of you who are not familiar with what Theatre of the Oppressed is, it was first practiced by Augusto Boal, who was inspired by an educator and theorist named Paulo Freire. Theatre of the Oppressed (of which Forum Theatre is kind of like a subcategory) is not made to be formal. Rather, its purpose is to give participators tools to strengthen activist movements, as well as build a dialogue and peace in fun and creative ways.

Our Forum Theatre Group came from Vietnam, but the alumni that presented and helped teach for the week were also from Laos and Myanmar. These alumni are passionate about earth rights, and, in particular, this method for building community unity. Over the course of about a week, the current students at ERI learned about Forum Theatre and created their own skits to perform.

The students played many games and worked really hard to develop their skits. We have a total of 16 students, so we divided the students into two groups of eight. The issue that each group focused on was land rights, but they each developed their ideas in different ways. The students learned about how to create a story and what a protagonist and antagonist are. The students were instructed to end their plays with the antagonist (which was usually a combination of a greedy developer and ambivalent government official) “winning.”

I didn’t quite understand the point of all of this until the students went to formally perform their plays. The unique aspect about Forum Theatre is that, after a group has run through their play, the audience is then able to intervene when they perform it again. By intervening at crucial moments, audience members try to change the ending of the play so that the protagonist can win.

In our case, I thought this was particularly useful because many of our audience members came from the legal and policy branch of ERI. They worked with the students on stage, making up dialogue as they went along. Efforts to reverse the fortunes of the protagonist in the play involved trying to get the antagonist to have a more open-ended conversation, as well as protesting and trying to gain international awareness about the issue.

One aspect of interning at ERI that has been great is that I am constantly learning about these issues, and the Forum Theatre Group is an amazing example of a teaching tool to raise awareness, as well as discuss the problems in a new way within a community. This method in particular definitely requires a lot of effort and understanding, but, when done correctly, I think it would be an effective way of uniting a community and building a base of support to discuss, and ultimately take action on, an issue.

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