At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Medium - High
Length of process: 
1 day
Number of participants: 
Varies.
Participant selection: 
Self-selecting (usually)
Online / Offline: 
Offline

Forum Theatre uses theatre to achieve social aims. It is a form of theatre that encourages audience interaction and explores different options for dealing with a problem or issue. Forum Theatre is often used by socially excluded and disempowered groups.

Description

Forum Theatre (also known as Boal's Theatre, 'Theatre of the Oppressed' or 'Theatre for Development') is an interactive theatre form invented in the early 1970s by Augusto Boal. Boal’s aim was to help audience members identify their “internal oppressions”’ in order to begin to overcome them.

The audience is shown a short play in which a central character (protagonist) encounters a form of oppression or obstacle which s/he is unable to overcome. The subject-matter will usually be something of immediate importance to the audience, often based on a shared life experience. In the UK Forum Theatre has been used to tackle issues like family relationships, homelessness, employment and health.

When the play has been performed members of the audience can take to the stage and suggest alternative options for how the protagonist could have acted. In this way, the event can be used to rehearse for an imminent occasion, or to uncover and analyse alternatives in any situation, past, present or future. The actors explore the results of these choices with the audience creating a kind of theatrical debate, in which experiences and ideas are rehearsed and shared, generating both solidarity and a sense of empowerment.

Participants

  • Forum Theatre can be used with any type of audience.
  • The method has in particular been used by and with groups who feel excluded, such as the homeless or residents in areas affected by poverty.

Costs

Medium - High.

  • If experienced volunteers and a free venue can be found, the costs can be low.
  • If formal training is required this can cost a lot. There might also be costs for the production of the play as well as the expenses and wages of the actors.

Approximate time expense

Medium:

  • The event itself takes as long as a 'normal' play with an additional 30 minutes at the end of the play for audience participation.
  • Setting up a Forum Theatre play usually takes a number of months.

Strengths

  • Acts as an ambassador for the arts in the social sector
  • Provides an entertaining yet meaningful way for working with socially excluded groups
  • Powerful tool for exploring solutions to difficult problems
  • Develops skills of the actors, whom are often people from socially excluded groups

Weaknesses

  • Requires the skills and ability amongst the organisers to create a powerful and meaningful play
  • Requires actors with the skills to improvise around the audience participation
  • Rarely linked directly to decision making

Origin

International Development/Community Development: Created by Augusto Boal a Brazilian theatre practitioner, writer, director, theorist and teacher, and the founder of an international movement, the Theatre of the Oppressed.

More information 

Cardboard Citizens is one of the UK's leading practitioners of Forum Theatre. 

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