Acting out challenges

  • By Zoe Tabary
  • 24/02/2016

Participants engage in a forum theatre exercise at the Annual Learning Event in Dakar, Senegal, on 11 February 2016. Mohamed Diop


Can improvisational theatre help build better climate resilience?

Representatives from over 100 organisations implementing resilience-building programmes gave it a try at the BRACED Annual Learning Event, held in Dakar, Senegal, in February. Among an array of sessions on resilience programming, delegates had the opportunity to participate in two three-hour sessions of “forum theatre”.

The concept, pioneered by the late theatre director Augusto Boal, is simple: performers act a scene representing some kind of oppression or problem - twice. The first time, it’s performed as a normal play. But the second time, the audience is encouraged to interrupt the actors, take on one of the roles themselves and show how they would change the situation.

The session started with a few “energisers” to break the ice, such as short improvisation sessions in pairs. For five minutes, I was a frustrated mechanical engineering student trying to convince his mother to let him go into (and pay for) acting.

We then split into two groups. One had to devise a conflict situation that one of more of the actors had experienced in real life, while the other group was asked to sit back and observe.

The acting group settled on a talented employee being offered an external speaking opportunity, only to be denied it by a forceful and less competent colleague as she pitched the idea to her manager.

When watching the scene for the second time, a woman from the audience volunteered to take the employee’s place and made her plea to her boss more argumentative (by stressing that she was the best person for the job). The boss and senior colleague still said no.

Then a spectator suggested bringing in a benevolent colleague to help convince the manager. The boss seemed hesitant, but still sided with the overpowering employee.

Finally, a man from the audience suggested scheduling a later meeting to discuss the presentation opportunity, thus giving the employee time to find allies and sway her manager.

Looking back on the scenes, actors and spectators decided that a combination of all three strategies was the most sensible course of action. All agreed that solutions that had seemed obvious when watching the scene turned out to be somewhat harder to put into practice.

Angelo Miramonti, facilitator of the session, explained his approach: “The exercise isn’t just about the audience giving ideas, the person has to come on stage and act their solution to the problem. That creates empathy. We don’t judge what is good or bad, we discuss alternatives to challenges.”  

Participants concurred.

“Forum theatre was a fantastic way to explore issues that we may not have discussed otherwise,” said Nicola Kelly, communications officer at Christian Aid and one of the participants.  “We navigated sensitivities, got to the root of the issue and then worked out how we might resolve the problem. A really interactive, enlivening session.”

Climate resilience experts deal with a variety of issues and challenges on a day-to-day basis. Forum theatre offers them a way to collectively generate solutions to a problem, with perhaps more creativity (and fun!) than a typical brainstorm.

To find out more about the concept and how to apply it to your project(s), join our webinar on 5 April.

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