I’m a die-hard Forum Theater fan. After 15 years of using it in a bunch of different contexts, I thought I couldn’t love it anymore. Then last night, with the youth fellows of the Heal the Streets program of the Ella Baker Center – I found even more love – through their exuberant feedback after playing with it a little. Forum Theater is a tool from the arsenal of Theater of the Oppressed with incredible transformative power and gazilions of uses.
Primarily, Forum Theater is used to explore and rehearse possible actions that people can take to transform their world. It can be used in classrooms to critically analyze an issue, prior to direct actions and in anti-oppression workshops. With the Ella Baker Center, I’m using it as a research tool as part of a 9 month Participatory Action Research process.
What is it?
It is basically a short play (that mirrors reality) with a bad ending that is performed multiple times. After the first performance, spectators become spect-actors and can at any point yell “freeze”, then replace the protagonist to try to change the bad ending. It is a practice in democracy in which everyone can speak and everyone can act.
One of the first things that spect-actors realize is that, like life, if they don’t intervene, nothing will change. Our problems will go on and oppression will continue unless and until people do something. The next thing spect-actors find is that doing “something” is not enough, it must be a strategic something. Not every intervention works out. Forum theater becomes a laboratory to experiment with different types of actions. The people acting as oppressors on stage will maintain their oppression until they are authentically stopped. It’s not easy, just like life.
The protagonist must be a character that everyone (or most) of the people in a room can identify with, so that they are rehearsing their own action. It is not theater of advice. We do not do this to show what we think other people should do, we do this to discover what we can do.
Forum theater is facilitated by someone called a Joker who engages the entire group – actors and spect-actors in dialogue through-out the process without asserting her or his point of view. After an intervention, the Joker may ask, “Did this work?” “Was this realistic?”, “Can you do this in real life?”.
It was developed by Augusto Boal, starting in the 50′s and then through the 70′s in exile by the Brazilian Military Dictatorship. Around the world as people have used Forum Theater it has been adapted hundreds of ways. Currently it is used in at least half of the countries in the world with applications in everything from therapy to movement building. The use that Boal said he most intended is exemplified by Jana Sanscriti, a group that has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to transform the politics and situations of violence in India using Forum Theater.
Check out more on Theater of the Oppressed.
Stay tuned for more posts about Forum Theater as a Participatory Action Research tool as we develop it together at the Ella Baker Center.
Coming upUPCOMING EVENTS
Currently none scheduled
April 28, 6:30 PM PRESENTATION: Action Research Community Reception and Recognition, AERA conference. In the Grand Ballroom East, Grand Hyatt, San Francisco
Oct 6,7 WORKSHOP: Theater of the Oppressed 101 at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A follow up to Popular Education 101.
May 16,23 WORKSHOP: Participatory Action Research for educators and organizers at the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. Registration is open here: www.politicaleducation.org
June 3 WORKSHOP: From Forum to Action; Participatory Action Research grounded in Theater of the Oppressed At the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference, Berkeley. Register here: http://www.ptoweb.org/
dates tbd, 11:00-5:00 April 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Practices in Youth-Led and Theater-Based Participatory Action Research" & PRESENTATION: Youth-Led Action Research to Heal the Streets 9th Annual Action Research Conference at the UCSD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences San Diego, CA
March 28-31 WORKSHOP: "Exploring the Intersections of Whiteness and Femaleness" White Privilege Conference Albuquerque, NM
Feb 21, 6:00-9:00pm White Noise Dialogue to explore why so many people socialized as white and female are in helping professions. San Francisco.
Feb 27 & March 3, 11:00-5:00 WORKSHOP: Popular Education 101: Theories and Practices for organizers. At the Center for Political Education, San Francisco. A remixed and re-offered version of Paulo Freire 101 offered last Spring.
Oct 15, 10:30-12:00 Neighborhood Safety Summit, Laney College, Oakland. Last year's Heal the Streets youth fellows and OPD officers will talk about their mistrust of each other, and what to do about it.
Oct 18, 6:00-9:00 White Noise monthly dialogue, San Francisco. People socialized as both white and female talk about Cultural Appropriation www.conspireforchange.org
July 21 Chicago, IL, PTO conference Workshop: Harvesting Knowledge for Collective Action: Youth-Led Participatory Action Research at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference
July 23, 24, 30, 31 @ 4pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance: Popol Vuh, Heart of Heaven
August 4-7, 2011 Portland, OR, Aero Conference 2 Workshops: Participatory Theater for Educators & Youth-Adult Partnerships: Practicing Youth-Led Participatory Action Research
September 3, 4, 5 @ 1pm San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino Free Performance:Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, Seven Macaw & the Magic Twins