My work as a writer, theatre director and film-maker made me aware of how much social injustice there is in our world. It made me wonder why, and consider what I could do about it.
As a forum theatre facilitator, I worked in many different settings, creating theatre with diverse groups, from the police to full-time carers. In Toronto, my company and I helped Portuguese senior citizens express their anxieties and frustrations about their lives as unpaid baby-sitters for their adult children, who had made new lives in Canada and then imported their parents. We did this through forum theatre. This was a group of people who could not speak English, but were able to use Augusto Boal’s forum theatre to examine their issues and seek to explore solutions in action.
In the UK, I worked extensively with carers, carers groups and the statutory and voluntary sectors, using theatre to highlight and explore emotional and practical issues associated with caring. Again, theatre and forum theatre worked in situations where a conference approach with speakers had not. Engaging people using theatre that speaks their language, works.
My use of forum theatre strived to involve people in a carefully researched theatre piece, so that the story resonated with the audience deeply. This gave them emotional permission to look at their roles as carers in the context of scenes showing a problem or mistake and gave them the opportunity to try out a variety of solutions – a sort of rehearsal for reality. Because these forum plays were presented to both carers and professionals, it gave each group the chance to see things from the other’s perspective and then to work together to explore possible solutions.
Creating training workshops for those working in the field of child protection was especially challenging. Writing forum theatre plays and using them in training sessions with groups meant that my actors and I had to understand the issues, the emotions involved and respond intuitively to the demands made on them during a forum session. My role in such sessions was that of ’the joker’ – the person who acts as a go-between with the audience/participants and the actors.
Forum theatre is still used all over the world. In London, the theatre company Cardboard Citizens used forum to highlight homelessness. Adrian Jackson, who translated many of Augusto Boal’s books, is one of the best forum theatre practitioners around.
Raising awareness of social injustice and using theatre and film to spotlight such injustice is not new. Now we have films and television programmes that face such things head on. Yet social injustice is still with us and it is escalating. Why?