Doing Forum Theatre
What is Forum Theatre?
Forum theatre is an interactive form of performance that creates an outlet for people to discuss and strategize around sensitive social and personal issues such as those surrounding HIV and AIDS. Typically, a theatre groups puts on a performance which can incorporate many different elements including narration, dance, puppetry, and acting. There is a group discussion following the performance.
Why Use Forum Theatre for HIV/AIDS Education?
Forum Theatre has the ability to convey a powerful and memorable message to its audience because it presents real situations for the public to consider and provokes the audience to explore and develop strategies to deal with these situations together. Through its interactive approach, forum theatre can provide the public with important information, emotional support, and problem-solving skills that they may find difficult to obtain elsewhere.
✓ Excellent at moving past HIV and AIDS taboos
✓ Brings people together creating the potential for a collective response
x Depending on props, lighting, sound etc., it can be expensive
x Can be difficult to find an appropriate venue
How to Use Forum Theatre for HIV/AIDS Education
Before Getting Started
Make sure the performance is culturally appropriate. To achieve a meaningful result, performers must understand the myths and taboos surrounding marriage, partnership, and sexuality that exist in the spectators’ own lives. In addition, it is important for the performance to convey a message that is appropriate to the particular target group in terms of their language, age, gender, and so on.
To help achieve this:
- Specify the audience
- Identify the problems facing members of that audience (stigma, sexism, poverty, etc.)
- Determine the existing level of HIV and AIDS awareness
- Consider cultural factors including myths, taboos, and social structures that would impact discussion of a sensitive issue such as HIV and AIDS within the community
Once the target group is identified, information about relevant issues and norms can be obtained by conducting surveys; by conducting interviews with members of the community including, where possible, those affected by HIV AIDS; by facilitating discussions with focus groups; and by engaging in discussion with community leaders, teachers, and health professionals who know the target group well. Accurate and detailed information will increase the impact the performance has on its audience.
*Tip* The most successful programs include the involvement of people living with HIV and the wider community in all stages (planning, implementation, and evaluation).
Structure of Forum Theatre
Forum theatre is an effective tool for raising awareness because it is interactive in nature. The easiest way to envision it is as a game the audience is invited to participate in. While there are a number of variations on forum theatre, in general, a performance consists of three parts: an introduction to the problem, a forum with the audience including the replay of key scenes, and a final dialogue with the audience.
The introduction should be enjoyable, entertaining, and attention-grabbing. At the start of the performance the narrator or “joker” explains the rules of the game and invites the audience to play. The theatre group then performs a model play which introduces a problem that is related to a problem that one of the spectators may be experiencing in his/her daily life. The model play revolves around a main character who is confronted by a challenging situation by another character. The struggle between the two characters plays out and the story ends badly - without a solution to the problem.
*Tip* It is important to leave the audience with the impression that the negative result in the model play arose as a result of an error in judgment, behaviour, or a bad situation that could be changed and not as a consequence of fate. This leaves the door open for the audience to become involved in the process of coming to a positive resolution and does not foster a sense of helplessness amongst the spectators.
The goal of forum theatre is to transform the audience from passive spectators into active participants; the forum is the part of the performance where this transformation takes place.
The joker is responsible for the following:
- Introduces the forum and acts as an intermediary between the public and the performers
- Invites the audience to summarise what they have observed, discuss what they think the main problem is, and express their opinions about what they have seen
- Allows time for the audience to discuss amongst themselves and adjust to the idea of expressing themselves in front of one another
- Initiates the replay of key scenes where audience members are invited to replace the main character and act out what they think the character should have done in the situation (usually the spectator is given some element of the character’s costume, like a hat, to wear while they perform)
- Mediates discussion about the various solutions proposed by members of the audience and asks questions like, “Does this happen in real life?” or “Is this possible?”
The Final Dialogue
The final dialogue is an opportunity for the audience to discuss the outcome of the play and how the situation faced by the main character personally relates to them.
To stimulate discussion, the joker can ask the following questions:
- What have been the learning points in this session?
- If you could choose one word to describe this session, what would it be?
- What can you do in your own life to help ensure you will not be in the same situation as the main character in this performance?
- What strategies do you think were the most effective?
- Did you recognize anything in this story?
- Can this happen in real-life?
- What advice would you give your own friends or family faced with a similar situation?
*Tip* When discussing strategies, do not ask if the interventions were realistic because this type of questioning reinforces a feeling that change is impossible. Instead, ask if the interventions are possible.
The discussion that takes place in this final stage is designed to help spectators relate to the main actor on stage and connect his/her struggle to their own personal lives. This helps to avoid a situation where members of the audience detach themselves from the situation and passively give advice as if the problem does not apply to them. During the final discussion, local specialists or partners also have the opportunity to address the crowd and share resources that may be of great benefit to the community.
To conclude the performance, the joker sums up the main ideas presented and reviews the strategies developed during the forum. It is important that this summary reflect the ideas actually presented and not over-simplify and provide a fake consensus.
*Tip* After the performance, carry out an evaluation. This way the activity can be improved for next time.
Examples of Groups/Organizations That Have Used Forum Theatre for HIV/AIDS Education
YouthCO's Forum Theatre Troupe Workshop consists of theatre games and the creation of still images with bodies. Audience members are then invited into the scene to try to improve or change the situation. Workshop themes include issues like sex, sexualities, drug use, and self-esteem. The Troupe provides youth a safe space to explore the issues that impact them and generate positive responses.
Temwa's AIDS Action Clubs in Schools project is aimed at protecting Malawi's youth from the spread of HIV and has established 30 successful clubs in primary and secondary schools since March 2010. Forum theatre is incorporated into the clubs' activities in order to provide active engagement and leadership on topics surrounding HIV and its spread.
World Wide Web: Information on Existing HIV/AIDS Forum Theatre Resources
Condom Sense: A real life education with About Face Youth Theatre (2009)
Retrieved May 2010 from http://www.communityarts.net/readingroom/archivefiles/2009/12/condom_sense_a.php
Manual for theatre troupes: "AIDS and Theatre: How to use theatre to respond to HIV/AIDS" (2006)
Retrieved August 2010 from http://portal.unesco.org
(available in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic)