How to change the world with Forum Theatre

Cambodian performing arts - 4 marionettes in red and yellow costumes

Oxfam _Theatre project

By Sunita Mager – Phare Ponleu Selpak’s theatre group is truly something special. It connects people from all levels of society, it touches lives, can sow seeds of change, or spark a dormant impulse to act on one’s integrity. That’s deep!  But, just imagine, theatre has the power to actually change our world as we know it. How? you ask, with a theatre methodology called Forum Theatre.

What is Forum Theatre?

Created by theatre director Augusto Boal, Forum Theatre, or better yet ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ is a type of theatre that teaches people how to change their world. By using a methodology called ‘simultaneous dramaturgy’, the audience members become ‘spect-actors’ and are encouraged to stop a performance or scene in which a character is oppressed in some way. In an attempt to bring audience members into the performance (as spect-actors), the audience either suggests different actions for the actors to carry out on stage, or come on stage themselves to perform their own solutions or interventions to have an input on the drama they were watching. 


How it Works

And this is where the interactive mumble-jumble begins. While the spect-actor tries to overturn the oppression, the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to end the production with its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor’s actions are unrealistic, they can call out “magic!”, in which the spect-actor must modify their actions accordingly. When this happens, the production changes again and if the pect-actor fails to overthrow the oppressor, the actor resumes his character and continues with the production until another spect-actor calls out the word ‘freeze!’ and attempts a different method.

Finally, if and when the the oppression is overthrown by the spect-actor, the production changes again; the spect-actors gain an opportunity to replace the oppressors and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. This way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. This whole process is designed to come to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than where an argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance to reply or counter-argue.

The Impact it Makes

NOV Sreyleap and three other theater artists, graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s theatre troupe, were recently awarded a grant from Oxfam’s Voices for Change program to help empower two communities in Battambang province. Their mission: to make an impact on these communities and to empower them to gain access to their rights and resources by highlighting current issues they face such as the lack of clean water, good roads and electricity.

Since August of 2017 the Phare theatre troupe has been working on this project which will last 8 months. The theatre troupe has been working hard to develop, create and practice their unique forum theatre piece and organize their public performances for upcoming show.  

“We chose to use Forum Theatre as a means to connect with our community and to educate them. It’s important for us to really highlight the potential for change. Together with Oxfam, we are working hard to strengthen the messages to empower our communities.” says Nov Srey Leap, a member of the Phare theatre group.

Baby Steps

Change can be a slow process, especially in more disadvantaged areas within Battambang province. Many people live below the poverty line, so educating citizens of their rights to resources through forum theatre is a creative, yet impactful way to share and connect with them.

“We plan on performing at the river garden in Battambang, as well as hosting workshops with Oxfam. Of course we’ll also try to make many video clips to share on Youtube and other social media.” says Nov Srey Leap.

Click here for more information on Phare theatre and stay up-to-date on their projects.

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