Essay: Reading the Room/Handling Emotions – applied theatre facilitation lesson

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Another critical aspect of good Applied Theatre facilitation is being able to read the room. Do we need to move on or do we need to dig deeper? Is the group engaged or distracted? Have one or more individuals become emotionally triggered? Paying attention to the entirety of your group and their level of engagement is crucial. We do not want anyone to feel alone or without support. Everyone should feel comfortable being 100% themselves at all times. Applied Theatre is about the community, for the community and builds community. We’re there for each other.

What are signs that participants are disengaged, frustrated or emotional?

What could happen if we fail to notice, dismiss or ignore these signs?

Let’s brainstorm strategies on how to handle different challenges and write them down:


Based on your Image Theatre facilitation experience, what went well?

Based on your Image Theatre facilitation experience, what would you like to improve?

What did you learn about your facilitation skills? How would you improve on them?

What ideas do you have on how you might implement Image Theatre in your community?

Additional space for notes…

Forum Theatre

This is likely the most robust version of Theatre of the Oppressed and the one that most effectively captures different concrete strategies of intervening in real world situations. Forum Theatre thus becomes a “laboratory” to experiment with different courses of action.
In Forum Theatre the spect-actors perform an improvised or scripted scene in which an oppression relevant to the group is played out. After reaching the conclusion of the scene, in which the oppressed character(s) fails to overturn the oppression, the actors begin the scene again. At any point during this second scene, any spect-actor watching may call out “freeze!” and then take the place of any actor besides the main antagonist/protagonist. They must maintain the basic qualities of the character that they choose to inhabit but are free to make better choices in their efforts to create a more positive outcome.
If/when the oppression has been positively altered by the spect-actors, the production changes again: they now have the opportunity to replace the oppressed and find new ways of overcoming the oppression through the protagonist. You can also replace the antagonist and make the scene more challenging. At any point in these proceedings a spect-actor can call out “magic” which means they believe that the performance is not an accurate representation of reality – not based on acting skills, but on the behavior of the characters. This keeps the proceedings from being empty of depth or just wishful thinking. Different versions include situations where:

• No-one steps in for the actors, but they just give them advice on how to change their behavior to create a different outcome. The actors then play out the changes. Try this and see how it works in different situations. Debrief.
• New characters are created and added to the scene by the spect-actors. This can create interesting additional dimensions. Debrief.
• Before replaying the scene, the audience is able to ask the characters questions about the choices they made and actions they took. This is frequently provocative to engage the audience and generate ideas for intervention. Debrief.

How could you use Forum Theatre in support of the core activities?

Things to think about:

• The role of the facilitator in this type of theatre is a tricky one. It is easy to leave the group with false optimism about what can work, or to run out of time before everyone is satisfied with what has been attempted. The facilitator must make many small decisions in every moment, such as whether or not to allow the introduction of additional characters, whether or not to add interventions upon other interventions, how many interventions to allow, when to stop an intervention when it’s not going anywhere, and so on.
• Facilitating Forum Theatre with large groups can be very challenging. You have to pay attention to whether everyone can hear what the actors are saying. Dividing them into two or more smaller groups may be helpful but will require additional facilitators.
• Although typically used to rehearse real-life situations in the present day, it can be interesting to play around with challenging issues that have occurred in past decades or even think about “what if” scenarios that our future society might deal with.
• Ensure that the spect-actors performing the scene do not make their characters too one-dimensional. We are working on real situations involving real people. No one should be portrayed either too villainous or too virtuous.

A Forum Theatre workshop scene on racism at Louhelen Bahá’í School in 2016


Facilitating Forum Theatre
One of the first things that Forum Theatre spect-actors quickly realize is that, as in life, if they don’t intervene, nothing will change. The next thing they find is that doing “something” is not enough, it must be a strategic something. The people acting as oppressors on stage will maintain their oppression until they are authentically stopped — and just like in life, stopping them isn’t and should not be easy. But all of these revelations and more should come from them – the spect-actors. Not the facilitator. Boal says, “It is not the place of the theatre to show the correct path, but only to offer the means by which all possible paths may be examined.” When someone learns something on their own, it sticks. When they’re told, it’s forgotten.

The Basic outline for facilitating Image Theatre

1. Create a safe environment and facilitate any warm-up exercises you’d like.
2. Explain the version of Forum Theatre that the group will be doing. Give clear, detailed instructions and ensure everyone understands before moving forward.
3. Break the larger group into smaller groups if necessary. Give them time to create the scene if not already completed beforehand. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but should have a clear beginning, middle and end with a conflict that does not get resolved. Applied Theatre is never about the performance, but the experience and the revelations that are uncovered.
4. Come back together as a larger group and present scenes, then repeat with interventions.
5. Debrief each scene with leading questions giving plenty of opportunity for thoughts, ideas and feedback.


Joy, Energy and Enthusiasm

This should be a no-brainer. Theatre is all about energy and enthusiasm, so any facilitator of theatre activities has to have both.

Why do you think energy and enthusiasm in this work is so important?

How does joy affect our strength, our intellect and our understanding?

What are the affects when joy is not present in our being?

How can we create and maintain a genuine state of joy, energy and enthusiasm in ourselves?

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