tools directory

Forum Theatre

What situations is this tool used in?

Forum theatre – also known as Boal’s Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed, or Theatre for Development – uses theatre to achieve social aims, and is often undertaken by socially excluded or disempowered groups. It is an interactive form of theatre that engages the audience in exploring different options for dealing with a problem or issue.

Who is this tool aimed at?

Augusto Boal developed forum theatre in the 1970s with the aim of helping audience members identify their “internal oppressions” in order to begin to overcome them. Forum theatre can be used with any type of audience, but is particularly used by or with groups experiencing exclusion – e.g. those affected by homelessness or poverty. It can also be useful as a training or educational tool – for example as used by Centre for Community Dialogue and Change in India.

How Is the Tool Used?

The audience is shown a short play in which a central character encounters a form of oppression or an obstacle. The topic will usually be something of immediate importance to the audience, often based on a shared life experience.

Actors or audience members can stop the play, either spontaneously or at pre-determined points. Audience members then suggest alternative options or actions for the protagonist in an attempt to change the outcome. Forum theatre can be used to prepare for a specific occasion, or examine alternatives in a past, present or future situation. The actors explore the results of these choices with the audience, creating a kind of theatrical debate, in which experiences and ideas are rehearsed and shared, generating both solidarity and a sense of empowerment.

Who has used the tool?

Cardboard Citizens has run its flagship project – the Forum Theatre Tour – for the last 24 years, as a way of giving homeless people a voice, as well as engaging new members, finding supporters and forming new relationships. This has included more than 200 performances in the last three years across 18 London boroughs and 10 UK cities, reaching more than 3,000 homeless people and 3,000 other members of the public. The shows are performed by actors who have experience of homelessness; they present recognisable themes of homelessness, family relationships, employment and health, which affect many marginalised people.

Forum Theatre Tour home page: http://cardboardcitizens.org.uk/forum-theatre-tour

Where to find out more

Overview of forum theatre: http://participationcompass.org/article/show/167

Theatre of the Oppressed website: http://www.theatreoftheoppressed.org

Centre for Community Dialogue and Change forum theatre page: http://www.ccdc.in

Boal publication - Theatre of the Oppressed: Boal, Augusto. 2000. Theatre of the Oppressed. 3rd ed. London: Pluto. ISBN 978-0-7453-1657-4.

Film - Theatre of the Oppressed NYC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi1HfSiMxCU

Cardboard Citizens forum theatre documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf6C7T7dJDI