By Margaret Davies, Jun 4 2015 12:49AM
On 29th May 2015, I went to see a performance by Cardboard Citizens of a play called Benefit. The play was delivered as forum theatre, a type of performance where in the second Act, the drama is re-visited with the audience having the power to shout ‘Stop’ to intervene and change the action. Forum theatre was invented by the Brazilian theatre practitioner and theorist, Augustus Boal. The form, also known as ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ has the intention of allowing the voices and ideas of any given audience to be heard, reflected and acted upon.
The hard-hitting and moving subject matter of the powerful drama was the real life struggles of 3 sets of benefit claimants; people dealing with benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts and mental health difficulties, meeting a harsh and seemingly uncaring benefits system, with drastic impacts on their lives.
At the end of the first half I had tears and goosebumps, and felt frankly, that there was nothing that could be done differently to combat the cruel system that claimants now face, where the odds seem stacked against them. However, in the second half the audience provided hope and determination and reminded us all that we can access support to deal with problems.
The very power of the forum theatre method – collective engagement – was reflected in the solutions offered, the protagonist taking someone with them to a crucial interview, for example. In a situation such as an assessment interview, having an advocate or friend to support you can make a huge difference to the outcome. We do not have to battle with life’s difficulties on our own, and together we are stronger.
I have experienced forum theatre as a training method with foster carers to help them learn the skills to managing angry fostered children, and I have used similar techniques in team development and planning sessions. Active participation and collective engagement of as many of the stakeholders as possible, really helps to move solutions forward, and promotes ‘buy in’ to a change. It also proves time and time again, that when a group works together it really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Cardboard Citizens is one of the world’s leading practitioners in Forum Theatre. The company has been making life-changing theatre in and out of hostels, day centers and prisons for over 20 years. They employ actors with experience of homelessness to perform plays inspired by the homeless people they meet. To find out more visit their website.