Forum Theatre and Social Change
An explanation of forum theatre and its potential to create changes in society
How does forum theatre change society?
Forum theatre comprises part of Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’, which is inherently aimed at inspiring and achieving changes in the social, cultural and political spheres in the interests of combating oppression. Forum theatre can be recognised as a practical and profound way of creating these changes. Possibly more so than any other form of genre, it thoroughly does away with the traditional ‘fourth wall’ separation between the actors and their action on stage, and an audience who are intended to be passive observers. Instead, in forum theatre, audiences become ‘spect-actors’ who were able to halt the script of the play at any time and attempt to take it in a different direction. Boal’s practices initially involved gathering suggestions from the audience on alternative actions for the actors on stage. When forum theatre was fully realised, this interaction extended to the spect-actors coming directly on stage and playing their own roles in the drama.
Intervention by spect-actors is provoked by the content of the productions, which often involve a conflict between oppressors and the oppressed represented by the cast. When a character is being oppressed, the audience are able to challenge this; however the actors playing the oppressors will improvise in an endeavour to still make the play continue along its oppressive trajectory by challenging the interlopers, and necessitating the spect-actors’ engagement with their arguments in a logical, imaginative and realistic fashion to actually overthrow the oppression.
This is an ideal form for achieving change in society, as the audience (who have often come from a downtrodden demographic themselves) are no longer compelled to passively accept the action and arguments devised by a playwright, and can utilise their new experience in actively engaging with the dramatic conflicts and issues to directly strive and participate in the culture and politics of the real world. Rather than conceptualising themselves as powerless individuals in a world directed by unassailable power figures and unalterable discourses, they are presented with an image of the vulnerabilities of oppression, and they recognise their potential in realising the world they want to create.