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Forum theatre is a type of theatre created by the innovative and influential practitioner Augusto Boal as part of what he calls his "Theatre of the Oppressed." Boal created Forum theatre as a forum for teaching people how to change their world. While practicing earlier in his career, Boal would apply 'simultaneous dramaturgy'. In this process the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way. The audience would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. This was an attempt to undo the traditional actor partition and bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching. Eventually this 'simultaneous dramaturgy' became Forum theatre when audience members were asked not just to suggest different actions, but to come on stage and perform their own interventions.
Origin and history
Boal developed and practised an orthodox methodology for forum theatre based on the interaction between his actors and his so-called "spect-actors". The spect-actor attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor's actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out "magic!", and the spect-actor must modify their actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails in overthrowing the oppression, the actor resumes their character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out "stop! or freeze!" and attempts a different method.
If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The 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 of reply or counter-argument.
Since the latter part of the twentieth-century the range of applications and methodologies used in forum theatre has increased and developed. Some practice close to Boal's traditional method continues in the UK, notably undertaken by Adrian Jackson and his Cardboard Citizens company. Participants learning in areas such as management or diversity training can benefit from the usefulness of the technique in helping them to imagine different responses and outcomes to common problems.
Forum Theatre has been modified in practice in several nations where certain portions of the play are pre-written. The play stops at a controversial point, where the spect-actors determine what the fate of the actors will be. In the course, the spect-actors frequently join the play by adding themselves as new characters or replacing older characters and then interact with the actors to find a solution. As the major portion of the play is to be performed impromptu, forum theatre requires profound acting skills from the actors.
The Centre for Community Dialogue and Change (CCDC - www.ccdc.in) is a Bengaluru, India, based organisation which conducts workshops and Forum Theatre performances especially in relation to medical education and patient care both in the hospital and community settings.