Forum Theatre

Forum Theatre is a process developed by the Brazilian director, Augusto Boal. It has since been taken and adapted by many other practitioners working in fields as diverse as therapy, social engineering and business as an extraordinary way of exploring possible solutions to challenges.

The way we use it follows a simple path. Together with a client, we identify a problem they are facing; we research the problem, probably through interviews, workshadowing, questionnaires etc; we then go away and write a play or a series of scenes about the situation. Sometimes, we set the play in the actual company concerned, sometimes in a parallel orgainsation. The scenes show how things are going wrong. We cast the play with highly skilled actors who are used to working both in the corporate environment and in Forum Theatre and we rehearse intensively.

We then perform the play to small groups (usually around 25) of the relevant staff. The facilitator, who is very experienced in this sort of work, will stop the action to invite the audience (the "Forum") to say what's going wrong and how the actors should behave differently to arrive at a more positive outcome. The actors will then immediately replay the scene according to the suggestions of the audience.

Sometimes, the audience suggestions don't work or are not specific enough and the facilitator will ask for further ideas which again the actors will play out. The audience gets to see instantly the impact of its ideas. As a way of exploring options and arriving at a highly effective solution with buy-in from everyone, this is a hugely powerful process.

Ideally, we follow a Forum Theatre session with an interactive workshop which allows the participants to practise the skills highlighted in the play, often with the actors playing roles. There is an old Chinese proverb which sums up why this approach works so well: "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do, and I understand." By seeing the play and getting swept along by the story and the emotions of the characters, the audience remembers the key learning points; by then practising the skills, they understand how to apply them themselves.

Forum Theatre can be used to address a whole range of issues, particularly contentious ones. We have used it to explore, amongst other things:

Forum Theatre works best when the play is repeated a number of times. This is partly because the up-front costs of research, writing, casting and rehearsal can then be amortised over a number of workshops; but also because getting a whole body of staff to go through the process means that the play can become part of the culture of the company. For example, one of our clients tells us that the name of one of the characters we created for them has now passed into the vocabulary of the company as a shorthand for describing inappropriate customer service. When we ran a programme for the technicians of Scottish Courage, for example, we performed the play and ran the workshop 20-odd times the length and breadth of the country.

Forum Theatre is a very powerful technique, proven in many different businesses and organisations all over the world. Any organisation that is serious about creative approaches to training and development should try it at least once. And we guarantee if you try it once, you'll want to use it again.