Check out an excerpt from an Al Jazeera feature on Citizen’s Theatre, viewed across the Arabic speaking world.
Transformedia and South Sudan Theatre Organization worked with support from USAID VISTAS to establish Citizen’s Theatre – with the aim of creating a national network of theatre practioners across the country working for reconciliation and social justice.
Forum theatre grips ‘spectactors’ by the emotional wrist and engages them directly and profoundly. But can it really contribute to wider social and political change that is the aim of cumulative conflict transformation efforts? Or is forum theatre fatally limited by its reach, perhaps involving just 200 or 300 people at a time?
Inspired by work such as the Reflecting on Peace Practice project and policy papers like Oxfam’s ‘Magic is in the Mix‘ as well as building on own lessons, we always try our best to integrate mass media into our forum theatre activities. The idea is to help bridge the theoretical ‘hope lines’ that exist between ‘individual change’ and ‘socio-political change’ and between ‘short term attitudinal change’ and longer term ‘pathways of change’.
There are loads of factors involved. But one small way in which we are trying to bring the benefits of forum theatre to wider audiences is with radio. For example, have a listen to this ‘Citizen’s Forum’ – a community forum theatre day organised as part of the Citizen’s Theatre program – from Aweil in Northern Bahr al Ghazal state in South Sudan.
The recording of community performances and discussion has been played on local radio in local languages. Listeners were able to witness the issues played out, hear the discussion and call in to contribute their own ideas.
It’s not rocket science and it won’t create the same direct engagement as physical forum theatre among participants and audience alike. But as an easy and low cost method of leveraging forum theatre to wider audiences, it feels worth the extra little effort?
In 2012, we noticed that the use of microSD memory cards to share information between rural persons was reaching a potentially critical level. Could it be considered a significant medium for social change communications and conflict resolution?
People at tea places, in buses, markets and homes were all sharing audio and video recordings through microSD cards in phones. Common material included political speeches, news recordings of major events, recorded radio shows and pop music (android devices allow you to record radio with one click), football highlights and videos of local traditional music and dance.
Since then Transformedia has worked with partners to disseminate our media outreach content on microSD cards as well as through more traditional means, and the anecdotal evidence so far is that microSD can help film and audio clips spread quickly through urban and semi-urban networks. But how to really track user engagement with content?
Thank you to our guest blogger Don Bosco from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) for this amazing insight into the work of South Sudan Theatre Organization.
Despite limited fresh air at the venue, human eyes were glued to the stage to see actors portray nothing but the reality of our families, communities and society and South Sudan in general. Groups performed on issues that range from early marriages to forced and arranged marriages, land grabbing to plundering of public resources, peace negotiations/making to why war must be continued as peace would threaten the power base of some individuals.
The actors were very particular in displaying the ugliness of war. The plight of our daughters, sisters, mothers and aunties was clearly represented and their plea was genuine and calls for nothing less other than the protection and promotion of their human rights.
The South Sudan Theatre Organization (SSTO) made a better use of Nyakuron Cultural Center (September 1-4, 2015) in the 21st century a good departure from the December 2013 Nyakuron memories.
This was the week when the first inter-school theatre festival in the capital Juba was held at Nyakuron Cultural Center. Nyakuron got beautiful decorations. It looked Christmas here with school uniforms for the different secondary schools participating at the festival and costumes coloring the place for four beautiful days. Many who attended the event for the entire four days had their share of amusement and reflection on the reality presented by the troupes. Some of the bitter facts presented attracted nothing but the valley of tears from the faces of audience.
This post is an interview with Nichola Lado Franco (NL) conducted by Chris Milner (CM) for the South Sudan Theatre Organization.
It is like giving a voice to the voiceless. In South Sudan culture, in traditional life, there are things that you cannot say or question. Like woman beating or (as later in that play) early marriage. This is “the tradition” and “you have to understand”. Any time I want my daughter to get married I just say, come on let’s go.
These are things only other people can discuss, those we call our Uncles (not even our fathers). So when it comes to watching this on the stage it is like … ahhhh (release)… I have wanted to say this out but I didn’t know how to say it. So the audience get a huge release.. ahhh… so this is when the audience can laugh.
The good thing about the method of our Citizen’s Theatre – which is using forum theatre – is that it gives people voice to speak and join the dialogue. When the chance for the audience comes, the first people who were laughing are the first people with their hands up, because they really want to talk: “Yes, this is happening in our community and we need to see these things go out”.
Chris Milner: What happened at the Citizen’s Theatre Festival? Nichola Llado Franco: Yesterday was the closing day of our Citizen Theatre Inter-School Festival, which I like to call the Carnival. We just had that carnival with music (Silver X, Emmanuel Kembe), dance (Orupaap) and some official speeches as well as the drama (best schools and SSTO).
From 1-3 September we had performances from 10 schools. Each school brought a drama about issues in their community (these included corruption, tribalism, early and forced marriage and alcoholism), and used the forum theatre techniques in which we had trained them to create a dialogue.
CM: A lot of foreigners like me go on about reconciliation and this idea that South Sudan needs a ‘national dialogue’. I wonder what ‘national dialogue’ means to you, what it would look like and how theatre might play a role in that?
NL: This reconciliation we hear about here is reconciliation between the parties, the politicians and the policy makers, but it is not really a national dialogue. If you talk about national dialogue it is not just you there in high positions who need to have dialogue, about who needs to share this seat…whether we need to give that seat to that political party.. No. It is not about seats.
When we talk about dialogue we need to find the real roots of our problems. Like up to now the issue of South Sudanese identity hasn’t come up. What does it mean to be South Sudanese? And these things issues cannot be addressed up there. We need to start from the roots.
NL: The thing about national reconciliation is that during the six years implementation of the CPA from 2005 nobody talked about reconciliation. Reconciliation just came up as an issue for us – booom – after South Sudan gained independence and people started thinking we need to have this reconciliation.
Unfortunately there was some misunderstanding in the idea of reconciliation and in the run up to the 2013 December crisis, the reconciliation commission was probably part of the problem because it was headed at that time by the V-P, before he was released by the government.