Forum Theatre for the Masses?

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

Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part II

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.

Continue reading “Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival – Interview with Nichola Lado Part II”

Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival: Interview with Nichola Lado Part III

NL: Everyone can just say anything because it is not serious, because there is no agenda, because you do not invite them to come from their political party or because they are an elder from this or that group. They come as an audience, as a citizen of South Sudan.

CM: It seemed to me that the plays were more interested in inequality than ethnicity, is that just because I saw those particular plays or is the problem of ethnicity about resources more than about identity? Anything else about the themes that came up?

NL: Yes, this is because you didn’t see all the ten plays. The ten performances brought out most of the problems we face. This relates to identity, that is who we are. In the plays you can see some South Sudanese costumes – like the lowa – which is worn by every community in different ways but is known to come from the Chollo. So this kind of identity is confused, how do South Sudanese look? When I go outside (the country) for example, how do people know I am south Sudanese? This is a big issue. And the students discussed these things through the festival – really they discussed it.

The issue of corruption came up from two schools. This is one of the bigger things in South Sudan. And tribalism came from three teams.

Continue reading “Citizen’s Theatre Inter-School Festival: Interview with Nichola Lado Part III”

World Theatre Day 2015, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID

South Sudan Theatre Organization, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID, organised a World Theatre Day festival in Juba on March 27th 2015. The event included lectures on the role of theatre in reconciliation and on the history of South Sudanese theatre, followed by performances from a broad range of drama groups including SSTO, Orupaap and Emmaus.

Many argue that reconciliation necessitates at heart a change in identity. At the least, we must transform a part of ourselves; that part which is defined as negation of another. This is an uncertain process that requires reflection and cross community exchanges, so that otherness be let go, contextualised or positively reshaped. This long term, not necessarily linear exercise is too often elusive, dismissed as “intangible”. But today this dialogue grabbed us all by the scruff of the neck, 1500+ performers and audience members alike.

SSTO’s tale of community strife and reconciliation had the audience in stitches and tears in equal measure. Orupaap’s truly inimitable fusion of modern and traditional dance was here set in an elaborate framework of dangling and knotting stools. On a personal level, the first ten minutes of Emmaus’s half hour show was quite simply the most beautiful thing I have seen since I witnessed Cirque Plume for the first time aged 10.

The themes showed a theatre in earnest reflection. Chairs featured highly, as symbols of power and position. The painful descent of from state-of-nature-paradise to brutish anarchy played out in slow motion. Every day life versus newspaper headlines… Ethnicity versus nation-belonging… Modernity versus tradition… And waves upon waves of convincing suffering, expressed on stage in technicolor, but always overcome at last by seemingly superhuman powers of forgiveness, or at least an incontrovertible, searing, burning desire for unity.

This was an angry and honest day, and full of purest celebration, struggling to terms with the disappointment of the last four years as well as the dislocation and community of the preceding decades. A daunting challenge indeed, but South Sudan’s artists showed that they are more than equal to the task.