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?
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.
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.