Theater and Intercultural

Fem Talks Forum - 14/10/2020

Theater allows detours to stimulate the pleasure of learning. When words are missing or insufficient, art takes its full meaning. Particularly in social work, or in any intercultural context, when relationships are codified, artistic practice can allow for better mutual understanding, and change relationships by allowing people to express themselves in other ways than with words, thus fostering resilience.

In multicultural groups, when language can sometimes be a barrier, art can become a powerful tool for communication and expression. In groups where participants do not share the same cultural backgrounds, art brings a common meaning, another approach where relationships and positions are experienced differently, by using an effective and symbolic tool for self-expression, and therefore self-confidence.

Theater, beyond working on the positioning of one's voice, working on one's expressions or controlling one's breath, also serves to break down gestures or intentions, identify social codes by playing everyday situations and thus allows one to decentralize oneself, to get out of oneself by inventing a character from any play who speaks, has a life, a personality: someone else far from oneself, sometimes difficult to understand.

Theatre, used with an intercultural perspective, can thus make it possible to:

- Provoke debates, facilitate communication and exchanges

- Improve language and communication skills (including writing and presentation skills)

- Improve soft and transferable skills such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, etc.

- Improve conflict resolution skills

- Improve self-reflection

- Raise awareness of how cultural practices, communication, social codes, representations (etc...) are incorporated

The challenge for practitioners and researchers who are closely involved in intercultural issues in theatre is precisely to find formulas to cross borders and rethink the passage between cultures and mentalities, even if it means anticipating society and the realities of the world around them. Theatre can serve as a revelation of the social context in which it takes place. It has, in this sense, the capacity to make certain socio-cultural issues less ambiguous, by translating them in a tangible way, through concrete means that the stage can offer. It allows for a better understanding of certain social issues and can unravel deadlocks that social sciences and humanities are still struggling to explain. In this sense, theatre can solve one of the difficulties of anthropology: to succeed in translating/visualizing abstract elements of a culture, such as a belief system or values, using concrete means. 


Responding to intercultural issues via forum theater

One of the theatrical techniques best able to respond to intercultural issues is forum theatre. It is an interactive theatre that allows, through play, to give a place to reflection and dialogue around a theme defined in advance.

At the beginning, the actors will play short scenes, evocative of specific and potentially conflictual situations. Then, the actors will replay these scenes in order to allow the audience to come and seize the play by replacing the protagonist (the character who actually experienced the scene - often the "oppressed" character in the sense of Boal) on stage. The aim of the audience's intervention is to find a way out of the conflict exposed beforehand. The spectator then becomes a "spect-actor". The aim is not to convey a message or to find the ideal solution, but to try to show that there can be alternatives to conflict situations. Forum theatre is a means of exchanging ideas and points of view on a particular issue. Our stories are inspiring: they can change the way we think, act and feel.

For Augusto Boal, the role of theatre is to help people analyze and change reality, not just to be entertained. The audience must therefore be active, not passive. Theatre cannot lead directly to change in society but can be a rehearsal, a vision of social change. Theatre is also an aesthetic space where everything is possible, and where changes can be experienced and analyzed. It is also a place where one can strengthen one's ability to step back from reality, where things can be transformed, received and remembered.

We are all made up of multiple identities, know-how, skills, resources, conflicts, encounters, exchanges, stories... For Augusto Boal, "being a citizen is not about living in society, it is about changing it. "Forum theatre makes political, social, and individual conflicts visible by supporting the voice of oppressed groups or individuals, and helps to find possible transformations. By opening the debate, by accepting each opinion without judging it, but trying to analyze it, forum theatre allows to focus on the problem and to share. Moreover, when you can observe a situation from the outside, you are better able to analyze (because you have no urgency to respond), you can notice the details, focus on your behavior and draw conclusions” (FOTEL, 2014 ).

Forum theatre in practice - the case of the FemTalks Forum project  

FemTalks Forum is a European project (Erasmus+) supported by 6 partner organizations in France (Elan Interculturel), England (Inova), Belgium (Odisee), Hungary (Artemisszio), Austria (InterAct) and Italy (MateraHub and #Reteteatro41). The aim of this project is to work on the issue of female migration and to identify concrete situations of conflict experienced by migrant women, in order to analyze and overcome them. In this framework, forum theatre allows to make political, social, individual conflicts visible supporting the voice of groups or people who experience them, and find possible transformations.

Our journeys, our cultures, our identities, are made up of many intertwined stories. If we hear or want to see only one story in another person or another country, we risk many misunderstandings, and the risk of putting in "the Other" a unique story. The viewpoint on migration is often biased, particularly among migrant women, whose rich background, skills and know-how remain invisible today in France. The FemTalks Forum project aims at making all the skills and resources of women who have experienced migration visible through the practice of forum theatre. The objective is to enable the group to bring together solutions to overcome the obstacles related to integration in a new country: language learning; recognition of qualifications or diplomas; creation of a network, etc...

In April 2020, the project teams will offer several workshops open to migrant women (all types of migration) to explore the theme of integration in France. Workshops have already been proposed in 2019 and have enabled women to meet and exchange via exercises where the objective was to share experiences related to migration via forum theatre. In this context, we have proposed various workshops, one of which, based on a "BINGO" grid of female migration, allowed the group to represent the obstacles to integration in France via image theatre.

Some examples of theatrical activities to work on an intercultural perspective

1. Normal walking is not allowed 

- Between 15 and 20 minutes              

- From 12 to more than 25 people (ideal for a large group)      

→ Start by forming pairs. Each pair will have to move through the space, with the only instruction that "Normal walking is not allowed", but all other movement through the space is allowed! Attention, there is a special rule: Person "A" will start with a movement, which will immediately be copied by person "B". Walk for a while in this way (10 seconds?) and then, when person A decides to stop, B also stops. The pair stops moving for a few moments, then "B" continues with a different movement, and so on. After a while, two pairs get together and work in the same way: this will then form groups of 4 people. Depending on the groups, you can have groups of 8.

Some questions for reflection: "How did you feel when you did this exercise? "What does it mean to follow rules and actions that are not normal for you?" "What can we learn about interculturality from this activity?" "In which position did you feel most comfortable?" “Did you observe the other groups?” “Did you react according to what the others proposed as movements / walks" (...) 

2. “Complete the image"

- Between 20 and 30 minutes

- From 5 to more than 30 people

Part 1: In pairs - the rest of the group observes

→ Ask two participants (A and B) to shake hands. Then ask them to hold still. Tell person "A" to stay in the "Freeze", while person "B" should leave the picture for a second, look at it, then come back and complete the "freeze" picture with a new, different shape. Freeze A and B again for a few seconds. Then person "A" will leave and complete the image again with a new shape and so on. Ask participants not to speak, as it is important to feel and experience the images with scenes and bodies. After the exercises, people can talk about their experience.

This exercise can also be done in groups: "A" starts with a shape, "B" completes it, then "C", then "D", then "A" again.

Part 2: In groups

→ The group stands in a circle, facing inward. One person comes to the middle of the circle and suggests a fixed image (statue). Another person then enters and, without speaking, uses their own body to complete the story they see in the first person’s image.

After being gently touched by a person in the circle, the first person leaves, goes back into the circle and the new person completes the image of the remaining person. This should be done as quickly as possible, while giving the group enough time to see the completed images in the centre before someone else enters. The facilitator can then invite not only 2, but 3, 4 people to join the image. This technique can be carried out with a theme to study the different aspects of interculturality.

The facilitator can also give an initial theme to the people participating in the exercise. Depending on what you wish to work on (for example "the issues of female migration"). The principle is the same: a first person will propose a picture, which will be completed by another, and so on. When everyone is in position, ask them to think of a word or a short sentence. Then activate the image. To do this, you can gently tap the shoulder of the people you want to activate. You can activate one person, or several at a time, and create a scene from that image.

Debrief at the end of the exercise with the group. 

Some questions for reflection: "How did you feel when you did this exercise?” "How did you feel when you heard others express themselves?” "Is the overall picture that you feel consistent with what you have individually proposed?” "What can we learn about interculturality (or other, depending on the theme chosen) from this activity? (...)

Posted in Articles on Oct 14, 2020

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