‘The first word of theatre is the body’ Augusto Boal
Theatre allows us to see how relationships are manifested physically in the body and in space. This element of theatre enables us to explore relationships and, in the areas that Theatre for a Change works in – sexual and reproductive health and gender, it is particularly useful to be able to see how the body shows the key relationships that affect people’s health and well being. The hidden dynamics in relationships can be embodied, explored and transformed. By making these dynamics physical, they become workable, and open to being changed.
Theatre is all about stories, about the collective act of sharing stories. This is part of what makes us human: we can share stories and reflect on our experience of life. Theatre for a Change uses our fundamental desire to share stories as the starting point of our process, enabling participants to tell their story, and to feel valued as a result. This is often the first time that anyone has valued their experience – we believe they are the experts in their own lives. No one knows your story as well as you do. As a result, participants grow in confidence and self-esteem as they are listened to by the rest of the group – for many people for the first time in their lives. They often recognise the similarities between their stories and the story of others in the group, and begin to develop a shared sense of identity – ‘That happened to me too.’
Theatre is all about having a voice – both in terms of using your voice to show and tell the story, and in terms of having a voice in society. For many of our participants, both the personal and social sense of having a voice is crucial to their development. They come to the workshops often with very little confidence and they struggle to use their voices as a result. Through the process of being part of a group in a safe space, and being involved in drama and theatre based activities that develop their sense of belonging to the group, participants grow in confidence, and their voices grow in strength too. Gradually, the group develops a collective voice and begins to want to share their story with others.
A fundamental part of theatre is having an audience – people who you want to show your story to, and who want to see and listen to your story. As the collective voice grows in a group of our participants, they often start to talk about who they would like to share their story with – they begin to think about who they want their audience to be. They often take their story into the exact places where their audiences are, and where change needs to happen. So the women in the sex work projects, for example, often choose to tell their stories to the police in the police stations – and for once, they are heard by the people who have the power to make a significant difference to their lives. In our work, the audience are very much part of the process of change – they are invited into the acting area to become a character who they want to help, and experiment with different ways of confronting the challenges they face. It is a rehearsal for reality.