Theatre for a Change has an innovative approach to changing the behaviours and policies that prevent the empowerment of women and girls. We use a unique combination of drama and participatory learning to equip participants with the practical tools and key behaviours they need to find their voice, assert their rights, and build their confidence.
Our method of working is well-founded in research and practice. We owe much to Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques, the educational theory of Paulo Freire and Robert Chambers’s insights into Participatory Learning and Action.
First applied in Ghana in 2003 as a response to the increasing HIV/AIDS epidemic, our methodology addresses a spectrum of issues relating to sexual and reproductive health and gender. Sixteen years of using it on the ground with at-risk groups has equipped us with a robust evidence base and a comprehensive, proven approach to achieving sustainable, positive change for our participants.
How it works
Our work comprises two core objectives: behaviour change and policy change.
We use the experiences of participants as the starting point for change.
We explore with participants the ways voice, body and space are used in relationships – and how these can put us at risk. If we can’t make eye contact with our husbands, for example, what does this mean for our sexual health? If we don’t have access to condoms, what effects can this have on our futures? If we can’t get a HIV test, how can this impact our health in the future?
Then we practise using voice, body and space differently, to achieve a different outcome, and to make the relationship more balanced, safer and healthier.
Changing Policy and Social Attitudes through Advocacy
With Interactive Theatre, marginalised groups can tell their own stories, in their own words, to people in their community – including power holders – who they would never normally meet, let alone talk to.
The audience is very much part of the process of change. Using a method called ‘touch-tag’, our participants will invite audience members into the acting area. Audience members can then become the character they want to help, experiment with different ways of confronting the challenges that character faces, and find a better ending for the story.
Photo copyright Jean Bizimana for Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
When Interactive Theatre is focused on a particular law or policy, it is known as Legislative Theatre. Below you can see participants from our Sex Workers Project, who marched through the streets of Lilongwe, Malawi to the Ministry of Gender, campaigning for their rights to be respected. They then used Legislative Theatre to perform in front of an audience including the police and parliamentarians, telling their stories of experiencing sexual violence.
Through this approach, marginalised people gain a voice – and people in power find out what it is like to face that marginalised group’s struggles. The power holders can then commit to becoming part of the solution.
Theatre for a Change also uses Interactive Radio Drama to reach an even wider audience – focusing on increasing sexual and reproductive health awareness among listeners in teacher training colleges, schools and communities.
Listeners are encouraged to ring in and take part in the drama to explore solutions to challenges, for example negotiating safe sex. This unique approach gives listeners the chance to practise the skills they need to change their own behaviour and the behaviour of others around sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“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. By making these dynamics physical, they become workable, and open to being changed. It is a rehearsal for reality.
Theatre for a Change uses the fundamental human desire to share stories as the starting point of our process – enabling participants to tell their stories, and to feel valued as a result. This is often the first time that anyone has valued their experience.
As a result, participants grow in confidence and self-esteem as they are listened to by the rest of the group. They often recognise the similarities between their stories and the stories of others in the group, and begin to develop a shared sense of identity.
Theatre is all about having a voice – both in terms of using your voice to show and tell the story, and 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.
Through the process of being part of a group in a safe space, 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 stories with others.