After this first showing, there may be a brief discussion amongst the audience, mediated by a figure known as 'the Joker' (as in a pack of cards, belonging to no particular suit, on no-one's side). Then the play is restarted, usually from the beginning, and runs as before - but this time, whenever a 'spect-actor' (active audience member) feels the protagonist might usefully have tried a different strategy, s/he can stop the action, take the protagonist's place, and try his or her idea. The other characters in the piece will react as they feel their characters would react, on a bad day i.e. they will not make it easy for any new tactic to succeed; but if an idea works, the intervening spect-actor can win, the game is not rigged.
Through a session of Forum Theatre, many people will take the stage and show many different possibilities. In this way, the event becomes a kind of theatrical debate, in which experiences and ideas are rehearsed and shared, generating both solidarity and a sense of empowerment.
Cardboard Citizens has recently used this model to create Dreams, a dance theatre production with young refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and a three-part Forum Theatre production, Express, with excluded young people in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
The Hostel Tour brings a Forum Theatre production to up to 40 hostels and day centres throughout London each year. We audition and hire four Cardboard Citizens company-trained actors with experience with homelessness to perform in the play along with Cardboard Citizens Associate Artist, Terry OLeary, who plays the role of the Joker,a role she has performed to immense acclaim.
Forum Theatre is a uniquely interactive style of theatre. At the end of each play, the Joker facilitates a discussion with the audience about the challenges faced by the characters in the play and asks them what they might have done differently to improve the outcome for the protagonist. After this discussion, the plays are restarted, but now audience members can stop the performance, take the place of the actors (becoming spect-actors), and try out their idea of what the protagonist might have done differently.
Over the last 16 years, we have found that our Forum Theatre performances generate a unique sense of solidarity and empowerment among hostel residents, and inspire them to reach and recognise their potential. With each performance, we never cease to be surprised by the discussion generated during the Forum, and the ability of our homeless and ex-homeless actors to connect with and inspire the audience. After each show, our trained mentoring actors spend time talking to homeless clients and arrange one-to-one follow up meetings, ensuring that the inspiration generated by the performance is translated into a positive referral.
THE HELP 2008
Touring now, October - December 2008 Written by Sarah Woods Directed by Adrian Jackson & Gavin McAlinden
Inspired by true stories, The Help by Sarah Woods presents us with the stories of three different characters. What dilemmas and difficulties do a migrant, a young person fresh out of care, and a hostel worker share? It is difficult enough to care for ourselves, let alone others.
The actors in the play have all experienced homelessness. After the show, you will be able to talk to them about how things might have been different. And for those who want to get involved with Cardboard Citizens projects.
"The night was inspirational with the effect it had on the audience - several recognised their own issues on the stage and asked for help tackling them. Others stood up in front of the audience, laid their life story bare before them and used themselves as examples as to why the younger guys and girls in the shelter should tackle their own issues now, to bring about a change in their lives for the better" - Assistant Hostel Manager, Leicester Night Shelter
"The show is really helpful for homeless people. It says to you go back to work, go to training, stop drinking, pay housing benefit or your rent on time. It also says sort out your problems with your key worker, social services and advice office" - Hostel resident
Forum Theatre links