The auditorium lapses into silence. Actors on the stage freeze in a stop-motion. The audience remains pondering, waiting for something else to happen – How come? Plays usually have a happy ending, don’t they? Someone makes a sign for them to applaud. They start slowly, hesitantly. The actors take a bow and remain on the stage.
“What did you feel during the play?” the Joker asks.
They didn’t like it. Little as they are, the spirit of justice is starting to arise in them – Not fair! Some of them remember having witnessed cases of harassment similar to the one they have just seen on stage.
“Would you like to change the situation?” the Joker’s question follows.
A couple of young spectators raise their brows inquiringly. Is it possible?
“Yes!” 80 mouths answer. “We can change it!”
The power of art to change something in the society is not a mere metaphor. We do it with our every forum theater performance, and there have been many already – 15 altogether.
The epic continues – this time in seven other schools, with other eyes fixed on the stage, other hands raised, but with the same vehemence in defending those who are discriminated against.
The dialogue above takes place after each performance of the forum theater play we have prepared for children. After that follows the big surprise – they are welcomed to come up on stage, play roles and give the story a happy ending.
The Forum Theater, also called Theater of the Oppressed, is meant to show certain situations of harassment on stage. In the forum theater the audience becomes the positive character who makes a change, offering solutions. People’s own ways of solving the problem developed on stage prepare them to act outside the stage in real-life situations of oppression. That way we can be sure none of those who are present in the auditorium will ever hurt or discriminate against persons with disabilities again. Because that is the play’s core subject – discrimination against children with disabilities in schools. And the little spectators learn to defend and respect them.
The Joker is a forum theater character, too – the one who ensures the interaction between the audience and actors. He or she is the one who turns the spectator into an actor and together with them tries to find a way to make the world a better place.
Characters in a forum theater are divided by types which the audience should recognize: aggressors, the oppressed, observers and allies. Of all the characters, aggressors are the only ones who cannot be replaced. However, they can be influenced to change their attitude.
Most often it is they, the children, who offer us a bit of life wisdom:
“Anyone can understand if you’re good to them”.
“It’s not nice to treat them like that; they’re people, too”.
“We’ll have the patience to listen to Vadim (a child with an intellectual disability – author’s note) for 4, 5 or 10 minutes or however long it takes”.
“Girls, calm down, you should help him, not neglect him!”
“We’re classmates and should respect each other”.
“I’d like to bring my classmates. I’ll be responsible for them”.
“Girls, why are you so mean to me? I’m a pupil just like you!”
“Apologize to Dima (a child with developmental disabilities – author’s note), talk to him decently and politely”.
These are some of the solutions offered which stopped the aggressor’s bullying and made the Joker exclaim: “I’m giving you an A for humaneness!”
Forum theater is a theater for, by, about and with the oppressed. It is the loud voice of oppressed people, making a change through interaction between the stage and the audience. People become actors in their own life and arrive at the conclusion: “We are the ones who can stop discrimination!”.
This forum theater was organized by Keystone Human Services International Moldova Association jointly with the Community Center for Children and Youth with Physical Disabilities. The activity is funded by Soros Moldova Foundation and Open Society Mental Health Initiative.