Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques have just been used in a new local workshop aimed at engaging both spectators and actors. It was a unique, socially-oriented theatrical event. Jo Caruana finds out more.

Theatre is known to be a connector – between people, groups, identities and cultures. In my own life, I have seen how drama brings people together, breaks down barriers and helps lead those involved to a common goal.

Now, a new workshop recently used the unique technique of Forum Theatre to blur the line between watching theatre and participating it, while exploring a variety of scenarios relating to the LGBTI community.

“Forum Theatre is an innovative stage technique created by influential Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal,” explains Tyrone Grima, who co-coordinated the project and also runs Drachma, a LGBTI group largely inspired by the Roman Catholic faith, values and spirituality. Forum Theatre allows spectators to engage with a performance, and to influence, change or even stop it if they wish.”

Tyrone Grima, who co-coordinated the project, also runs Drachma, a LGBTI group largely inspired by the Roman Catholic faith, values and spirituality.Tyrone Grima, who co-coordinated the project, also runs Drachma, a LGBTI group largely inspired by the Roman Catholic faith, values and spirituality.

As one of the primary forms of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Forum Theatre is often used as a means of promoting social and political change, and to explore solutions to the oppression featured within the performance. Grima knows a thing or two about the technique. He lectures about Forum Theatre at University, has attended a number of workshops on the topic and has even conducted a few himself.

“I have always found the technique to be powerful and dynamic,” he says.

“You never know what the participants – or ‘spectators’ to use the term that Boal coined – are going to come up with. It takes you to unexpected places, and that is the beauty of it.”

This event was in part inspired by a brief workshop Grima gave on behalf of Drachma around two years ago, and which was very well-received. Thus, he thought it would be appropriate to develop a full workshop for the LGBTI community, and he presented a proposal to the Drachma steering committee, which embraced the idea wholeheartedly and gave their blessing for Grima to proceed.

Nevertheless, he didn’t feel like he wanted to facilitate the workshop on his own but preferred to work with someone like-minded and similar in their approach. “That’s when Jacob Piccinino’s name sprung to mind,” Grima continues. “I had directed him in Bwani, a theatre production six years ago, and he was a joy to work with – so disciplined, creative and sensitive.”

Pleasingly, Piccinino was eager to participate in the project too and, together, he and Grima worked to create a basic structure for the workshop, although they stress that its contents will actually be established by the participants themselves on the day.

Forum Theatre takes you to unexpected places, and that is the beauty of it

“The project was also very timely,” Grima continues. “When we applied for funding in November 2018, we could not anticipate that, in March, the island would be going through the aftermath of the hullabaloo about conversion practices on a national level. Hence, the event also became a way of educating and making people understand how harmful conversion practices are.”

In fact, the project grew to become a three-phase event, in which Drachma collaborated also with ARC and Eden Cinemas. The first phase took place on March 1, where a discussion was held on the subject of conversion practice. The second part took place on March 8, with the screening of the film Boy Eraased, a true story about the damage of conversion practices. The final part was be the workshop ‘Flourish from Oppression’ on March 16.

“Although there are things we hope to achieve through the workshop, our expectations are very broad,” Grima goes on to say. “Part of the success of a Forum Theatre project is the capability of the facilitators not to be rigid and to go with what the participants present.

“We are curious and eager to discover the narratives and situations that the community will propose. Jacob and I have prepared a basic structure, which, particularly in the first hour, will allow the group to gel and warm itself up for the rest of the day. However, much of the structure will remain a question mark, since it is the community that will be answering the question and determining the direction. One thing is for sure: it is will be fun, empowering and dynamic!”

Asked about his own reasons for putting this workshop together, Grima says that, as an LGBTI person himself, he has always been fascinated by the interface between sexuality, spirituality, and the theatre.

“These are themes that I have explored on a number of levels: in my personal life, in my studies and in the arts.”

In 2009, he penned and directed Michel, the first LGBTI play written in Maltese. And, in 2013, he published the novel Bep, which was one of the first LGBTI novels in Maltese. “In both works the spiritual element is present and paramount,” he says. “This time I wanted to explore further through Forum Theatre, since I feel drama creates an interactive platform where people can explore matters that are intimate and profound, and which at times cannot be captured totally and authentically through words. To me, theatre is by default spiritual.”

And despite the strong LGBTI link, Grima stresses that Flourish from Oppression wasn’t only addressed to the LGBTI community. “Drachma has always embraced an inclusive approach and has constantly encouraged LGBTI allies to attend their activities,” he says. “This activity is no exception. It would make the experience so much richer if the participants were a mixture of LGBTI people and LGBTI allies. Sexuality and spirituality are essential components of the human personality, and most people have experienced or witnessed some form of oppression or difficulty in integrating these deep aspects that make us whole, irrespective of their sexual identity.”

Looking beyond the project, Grima hopes that it has motivated other practitioners to embark on Forum Theatre projects too – not just with the LGBTI community but with other realities too.

“This interactive methodology can allow people to come together in such a powerful way. I have no doubt that it will create a safe, contained space for like-minded individuals to integrate and build relationships. The event will explore the intersections between sexuality, gender identity and religion.”

This project is supported by Arts Council Malta – President’s Award for Creativity.

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