Addressing the issues and challenges of contemporary society, Forum Theatre, first introduced by Brazilian Augusto Boal in the 1970s, has grown in popularity for its interactive nature. Unlike traditional theatre where there is a divide between the players and the audience, Forum Theatre bridges this and allows the audience to participate in the play, even allowing control of its final outcome.
The Sunera Foundation has been using the performing arts to achieve to a great extent, social integration of differently abled youth all across Sri Lanka. This time they are taking up the challenge of Forum Theatre.
Last Saturday, we were able to be a part of their rehearsals and it was clear that in spite of the many obstacles and a few glitches here and there, the young cast, guided by director Shastri Mallavarachchi are doing a fantastic job. Shastri’s 18 years of experience as a stage actor and director in theatre, comes through in this production.
‘Breaking the Walls of Illusion’ (Maayawe Puvaru Binda) as this Forum Theatre performance is titled, is based on various experiences young people face with the ongoing war in our country. There are three main stories- one is of Nimal who joined the armed forces due to various circumstances and mainly because he needed a job, the other of a soldier who lost his eyesight in battle and the third, of a young Tamil girl and her experiences in the war. Their stories form the stem scene of the forum theatre
For the young cast, which include two ‘jokers’ as mediators, it is evident that this has been more than a theatrical experience, rather a strong learning curve. “We are all able to understand where each person comes from and accept that person for who he or she is,” said one youth, adding that they are able to do so despite their disabilities and the experiences they have had in life.
This now close knit group had different notions about many things, especially the war. “Our opinions have clearly changed because of us being part of this performance,” a cast member said.
One member of the group said her life has been enriched through the interaction with others. “We have learnt to use conflict transformation not just in terms of the production, but in our day-to-day lives too,” another youth said, adding that “we have learnt to view things differently.”
They have found the importance of using the skills they have learnt during practices even after they end. The young Tamil girl said before she joined the group she did not really understand the point of view of the other side (the Sinhalese), but after working with everyone, she is able to understand them better.
In a larger sense, what the Forum will do is present various possibilities and help audiences understand that this situation is universal – There are always two sides to a story or in this case, a conflict.