Using Theatre for Human Rights Education and Action

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Using Theatre for Human Rights Education and Action

This online dialogue featured how theater is being used to promote, educate, motivate and move people to action regarding human rights, development and issues "screaming for" change. This dialogue was an opportunity for you to ask questions, share experiences, and build connections with practitioners using theatre.  Practitioners shared stories of how theatre is used as a powerful tool in human rights work and theatre exercises and tools that have been useful for groups and communities looking to solve their problems.

Our featured resource practitioners come from human rights organizations and theatre groups around the world.  Click here for biographical information on these practitioners.

What is the GOAL of this dialogue? 

The goal of this 7-day conversation among practitioners (with or without experience using theatre) is to encourage participants to reflect on their work and share their experiences, stories, challenges, etc with one another, in order to strengthen the use of theatre for human rights work. By sharing these experiences, conversations may emerge around a challenge shared by several practitioners, or around feedback on a particular resource or tool, or a number of other topics! These conversations will be captured in this dialogue space that you and others can access again in the future.

Summary of dialogue

Why theatre?

The answers to: “Why Theatre” were many, here are some of the insights shared in the dialogue: The power of theater as a way for people and communities to share their experiences, generate conversation, and enable new insights to emerge. The power of theatre to break down isolation and building hope. By working through theatre, both performers and spectators can engage difficult questions in a safe space. Theatre is also an ideal instrument to give witness to human rights violations. It is also an excellent tool for education and awareness raising. Lastly, these insights can be used to advocate for policy and legislative changes.

As a challenge to the use of theatre, many participants mentioned the need to be aware of its limitations as well:

The discussion also touched upon the question of how/when/if to measure impact.

One participant expressed that assessing the impact through longer time is a way to give testimony for the power of theatre to have a real and lasting impact. Participants also shared the ways in which they gathered information to measure impact, both through a database and through consistently keeping in touch with past participants. Another important issue that was discussed by the participants was the role of the facilitator in creating the theatre project.

One participant pointed out that the most important role of the facilitator was to let the participants tell their own story. Another participant highlighted the need for the facilitator to not take too much control or try to dictate the process, but rather facilitate it. Yet another participant reemphasized that the role of the facilitator is to listen, to support the community they work in and to help them find a way to express that feels important to them.

Another issue highlighted in the role of the facilitator was to be aware of being culturally appropriate, and that the facilitator, especially if working in foreign context, be aware of their own baggage, privilege and expectation. This discussion led to one about the relative importance of process versus outcome, and the different approaches that favors one or the other. The importance of self care was also addressed and answered.

The discussion then turned to more practical matters such as discussing different mediums that could be useful.

Another thread that was brought up was the use of theatre for social change with activists. An idea echoed and suggested as a means to work with activists. Though theatre was expressed as an ideal way in assisting activists in exploring, debriefing, sharing, celebrating, and generally processing "the work", one participant expressed the difficulty in getting activists involved due to lack of time and resources.

Share theatre exercises and tools that have been useful

[Photo credit: Drama for Life 2008]


Main Theme 1:

  • Share stories of how theatre is used as a powerful tool in human rights work. 

Why should practitioners consider implementing this tactic in their work? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? Why theatre?

To add a new story, please 'reply' to this comment.

Why Theatre

I work as a Forum theatre practitioner, and TO/TFL training provider in Melbourne, Australia. Currently, I am working on several different projects which include a focus on: environmental  justice, mental health, and substance abuse, amongst  youth at risk. In my work, which I will speak about, theatre has given rise to the individuals to share their experiences, stories around human rights abuses in safe and creative ways. Stories that are then shared with the larger community, the audience, as a means to generate conversation, enable new insights to emerge. These insights can be used to advocate for  policy, legislative changes.  During the workshop process members of the community will come together use theatrical tools, and  techniques to investigate their concerns. Participants research their struggles, obstacles and barriers to participation, access to rights through theatre methods. The collective research enables the breakdown of a sense of alienation, builds group bonds, trust, communion.. eventually enabling the translation, the depiction of personal experiences of oppression, as located within a governing systemic reality. This collective shared wisdom, once accessed, is channeled  to create plays. For instance, in a project on women and economic security, where we had 22 women from diverse ages, abilities, and culture background, who shared the experience of living life on a low income, caring for others, we used theatre to address women's struggle with the money system. Plays were created to depict how poverty impacts, albeit  differently, on their lives.

Through their investigation they generated understandings that became the bases for the plays they offered to audiences. Three plays, one about housing security, domestic violence (economic dependency) and health and employment. All the stories (plays) involved women parenting children. They ended in a moment of crises. At that point audiences were asked to intervene, to name what they saw were the critical struggles, and to identify what strategies they might implement if in the same situation. They did this, through coming up and replacing characters whose struggles they understood to try and create dignity, security.

The outcomes of the conversations and 'dramatic' interventions were written up in a report and tabled as social policy initiatives. They are to be presented to the Office of the Status of Women, amongst one of the governmental bodies the work was targeted at. The women involved in the project will be presenting the outcomes of the report.

I hope to write more, about other projects but this is a start as I am flying out the door. Thanks NEW TACTICS for this inspiring space, opportunity. 


Building a collective shared wisdom

Hi Xris, thanks for sharing this story about the power of theatre. I like the idea of a 'workshop process' being used to investigate their concerns, and thru this collective research they are able to breakdown the sense of alienation and build trust. Building this 'collective shared wisdom' is a crucial step of using theatre and you have articulated it so well. Thanks!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Theatre and games giving victims a voice

Leading on from what Xris is saying about using theatre as tool to create policy.

I am involved in a project in Cambodia which is fighting to find some protection for victims of human trafficking once they have are repatriated into the country. This project was multifaceted  as you can imagine and had many different skilled people working on it from prosecution to prevention of human trafficking. 

I work with a group of Khmer theatre makers of mixed background and abilities, who travel the country using theatre and games as a tool for education and awareness rising. In the last year we have been moving more into using participatory theatre to involve the audience, and empower them to make the change that is being promoted.

We were called upon to create a series of short plays based on case studies of victims of trafficking, these plays were to be used to garner information from service providers, including, social workers, police, village chiefs, border officials and doctors, to create a government Praka of victims rights and a set of national minimum standards as a guideline for service providers and carers of survivors. The plays were used in consultation across the whole of Cambodia, the stories were analyzed and recommendations were offered for improvement of the care of survivors of trafficking, according to individual's experiences.

This work sparked something in the theatre troupe, as many of them were survivors of some form of exploitation. They begin to understand what had happened to them, they became aware of how it made them feel and most importantly the empowerment that came from them sharing their stories. they felt relieved that they could do something that would ensure that others received the care that they required, and this acted as a healing mechanism for them.


Therefore they wanted to take it to the shelters, to the people who will be receiving the care, the people who had suffered the exploitation. We began to run workshops in shelters for survivors, using participatory theatre and drama activities for those in shelters to express their needs and their expectations of care in shelters, whilst educating them on their basic rights as a survivor. The participants were encouraged to jump in during the case studies and play a part, they could become the police officer or the social worker or the character who had been trafficked. Through this practice ideas on what survivors wanted and needed from their service providers became apparent. While they took control of the situation, they could recreate a story so that a victim fully recovered, that was incredibly empowering for them.

All of the feed back was gathered and is currently being written into a set of standards for service providers, while the games and activities from the initial workshops with service providers have been developed into a training manual for service providers, and the participatory theatre and games that were run in the shelters is being produced as a tool for service providers to involve and empower victims in their own recovery.  

wow.. its good to stop and try to reflect with violence of articulation, not my strong point.. look forward to the next few days.


Resources that emerged from Cambodia experience


Thank you for sharing this example that has resulted in some exciting resources. Is it possible to share how people can get these resources? 

You mentioned two different resources:

1) A training manual for service providers

2) Tools resource of participatory theatre and games that were run in the shelters

Please let us know how we can follow up on these resources to share more widely.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Dealing with stigma..through the arts. Participants' perspective

Hi - I just wanted to contribute the perspective of a participant who is engaged in a process I am facilitating, which involves the use of theatre to investigate, address, and promote the rights of people living with, and caring for someone with a mental health illness. We got to talking about the use of theatre, perspectives, and they wanted to contribute their voice. Many of the participants in the project have been in psych institutions, have dealt with being: misunderstood, excluded, violated, victimized, assault, medicated, put under surveillance, locked up, policed - and you get the rest..

The individual whose words are typed below gave their full consent to being published on this site, for the purposes of being involved in the dialogue.  This is their statement:  "The arts reaches people on a level that trying to convince them intellectually does not because drawing or painting, or music or poetry or acting come from deep inside  - they touch people on a deep level, which is where the stigma and 'stuff' lives because it's not logical. It is a totally illogical, irrational thing. So appealing - if you appeal. I mean I know people have huge prejudices and yeah prejudices against people with mental health issues and have fear of it, but if you talk to them they sound like they don't.  They can talk about it very rationally but when they are confronted with someone who is suicidal or freaking out, their terrified  I think the arts reach people on the sort of level where that irrational fear and stuff live.."

Participant perspective


What a powerful sharing you offered from the participant in your theater process. It's really exciting to hear that she wanted to share this important perspective in the on-line dialogue. Please offer our thanks!

I fully agree that the aspect of the arts -  "drawing or painting, or music
or poetry or acting come from deep inside
"  - and provide both an individual as well as collective opportunity for response. On an individual level, it connects with my own unique history, personality, life-experiences that highlight my fears, demons, hopes, desires, etc.

But theater also connects on the collective level because it takes place in a group (small to large) and the energy generated in that collective space is also powerful.

As stated by your participant stated, "I think the arts reach people on the sort of level where that irrational fear and stuff live." This frees information and emotion to be shared in completely different ways from other formats. One excellent example of this on the New Tactics website comes from the tactical notebook written by Oulimata Gaye from RADI in Senegal, "Using Popular Theatre to Break the Silence Around Violence Against Women".

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Witnessing and addressing, making the space safe

Hello everybody,

So great to see these thoughts brewing away!  Thank you all for your contributions so far.

I want to talk about witnessing, in the sense of viewing things as they are, and addressing, in the sense of doing something about a situation.

I think it is really important to remember that the first step in a process of making drama about a human rights issue is to understand that issue well.  This takes time and patience. It is tempting to rush ahead and try to make change happen, but I think this should be resisted in  favor of really getting to the  story first.

Here is an anecdote to illustrate what I mean:

Last night I saw a performance of a Forum Theatre play in London that was made to engage with homeless people. It was performed in a day centre near Kings Cross station.  After the performance, the Joker (that's the  person moderating the performance) had a terribly difficult time getting the audience at the centre to engage in a fruitful discussion about the play (though, she did it in the end, the hero).  The play wasn't relevant enough.  It was well-written, but didn't get to the personal stories and  lives of those who were watching.  So... they didn't engage very much, and the goal of 'addressing the issue' wasn't reached.  The mistake, as I see it, was that they didn't honor and respect the issues they were dealing with enough to really find the story they needed to tell.

I made this mistake before when I was working in Sudan in a theatre project aimed at building peace. I did not spend time listening to my participants, but rather, preached peace and reconciliation and plunged headlong into an adapted version of Romeo and Juliet (so ambitious!).  At a certain point, my actors mutinied.  We were rehearsing a scene of the play that involved a public conflict between two groups, and they stopped and told me they could not go on.  It was too real.  It was rubbing the real conflict in their face, in a dictatorial manner, before giving them a chance to tell their story.  I had to scrap that play, in the end, and we went for something much softer, a comedy sketch show.  It was a far cry from directly confronting the conflict,  but it was a good reflection of what the society was ready for at that point  in time.

What I'm  trying to say is, make space and time for people to tell their stories, and the action will emerge.  Witness the issue before trying to address it.  Sometimes just hearing a story told is enough to take care of what needs taking care of... 

This view favors longer workshop periods, attentiveness to the experiences that people  are going through in the process of making a play, and a priority given  to  process over product. 

The word transformation is used a lot in  these dialogues.  Its a good word, because its a bit vague and can mean a lot of things.   It is an intangible, and that's a good thing.  There's lots to say about  it, but one thing is, you can't force  it.  Just watch the story emerge.

okay, that's it for me now!  more later!

Max point on Witnessing and addressing and making space safe

I guess you are touching an important point her, dear Max

The possibility for telling the personal story is very important, however it might be hard for people to tell in the beginning. I guess the example you give in Sudan have been many times repeated in Palestine, with this philosophy love each other as if nothing happened. In the same time, Romeo and Juliet was the first play people speak about to reunite people.

We have been a lot requested to make common shows with Israelis, and we didn't accept. Our refusal didn't come from hatred or carelessness, but because of the fact that theatre should be a place where people feel safe to tell their stories as they want to tell them, however extreme they might be, which would help them fin the peace within them before talking about the peace with the other. This is one of the great things about theatre.


AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

Theatre as reconciliation in Palestine

I travelled to the West Bank in the summer of 2006, and spent the night in Bethlehem with Abed and his beautiful family, and got a chance to get to know the Al-Rowwad programs a bit.  I remember asking Abed if they ever did joint projects with Israeli kids, and was shocked when he said no.  I guess in my American brain, the idea of Palestinian kids and Israeli kids coming together to do a play seems nice and hopeful - the kids would make friends and when they grew up, might have more compassion for the other side.  Abed talked to me about "normalization", something I had never heard of or thought of before, and it blew my mind.  What he said was that to do a joint theatre project would "normalize" the occupation for people - make it seem like things were ok, that relations were ok between Israelis and Palestinians.  That to have Israeli and Palestinian kids doing any sort of reconciliatory-based theatre wouldn't be truthful, because it would have to ignore the gross injustices of occupation.  I'm wondering what thoughts you all have on this.  A lot of people will come to me, very excited about some project - Palestinian and Israeli girls sent to live together in American or Britain for 3 months, to learn to get along and to talk about their differences - and are disappointed, confused, and offended when I say that I don't think this is the appropriate time for such projects...that it would be a great project to do when the occupation has ended, but not before.  I hope I quoted you accurately Abed, please correct me if I did not. I'm going to try and start a new thread about culturally  appropriate theatre - what it is and isn't.  I'd love to hear what other folks have to say.

Inter cultural dialogue through theatre - perspective

I wanted to just offer a experience / perspective on the use of theatre as a space for inter-cultural dialogue/exchange. My particularly experiences arises out of a project on  young peoples struggle with drugs and alcohol and in the context of differing class based perspectives. The project brought youth together from two very different socio-economic backgrounds to address the above topic (struggle with drugs and alcohol).

Everyone in the room came VOLUNTARILY. They also came in knowing the issues we are there to investigate (this issues is always overt in the recruitment process). Some of the youth in the room have issues with drugs and alcohol consumption, taking safe risks. Others were more concerned with questions of peer pressure, what do to about friends who are, or do use. Again the investigation around participants concerns was undertaking through games, exercises, IMAGE making techniques. 

This project was not necessarily envisioned as a forum for "inter cultural exchange" but through an embodied process, what initially dominated the space, was that participants from 'more middle class backgrounds' approach to the issues, their overall relationship, (I am speaking in the dangerous territory of generalizations here) was to reflect how COOL it is to 'use'. There were a myriad of reasons WHY this attitude of "coolness" was in the room. This was to come out latter and had a lot to do with fear, and the difflculty of taking themselves seriously.

What I want to focus on here, is not so much the above, but how on the other hand students from lower socio economic backgrounds, talking through the body, about their struggle, created such different images. Youth from low socio economic backgrounds, which often (as is the case) includes youth from more diverse ethnic backgrounds, made images  that spoke to a very different relationship to the issues. They spoke to their struggle as mediated by poverty (relative to the Australian context). They talked about how drugs, dealing in particular was for many, a way out of poverty: being a dealer, for some, was an aspiration  where the money, the status, POWER lies. AS in another project looking at similar issues amongst kids from low income families, or families on welfare, being a dealer meant: "I can buy a gold Mercedes.." This is where the thinking went initially. 

In yet another case, on homelessness, a group university educate students and homeless people came together and made images of  what homelessness meant. The University graduates made "charitable, well intentioned gestures", whilst the 'homeless' made images that were "anti establishment in nature" Images were made not  in response to each other but simultaneously.  In  both projects the inter-cultural dialogue between the two groups was both profoundly rich and incredibly sobering. Consistently, both groups of students made mention of how important it was to have "the other" in the room.

However, I still have a lot of questions: of course both groups benefitted: there was a impact made by the witnessing, learning, which so obviously mattered. However, from a macro point of view, in the long term, the kids who are from low-socio economic backgrounds go home, go to job agency where computers don't work, where even the artificial plants are dying - (unlike the agencies on the other side of town). They go back to 'situated' despair. By the way, I am not wanting to say that middle class youth don't deal with despair, they do/did, deal with violence, disenfranchisement, what I am trying to grapple with, allude to is the situated difference. How we deal with the systemic reality in the use of theatre for human rights, not education so much, but CHANGE. Change, especially in light of the economic, political, religious spheres of governing reality.

So whilst I think there is real value in focusing on inter cultural dialogue, moving towards seeing ourselves as part of an interdependent system - which is not about developing compassion -  but fostering a real sense that the path towards out liberation is intertwined, I also feel there is something else. As in some contexts this can seem like a fluffy discourse, when learning, assumed privileges are entrenched and systemically (violently) supported. 

For me, the legislative change component of the work; remains vital for this work to carry on beyond the moment, beyond the individuals, the immediate community. Links are what need to be teased out,  the despair, the violence, the deadening of potentiality, that impacts on all of us differently, and methods and means for addressing this.  A range of envisioning techniques might be helpful in developing mechanism for active civic leadership to dream these ideals and action them. I know Augusto Boal has developed a tool called the FUTURE WE ARE AFRAID OF. It still in trial but I believe an important tool (whilst no one tool is perfect). I will try and write down what I remember of it in the next few days.

Anyway thank you, the timely reflection around normalizing, is so important to wrestle with in the work. A feel good experience, that does not attempt to address how we might dismantle binaries, privilege (again if that is where the group wants to go) helps educate people about human rights abuses, but what tools does it advance / provide, leave the community with for initiating bigger picture change.

Finally,  let me say that this post in no way passes comment on the relevancy of using TO in occupied territories at all. That is a situation and context I cant speak too. And I am already sure their is a wealth of perspectives, opinions. I do know there is a TO group working with both Palestinian and Israeli youth. I have no idea how they would see their work.  I can't remember their name, but if someone is interested I can look it up..




Measuring Theater

Thanks for the thoughtful thread that is developing here. It is great to really get to talk about how to realistically look at the potentials and limits of theater in fighting oppression. It is always difficult to bring groups of different, sometimes opposed, classes/statuses into a workshop together. Again, sometimes it is the unreasonable expectations of the facilitator that can stymie an process before it begins. (see my note on Telling your own story). Do workshops between "opposed" groups always have to focus on the source of that opposition and try to solve that opposition? Here, the process is already being limited. We have already proposed an answer for the workshop - to end homelessness ... to reconcile settler and indigenous ... etc. Why set limits? Our identities are wider than that. Why go for the most extreme groups rather than those that are different but also might have some common thread - like living in the same neighborhood, going to the same school, working in the same location, etc. Let's not always set out to do the extreme.

Also, the effects of this type of work is tremendously hard to measure and quantify, because often the experience of a workshop will stay with a person for a long time, and it is only when that person gathers more life experience can they see and relate to what they learned in the workshop. We as practitioners  living and working in a measurements based world will always rub up against people who want to measure our results. These expectations also limit us and our work. Creating critical thinkers, actors in the world is not a one workshop deal. It takes months and years to cultivate, the theater work is like a little seed that slowly opens and grows into a plant (hopefully) throughout the course of a person's life.

Augusto Boal created Legislative Theater which is a great "product-focused" process. When he was a city councilman in Rio, he set up TO community groups to create skits about the problems in their neighborhoods. Once these skits were created, they were performed in a festival where all the other neighborhoods would take place in helping find solutions - through theater - to the problem. Legal experts were in the process and they extracted resolutions and laws based on what the communities thought were appropriate solutions. He passed quite a large number of laws using this process. It is very interesting.

re: measuring

I second Kristin's interest in hearing about creative ways to measure the work that is done.  We all live with the constraints of institutions (granting, government, etc.) that work from measurements and indices.  it would be wonderful to create our own indices that honor our work, but that can be translated and made meaningful to these institutions. 

 Maybe we can get something going??!!!


This is one of the most difficult issues I face as well, especially in some programs or projects that try to quantify impact or emotions or feeling. If measuring techniques are available for the impact of theatre in conflict zone is available, I would be happy to know more about it. And would be happy to receive your Model as well Kristin.

The difficulty I face in trying to have a measuring technique is that we don't have one dynamic factor and others are constant. The environment is volatile all the time and factors are interacting that in no way you can have a pure effect of what theatre has made or arts or education. In an occupation environment, where curfews and incursions are regular or sporadic, every day or once a month, creates a continuous environment of instability that at times you have to restart from zero.

I would be happy to hear about techniques used in such volatile circumstances, which might not be specifically for war or occupation environments. But I think this is one of the major difficulties I can see in putting a valid measurement  system of the impact of theatre.

What I tried to do for example, is to see among those who committed to theatre and arts programs for several yours, how many of them has been in confrontation with Israeli soldiers, how many of them have been injured or killed or imprisoned... In this since, those who were committed and who absorbed the idea of "Beautiful Resistance", all have been committed to it, and non of them has been imprisonned or killed or injured except 2 in our case, and their injury didn't come because of direct "violent" confrontation, One was injured by an israeli bullet in the abdomen  because he was out in a day of curfew and he was shot in the abdomen, and another was in video training program, and he was filming an Israeli incursion in the camp, so an israeli soldiers shot him,  and the bullet broke the video camera screen and injured his cheek. In this since, I could say that the committed group to trainings in arts and theatre have also been committed in their real life to this philosophy of non-violent beautiful resistance.

The difficulty is always that we are not given a time of calm where we can go in depth in things to see the fruits at the end of the road some how... We have to restart a lot of times from zero, and that is a time and energy consuming, but this is the ways things are in this part of the world.

thanks all for your great enlightenments 




AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for


I agree that  measuring impacts is very difficult - how ironic, since  the impact is so obvious to us!

Do you ever have follow-up dialogues with kids who have been in your company? One of the companies that I work with manages to keep past participants in its database and manages to contact some of them when it is time to look for stories.

I wrote my master's dissertation in 2007 on assessing theatre for development projects.  I'll find a way to make this available  to the dialogue, and anybody who's interested is welcome to have a look.  

Your work in Palestine must be so fraught  with challenges  that the last thing you want to think of is evaluations.  I sympathize! 

here's a link to the document i just mentioned

Max, Xris, Kantin and others

Hope all of you are fine after all these online dialogues. Thanks for sharing about the assessing and evaluation techniques/mechanisms/possibilities.

In Alrowwad we try to keep a database and feel the evolution of our kids who become university students and some even became board members in the organization. We do sometimes, not on regular basis however, do some dialogue session with current or old participants of our programs, especially theatre and photo/video "images for life" programs. We do notice a positive attitude in general and an impact of the "Beautiful Resistance" in their way of living and engagement in life and education and the community, with various degrees depending a lot on the family situation as well.

The instability of the situation on political level, and the continuous work on activities and giving possibilities to engage children and even adults in the activities becomes sometime a barrier to have time of reflection and assessment  of the work done. This is the same thing as well in terms of public relations and search for funding. We don't have time for that, though this is also important for organization to survive, to keep an inflow of financial resources. So, I guess with what is going on, the last thing we might think of is evaluation as Max puts it.

I think we need sometimes to slow down and reflect about what we do, and what we achieve, but I guess we listen a lot what the others are seeing and saying about what we do. We value these opinions, though are not quantified. So I guess this "temporary" model that Kantin and New tactics propose may be something that we can start to adapt.

I will read your dissertation Max and see how it goes with this assessment as well, and I remain open to any further suggestions.

Thanks you for your insights

AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for


I am really interested in New Tactics Work of gathering qualitative anecdotes and  attempting to quantify them using a matrix. I would love to hear more about this.

We, I am not sure if I would call it measure, but we do evaluate our work. Sometimes we do this through written feedback, sometimes through informal interviews some of which are recorded on DVD. This process of gathering - 'data' is done during all phases of the project - before the workshop / after.. And then before a performance and after (re performances the data collection has a different focus) and then finally sometime after the whole process is completed we attempt to ask participants - how they are now settling with their work.

As well as this, the audiences 'interventions' are usually also recorded, but this is usually for the benefit of the sponsoring organization so they can use the work to lobby/advocate for changes, changes that came from a community of concerned others. 

The 'data' of feedback we collect helps us to understand and reflect on our work from a participant perspective.. Recently, we also recorded, on DVD, the participants thoughts on a range of issues including: the use of ARTS for addressing difficult social issues. The comments, "participant perspective", were presented to a statewide body that lobbies for the use of the arts as a tool for community cultural development. In this case, particularly  how people living with disabilities  see the use of the arts as rising awareness  about culturallyspecific issues.

We happened to have done our interviews without knowing this survey was taking place, but when we found we asked the participants if they wanted to use their interviews to give voice, to their thoughts, in this statewide process The participants welcomed the opportunity to get their voices out, contribution on DVD which has been sent through to the organization to help, as they say - triangulate the data and mount a "case" for the use of the arts in addressing sensitive social issues. 

There is more to say but, not much time to.  Except to say, it was great to have the interviews recorded and treat this opportunity presented, from the participants perspective. They felt their voices, sharing could be extended beyond the terms of the performance, immediate  community,

Please though the info about NTP matrix is really interesting.. 



New Tactics' matrix

I'd be happy to share the matrix, but just keep in mind that this is not our final version and we are still working on how to fit the wide-spread level of impact and the wide-variety of types of impact into 8 neat categories. 

Level of impact (how much did the New Tactics project ideas and resources affect the situation?):


Type of Impact Codes (in what way was the capacity of the activist strengthened or improved by participating in the New Tactics Project?)


Basically, we started collecting feedback from previous workshop participants and grant recipients and started to categorize the type and level of impact we were seeing. Then we coded those categories. Now we ask for feedback related to this model. Or we take general feedback and apply it to this model. Naturally, each organization would a different matrix and a different list of indicators because their goals will be much different than ours. 

We have also started to share these stories of impact, called New Tactics in Action! Check it out. 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Puppetry/Theater that supports organizing/long-term change

I'm thankful for this discussion thread because it gets to the heart of the
challenge that many artist/activist friends of mine (myself included) are
dealing with: How can our theater work actively challenge oppression? How do we
create work that can, as you said, “carry on beyond the moment, beyond the
individuals”? How do make our work go beyond the symptoms of oppression to
challenge its root causes for sustainable and long-term change?

For me, the way I try to do this is to link all the puppetry work I do to
local grassroots organizations that are doing direct organizing work. I believe
that direct organizing by people who are most directly affected by oppression
(organizing driven by a deep social and political analysis/education), combined
with creating an alternative culture to support that analysis and to nurture
our shared social justice-oriented values is how meaningful change will happen.

As a person who has class and skin privilege, I believe my role as an artist
and as an activist is to both support the work of people most directly affected
by oppression, and to organize in my own community to make people aware of and encourage
them to become active against oppression.

In my work this looks like:

--Teaching folks puppetry and creative organizing skills: I’m beginning to
offer workshops and consultancies to groups doing organizing work so they can
make their own puppets/shows or integrate theatrical elements into their
organizing process. (“Theatrical elements” could include games for exploring
issues, theatrical ways of doing outreach to communities, or creative ways for
coming up with a campaign strategy.)

--Making shows or street theater about social justice issues and providing a
way for people to be more connected to the issue at the event (which could be,
depending on context: handing out flyers for a related local justice event,
having a petition present that supports a campaign on the issue, having
speakers from an organization present at beginning or end of show, etc)

--Supporting major events and rallies of groups doing organizing work by
stilting at their event/rally or offering to make a puppet show for it.

--Including people in the creation of puppets and puppet shows—many people
here in DC who are interested in my puppet stuff are often not very connected
to organizing work. Getting them involved in the puppetry is one way of raising
awareness of the issues and organizations that my puppetry revolves around.
(Story: There was one woman who saw a show of mine about public property being
privatized who came up to me afterwards wanting to learn theater skills to use
in her own community. As a first step, I started inviting her to perform in
future public property shows. Once, we performed at a meeting for the group who
was organizing a campaign around the public property issue. We stayed for the
meeting after the performance and the woman participated and subsequently got
very involved in the campaign.)

--Building an audience for social justice-themed puppetry: By getting more
people out to shows, I’m hoping to raise awareness of and sometimes money for
effective organizing work. I also want to use shows as a forum for generally
encouraging people to be aware of what’s happening locally and our
responsibility in some of the issues in and around our neighborhoods.
(Gentrification is one example...)

--Encourage organizers to take art and the use of culture SERIOUSLY. I do
this in two ways. I have lots of conversations in which I point out to people
the ways that art is dismissed in organizing and how organizing is hurt by
that... I quote Amiri Baraka who said, approximately (can’t remember direct
quote), “We didn’t win the civil rights movement because we didn’t learn to
play the piano. We spoke to people’s heads but not to their hearts. So they
eventually turned away from the movement.” I also have found that just doing
puppetry at organizing events serves as a model and encourages other people to
start using more artistic elements in their work. A group recently did a street
theater show and told me they wouldn’t have thought about doing it if they
hadn’t seen me do street shows. (Art begets art!)

I’m always trying to find more ways to use puppetry and theater along these
lines. If anyone has more ideas, I’d LOVE to hear them!

Using theatre/puppetry to communicate the power of these tactics

Hi Janelle,

It looks like you must be pretty busy! The  list of activities you carry out that address - both the local communities and organizations most directly affected by oppression, and also building support in other communities for the struggle against this kind of oppression - looks like a very 'holistic' approach. It looks to me like you are covering all of your bases, so to speak. 

I have never actually implemented any theatre work, but I wonder if technology could assist you in your last point - Encourage organizers to take art and the use of culture SERIOUSLY. Have you ever considered demonstrating the power of theatre and puppetry by using theatre and puppetry? This might be a very powerful way of educating organizers and other audiences on why they should consider using these tactics. Then (this is my techie-side coming out) you could videotape it, stick it on youtube and share it with a huge audience! You could even take it a step further and create plays to help activists and organizers develop their theatre-strategy. (This is something that New Tactics is currently working on to put on our website. I realize that this would require the audience to have access to computers and a good connection - but I hope it is worth the effort to assist those that do have this access, and will reach those that do not, soon!)

Just a thought... 

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

good idea!

You know, I hadn't ever thought of that! I really shy away from anything more technological than a box-cutter knife and cardboard (participating in this dialogue was a leap of internet faith for me...), but I definitely could make a little show about why art. 

I think the question of "why use art" is pretty tied up in the question "how is art used against us?" as in, how does mainstream culture affect our values and how is it used to justify maintaining oppressive systems? and so how can we reclaim culture as a tool for liberation? that's kind of the point i want to make to organizers about why dealing directly with culture and art is critically important. and a show would be a great way to do that--funny i didn't think of it, eh? 

I have no idea at all how to make a play to help organizers develop their theatre-strategy, but I would totally love to hear what you all are thinking along those lines.

I've really only been experimenting with combining puppetry and organizing for the last two years. I'm super new at this and, as you picked up on, I'm taking on too many projects. I'm also curious what people have to say on balancing the work they are doing with their personal lives and with taking care of themselves. How do you do all this intense, personal work (to me, working in the theatrical medium feels very personal and vulnerable) and still make space for yourself to step away from it and not get too caught up in the stories you're dealing with? I guess it's just that age-old question of : How do you avoid burnout and manage your own life so you are stable enough to continue your work? I can never hear this discussion enough.



Self care - Taking care of our best resource!


Thank you so much for bringing up this very important and so often neglected aspect of human rights work - the need to take care of our best resource, OURSELVES!  The New Tactics project here at the Center for Victims of Torture seeks to find opportunities to share the wisdom we have gained from providing rehabilitation services to survivors of torture. 

We talk of the ABCs of self care:

A - Awareness - this is an awareness of the whole self. For example, becoming aware of how you carry stress in your body, voice, emotions, spirit and attitude toward your self and others.

B - Balance -  this is how you balance your work, rest and play. People may think that for those involved in theatre that by the very nature of the expressiveness and use of body in theater that you have work and play coming together. This may be true for some and not for others. The key is finding the balance that works best for you.

C - Connection - this takes in both the awareness and balance aspects as well, because it entails how you connect with the people who are important in your life. Do you spend so much time doing your human rights work that you have no time left in the day for your spouse, children, extended family, friends? 

These aspects of awareness, balance and connection provide opportunities for us to maintain connections to people who are not part of our regular human rights networks and offer us a much needed respite from the work as well as different perspectives on our communities and life in general. We might begin to feel that those not involved in human rights work don't understand the seriousness or critical importance of issues. The opportunities to build in awareness, balance and connection can help us to see when our view of the world may taking on a more "dark" or pessimistic view (a potential sign of burnout) and reminding us to take time to re-connect to the people, places, things that bring us joy, humor and hope.

One of the first steps in self care is recognition and acceptance that taking care of ourselves is important for continuing the work. It is not only worthy of our time, energy and commitment, it is essential.

For some more information, a New Tactics community member shared some blog posts on this topic of self care this past summer. Here are also two very good resources:

Saakvitne, K. W. & Pearlman, L.A. (1996). Transforming the pain: A workbook on vicarious
traumatization. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.

Stamm, H. B. (Ed.). (1995). Secondary traumatic stress: Self-care issues for clinicians, researchers, and educators. Lutherville, Maryland: Sidran Press.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Online dialogues + reflection = self-care?

Hi Janelle, 

I'm so glad that my idea might be helpful for you. I like your idea of developing a show about the importance of dealing directly with culture and art! If you need any tips on how to use video to disseminate this show online, you could take a look at our past dialogue on 'using video for advocacy' or go to WITNESS's website - the HUB - for video tutorials on how to create a video. 

Regarding self-care, I agree with Nancy's comment on the importance of this aspect of human rights work.  It is my hope that this interactive website can be used as a way for practitioners to practice self-care. For example, these online dialogues give practitioners the opportunity to share their stories, ideas, challenges and successes with fellow practitioners. How often do we have the chance to brag about the success stories of our work? I think it is important to take a minute to reflect on the hard work you have done and what you have accomplished - and these dialogues allow you to do that. And at the same time - inspire other practitioners!

Another great aspect of this website regarding self-care and communication among practitioners, are our 'groups'. A group allows gives practitioners a space to communicate and collaborate with other group members privately. 

I would be happy to get a 'theatre practitioners' group started for you all if you are interested. Let me know!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

possibilities for dialogue...

Hi all,

I'm deeply interested by this thread about inter-dialogues, the question of peace-building, the danger of reifying separation through working with it. I'm not sure where I'll go with this, but here are some thoughts.

It is undeniable that 'working together' can be a P.C., easy 'solution' to questions that run as deep as identity. If we're thinking about Israel/Palestine, or the Sudanese context, we're talking about questions of who we are and how our struggle against each other defines us. There's no painless way to just drop that kind of thing in the interest of an arts project. It occurs to me that, say, for my Sudanese participants to drop the conflict which they'd inherited, it would have meant uprooting a strong sense of their personal identity -for the Southerners, the inherited mistrust of Northern Sudanese who were connected to the government's 40 years of pillaging, for the Northerners, the inherited stigma against Southerners as uneducated, barbaric, a-religious, and dangerous rebels.

But then again, why not? The way I see it, common identities - communities - are formed by pools of shared information. Sudanese are Sudanese by virtue of the fact that they all know/experience a common reality. Even if they are enemies, there's a lot that they still have in common. I believe that through sharing new experiences and new information, this can be developed and strengthened. I choose to be romantic about optimism, as Sanjoy Ganguli, a theatre-maker who heads a T.O. movement in India, would say.

On a realistic note, however, you have to consider where you begin. I'm talking about peace-making with theatre or story-telling in a war context. You have to begin with the reality, which is the conflict itself. You can't jump to cooperation, scenes of sweet nothings whispered by unreal characters across the great divide. You have to start with an image of what you have, the conflict that you have.

That's why the idea of 'Beautiful Resistance', which I've first encountered here in this dialogue, seems correct to me. It sounds to me like this is actually the beginning of an artistic mediation of the conflict. I would love to see a counter-gesture from the other side - some kind of 'Beautiful Occupation'. If the oppressors are committed enough to their identities and the actions which these imply, can't they also represent themselves to the other as such?

I guess it all comes back to some simple principles - let each side tell its story fully, and grant the story a full and respectful listening.

But I don't think you can work with both parties to a conflict in the same room at the same time, from the beginning. I don't know if there's a way to coordinate a peace-exchange as an outsider. It brings in the issue of the arrogant facilitator. The only thing you can do, probably, is establish and hold a space in which both narratives can be told. Provide neutral ground, as it were. In a lot of applied theatre work, perhaps all, we're only fostering dialogues, that's all we can do, and as many here have said in different ways, all you can really do to get the right story to emerge is to give the right opportunity.

this is a really theoretical bit of thought - that's me on a Sunday morning! thank you all for your insights and experience, which are all so humbling.

Dialogue possibilities

Salam to all

Max, I think this is an important and fundamental thing of having the 2 versions. The freedom of expression and telling the stories for both sides whether we agree with or not is critical and important, and this is also n important issue in human rights.

It is important as artists, practitioners, facilitators and human beings to give a space of expression. In the same time, use the same principles of human rights to evaluate  the 2 versions and deal with the basic principles of justice in order to arrive to reconciliation and possibility to work with both sides.

When I talked about Beautiful Resistance, I talked about "finding the peace within" before talking about the peace with the enemy. This is an important issue for people who tell their story, they need to hear and see that they are fully listened to and heard. That they are able say whatever they want without restrictions or courtesy or diplomacy however brut that might seem or appear. People have a lot of history behind them and even if it is for one time of their life, they should get things out as they want and as they feel. Otherwise, it will be just hypocrisy over hypocrisy, and we will remain in this ping pong game of accusations and frustrations and sending responsibilities one over the other.

Principle of justice are clear, and in any story there are 2 sides, and the 2 sides should be able to express themselves aside until all this "cloud" is out of their chests, then it might be a possibility to start talking about common work. I guess this a minimum kind of respect for the history of both sides.


AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

Theatre and reconciliation

Hi Magan

Good to read you as well. I think that the issue of Israelis and Palestinians work together was largely discussed in the sense that yes, people want to have good conscience and a lot of money was expended for putting Palestinian kids and Israeli kids and young people in Europe or the USA for 10 days or 2 weeks together is such neutral environment.

My work with Palestinians is to leave them a choice if they want to do it or not. But in the same time, as Palestinian living under Israeli apartheid segregation system, where even if these kids go in Europe and US and do things together, they will come back and be separated again and nothing will happen, Just last week, there was a article about these project where millions have been spent, with any successful joint work from all these sessions.

The land here is not neutral. My feeling was that, these kids were treated like the monkeys of the circus, that it would be a miracle to have a palestinian and israeli shake hands on stage, that peace is created in such environment, There is nothing in terms of human beings that make a Palestinian and Israeli kill each other when they see each other even in Palestine and Israel. But in the same time, there is a lot which separate these kids from each other, and disable them from going a head with normal human relations. There is nothing normal in the environment they live in that could make their relation normal, and so make them "normalize" their relation with each other.

My objective with the Beautiful Resistance is to help our kids find the peace within, before talking about the peace with the other... which is of course extremely difficult in a time where even 60 years after the Nakba and Israeli occupation, there are still incursions in AIda camp and all Palestinian cities by the Israelis, there are still people killed or arrested, and there is nothing normal that leave a little bit of calm in the life people to think about living normal life and normal neighborhood. The word peace have been overused that it doesn't mean anything anymore, and it is important at least for us to restore a value to this "Peace" to find its true meaning.

Yes Magan, I guess in injustice time, under occupation, it is not appropriate to follow the crowd because they want to feel happy, we are not diplomatic or politicians who search to please others. We have to please our kids to start with, and help remove the injustice so that they can go as equal with others to be the partners in creating a change, and not as inferior, or subject to a charity action to invite the poor palestinian to be present. What is difficult sometimes is that most of the time, when Israelis are invited, it is not important to invite a Palestinian, but when a Palestinian is invited for a speech or a conference, usually to make it justified or politically correct, an Israeli is invited... and this is humiliating. I guess in theatre and reconciliation, things have to be treated neutrally and equally. Theatre is never about Balance. Theatre is not about giving answers but rather about irritating with questions and initiate discussion and motivate audience to find the answers. Sometimes people ask me to present the Israeli point of view in my plays, to be balanced. This is not my role. No one would ask a south african to present the whites point of view or an oppressed to present the point of view of the oppressor, but when it comes to Israel/Palesine, it is always another thing.... and this is not easy to deal with. But we deal with it as I think we should in a way that respect our people, their suffering and the sacrifices they have to make and live during the past 60 years. 

AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

Theatre For reconciliation

Hi, it is a difficult question. I don’t know when is the right time to start forum theatre in a conflict situation is. I can share one story, last year I got an opportunity to work with journalist from India and Pakistan in Nepal. Workshop was organized by PANOOS and they invited 10 journalist from Indian Kashmir and 10 from Pakistani Kashmir. Initially it was very difficult to find common ground to build a play but when we reverse the role (Indian pretended to be Pakistani and Pakistani pretended to be Indian) and start improvising the play. It was great, it provides an opportunity to understand how they perceive each other. The other important point is the interaction as a spect-actor there was learning how to move forward. That was a great experience. There was a better understanding among the participants and they suggested how to move forward. That performance was for a small selective audience. That is essential to start with when trust level improved we can do lot more experiments.


Reconciliation and theatre

Salam Waseem and all. It is and remains indeed a difficult question. Again the question also remains how critical this meeting between the 2 sides might be considered by your community. The idea of being in the other side shoes is great, and helps break stereotypes. I guess the difficulty in our situation Palestine/Israel (and it might be the same or not for India/Pakistan or Tibet/China and other countries) that in general Palestinian meeting Israelis in such workshops are either traitors or at least doing normalization relations  with the enemy, and mostly be interpreted mostly in the international community as the good Israelis are doing a great effort and generosity in talking with Palestinians. For Some Israelis, those Israelis who meet with Palestinians might be called as well traitors and be subject to severe criticism. So the issues here go beyond the groups that participate, but has an impact that might be long on these participants after they return form a workshop in their own communities.

There has been some plays done with joint Israeli and Palestinians, musical orchestras some of which are still on. but the possibilities that these people continue to see and work with each other are almost inexistent, for the simple reason that things are going from bad to worse on the ground. There is a hope that a bigger effect could be achieved through theatre and arts, of things calm down or stabilize in a positive since... until then, I guess we need to continue working on making a better impact in the individual communities and maybe challenge them to put themselves in the shoes of their enemy.




AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for


HI Max, 

I am really glad you raised the issues you did around witnessing. I came to community theatre through an interest in social change.. I started out as a participant interested in how theatre could be used to give voice too, represent, marginalized or silenced realities. I worked under a director, a fantastic  artist. I learnt a tremendous amount about theatrical discipline. There was mastery in the room. However, working with an artist, as a non professional actor, I was left with a lot of questions coming out the other end. Questions about process, what is a safe process, and ethical process, who are we making plays for, whose story are we telling, whose visions are we serving.

For me now, as a practitioner of FORUM theatre,  I give thanks I have an embodied knowing of what it means to be a participant in the 'work' / room. With this experience behind me, but still in me, I am still coming at these questions only from a different perspective. Questions about the purpose of the work, in this case, of FOURM theatre, it's role, who it serves, the role of a practitioner, the joker, how much do we need to know about the issues; process vs product, safety, respect, honoring participants stories, learning to listen, valuing listening, and ultimately questioning our assumptions, having the humility to know we don't know, can't know, is critical.

Yes, it is a slippery dance in the room for all, hence again, the need for a well  thought through methodology that attempts to account for this 'dance'.  The dance of depicting (painful/violent) lived experiences, giving witness to struggles in order to generate community insight, strategies and tactics to address change.  I have certainly worked with some great FORUM artists who have helped fine tune my thinking around this, shared some methods to help articulate to organizations the question of  process vs product. Now when I am invited to work with communities I state from the outset that plays will ONLY GO AHEAD if that's participants want.  My experience is that when the struggle starts to be investigated, named in the room, there is an equal investment on behalf of participants to have their stories told - to tell the symbolic truth to an audience.

Currently, I  see Forum Theatre as a medium for investigating hard issues, giving witness to human rights violations. Tools, techniques, ones choices need to assist individuals to safely step into the work, through building group bonds, trust, and focus, in order for the work to go deep.  In the case of a recent project on youth at risk around substance abuse - static images, a frozen snap shot in time were made.  As the facilitator, in the workshop, my role was to ask the audience (not the group that made the images)  "if we are inside a moment of struggle around drugs and alcohol what do we see? where are we? who are the players? what are the relationship to each other?  In the case of this project, The image was: A young man lying on the floor. Someone kneeling beside him with his head in his hands. A woman standing with her back to the scene. Two other girls hugging each other. The participants, after offering ideas re: the above, stood next to a characters who struggle they understood. I then asked them to say  what they wanted or what they wished for as characters*, some said for "it too all go back to normal" - " for it to go back to the way it was" - the boy kneeling on the ground said: "he wished he had never given his brother the shards".  This image was symbolic, not real. Participants were reading it as a moment inside a struggle but  the naming came from truth (* this process, of asking what characters want was taught to me by Headlines Theatre).

In the case of this project, this space to speak was critical to these young people. The depiction of young people at risk, as they argued, is totally restrictive - damaging. They feel they are only ever depicted as delinquents without anything to offer, or give back, with out anyone asking why, how they arrived to where they are at. As they said: "there is no one to talk to about your fears, no one that understand or is interested, not even your friends". The content of the plays they ended up making touched this theme.

They find the plays. I don't come up with the plays, that's the groups work. However, as I move from workshop facilitator to director my job becomes to ensure what gets put on stage is truthful to the accounts shared, to make sure the work is believable as a piece of FOURM theatre. Almost always, the plays are powerful because they are authentic, a  'symbolic' account that express truths, comes from the community. When I joke plays, I guess I feel it is not necessarily my job to know the answers but to deeply care, and to remain curious about the strategies and tactics the community names to effect change and to encourage dialogue.

Anyway, some thoughts, around my experiences in trying to deal with the questions, concerns you raised - very important questions indeed - let's keep the conversation going...whoops seem while I have been writing this - thats what happened. GREAT



waseem Hi Max/xris, Thanks

waseem Hi Max/xris, Thanks for bringing a very important issue in the forum. It is so crucial to have a clear understanding of the issue on which you want to prepare a theatre on. Not only your knowledge on the issue is necessary rather you should have very clear objective on what you want to achieve from the theatre performance. I want to emphasis on the point that we should know the strengths and limitations of theatre. We can bring the issue to a larger audience through theatre and by adapting forum theatre as our tool and explore various solutions to our social problems. It must be remembered that change in real life can be achieved through political process (organized struggle). I always try to be realistic in a process to build a play based on the local stories. I can share the methodology; we start from social mapping from individual to a group and then a critical debate in plenary and finally the participants select the issue they want to work on through voting. It is important that the performers have some direct link to the issue or have adequate knowledge for an appropriate response can only be obtained when the audience can relate with the issue. There is another important point relating to the language of the play. Language is not only for communication rather it links with your identity. I had experienced words have different meaning in different cultures and situations. In Pakistan situation language becomes more important where we are living in multicultural and multilingual society. In addition to this most of the people think in images not in words. While developing a theatre if people can relate with the image then it is much easy for them to participate. In many situations they are exploring the collective image of community, society or the world for which they can struggle. lastly if we want to bring a change or any transformation there must be critical dialogue and an organized struggle. Theatre is great I loved it but theatre alone cannot transform the community or the world.

Language barriers

Hi Waseem, you touched on the point that sometimes language can mean such different things to different cultural groups even within a single country, especially where there are many indigenous languages and the common language that is spoken through the government is only taught in schools to those who can afford it.

 In this instance I find it a valuable tool to work in images, allowing the performers who come from the community to explore the images that they find illustrate the sense of the issue that they want to discuss. We begin with basic Image Theatre activities that allows all members to be an actor and a director. We will usually begin with an accurate tableaux of society that highlights the issue being explored. As we go through remolding  the tableaux, looking at the ways which family and community are affected and showing this in the image we begin to get an idea of how we will show the impact of an issue by giving a sense of the emotion that it provokes, for example working with drug users, they wanted to show the alienation from the discrimination that they receive, we began with images of them in the street being kicked and bullied, then it moved to this incredible image of them being purely forgotten, trying to call out for help though just being ignored and trodden over, which is often the case. This image spoke to a whole population who may experience discrimination, not just drug users.

This breaks down the barriers of language that can intimidate audiences and it is also necessary when you have an outdoor audience that can be as large as 2000 people, microphones just don't cut it.  

 Though there is a place for language in all theatre, physicalisation and imagery can cross those boundaries. 



Language and Image

Hi Anna,

You are right Image can break the barriers. There is one small point images do have their own limitations. We can create those images that we have in our imagination. An image can have different meanings for urban and rural. Language can transport our thoughts and most of the people thought in images. For me language is more than communication. It is linked with our identity.  I tried to address this question by improvising the forum script in bi lingual or multi lingual languages. Spect-actors have the freedom to do the interaction in a language he/she feel comfortable. We can do the translation if required.


Languages and images

Hi friends

Sorry I had troubles with internet yesterday so I joint today with beautiful surprise of this flow of ideas and thoughts in the discussion.

I guess Waseem and Annie have emphasized  on the use of image and importance of language. It is sure that images remain with people much longer and more easily than words, especially for young audiences, and for foreign audiences. We usually tour in Europe and the US, and we have always to think about communication, because as Waseem says, language is also about identity. We used subtitles that are projected on screen during the performances, but we tried always to minimize the words and work more on the images and movements and body expressions.

In our last play,  "Blame the Wolf" we tackled the issue of stereotypes and how there is always 2 sides of each story, and people should be aware to listen to the 2 sides before judging one another. Kids and adults know the story of little red ridding hood and the Wolf, the three little goats (or pigs in Western culture) and the Wolf, Hansel and Gretel. So this play took these stories where we see the little Red accusing the Wolf of eating her grandmother. The village chief asks the guard to arrest the wolf and invites others who have stories with the wolf like the 3 little goats, Hansel and Gretel, and of course Little Red. The wolf wants others to hear his side of the story, because jury starts saying that "we never heard of a good wolf, the wolf is bad and he surely ate the grand mother and he should be punished". So we listen to the goats who seem not sure what the wolf wanted: whether he was so hungry he could eat them or eat anything. Hansel and Gretel (Habib and Nada in Arabic) thank the wolf for saving them from the Witch. The witch to take revenge disguises in wolf and sleeps in the bed of the grandmother who happened to be her sister, who she send in vacation to the Dead Sea to have her house for revenge.

SO once about to say the sentence, the grandmother arrives, and thanks her sister the witch who seems very angry for her coming at the wrong moment. Some of the jury say that regardless of this, the wolf is bad, and if he didn't eat the grand mother of little red, he surely ate the grandmother of someone else. Little red also refuses to recognize that she was wrong because her mother always warned her from the bad wolf. The witch however says that she has suffered from stereotypes and she did the same with the wolf, so she apologizes from the wolf. And a young woman in the jury as well asks the others to listen to the wolf because it is clear that he is innocent in this case. Bust of course some people keep stuck to the stereotypes regardless if they are right or wrong.

The point I want to say is that, sometimes it is easier to break the language barrier sometimes with stories that the people are familiar with and explain to them what is going on in actions, and maybe have a discussion later about what they understood and how they see the things performed  for them. Children seem much more reactive to images than adults, and connect with stories easier.




AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

How to tell your own story

Max brings up a good point about the role of the facilitator, especially one from the "outside" who most often has much baggage, privilege, and expectations.  The case of the Sudanese Romeo and Juliet is a situation that has occurred  1000 times over, in 1000+ places.  The constant reminder that we facilitators must give ourselves is that the people we work with are there to tell the story they want to share, and we have to help them do that.  It isn't up to us to get them to tell the story we want to hear.

Oftentimes, outside facilitators coming into a community might have ideas about what's going on, what's "edgy" or "important" about the place we are working in, but like the forum theater for the homeless, we can't create a show based on what interests us, it has to interest the community. 

When I was in Iraq doing theater with children, none of them created scenes of war atrocities or the like.  Their scenes were of school, of teacher disrespect, of student conflict.  My idea that these children are living in a war zone and need theater to help them talk about that was totally inappropriate to enforce.  They were dealing with their issues, and these were the issues they had the courage to face at that time.  I don't doubt that the longer I would have stayed and worked we would have discovered scenes of trauma from war - but at that moment - school was where they were and I had to honor it.

Culturally appropriate theatre

This is the subject I was just addressing in reply to Abed's post about why he feels it's not appropriate to do joint theatre projects with Israelis at this time for Palestinians.  As a white person working primarily with marginalized communities - refugee/immigrant youth, incarcerated youth, inner-city youth - cultural appropriateness is something I think about a lot.  Invariably, any such project I work on will have minority race students let by white teachers.  Minority teaching artists in St. Louis are almost non-existent, and minority actors are just as rare.  And I find that my instinct is to direct the children towards an 'appropriate' ending for their plays or monologues that they write - give it a positive ending, a hopeful ending - when, most of the time, especially with incarcerated youth - they simply do not want to.  And when I do let go, and let the decided what it is they want to say, and how it should end - they fly.  Unfortunately, this approach is not favored by administrations or boards.  The administration at the juvenile detention center where I work wants the youth to stay away from discussing topics like gang violence, drugs, crime, etc.  They are uncomfortable when the youth present a play, such as the one we just did, entitled From a Savage to A Saint, that has a bleak, i.e. realistic ending - a kid gets caught up in gang life, attacks a random student at the high school in order to "earn his stripes", i.e. be accepted into the gang, this random student that was beat up is someone who is beat up fairly regularly for being a good student, and one day he snaps and takes his father's gun to school and shoots a bunch of people.  Throughout, the characters discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being a 'savage' or a 'saint'. The students took pride in performing it, their fellow inmates loved it so much they requested a second performance, and we had a really interesting discussion afterwards about personal vs. social responsibility for actions.  Yet, the play makes the administration squeamish because it is so violent.

telling the story

Hi Kayhan.

It is great to see you on this dialogue and since the time we met in New York we didn't get a chance to meet. I guess as Palestinian who have worked with international volunteers coming to our Alrowwad center, especially those who come with a project, have some troubles in the sense that some of them have a set of results that they want to achieve. This is not wrong in itself to hope to achieve a result of the work you want to offer. But in the same time, sometimes ignorance of the culture and the way people live and things go in this country, could lead to difficulties in dealing with things. I agree with you that people in war zones would mostly go towards "normal life" things, like school, friends, parents, teachers...etc. They go around the violence, war, occupation issues. I guess one of the most dangerous and difficult things under such circumstances is that such situation becomes "Normal", and people become "Used to it" as they would say. So that become routine thing to have shooting, people killed or injured or imprisoned. When kids in Palestine talk about how there school mates where killed or injured, sometimes they tell it with a laugh and a smile is if it was a joke or a play that happened in front of their eyes. They seem sometimes to go in another level of imagination and forget the hard reality. When they are a bit order, they start reflecting more, but still, even for adult Palestinians, they would say "We are used to it" where it refers to occupation, or going around a checkpoint.

I had in the troop one girl, who mother was killed on March 8th 2002, during one of the incursions of Israeli soldiers in Aida camp-Bethlehem, The soldiers at that time where digging through the walls to pass from one house to the other, and when they arrive to a street, they go and explode the door facing them to get in the house. So they exploded the door where part of it hit the mother who was about to open the door when she heard the noise. She was deeply injured and soldiers didn't allow the husband to call the ambulance until 2 hours later. And it took the ambulance one hour to arrive during the curfew forced on the camp. The soldiers continued digging through the walls of their house to pass into the neighbor’s house. This girl, Woud is her name (means Promises) joined the theatre troop in September 2002, and it wasn't until a performance in 2006 that she wrote a scene talking about her mother, and her willingness to continue the resistance through theatre and arts. Later 2 of her sisters also joined Alrowwad in the choir and dance troops. 

Sometimes need longtime to be able to narrate their story or talk about things. Others can talk more easily. I guess it is a kind of self-protection or self-defense. When we work in theatre or arts, we need to be patients. We need I guess to see what are the priorities of the groups we work with and what they want to deliver with our guidance as facilitators and with respect to what they think.

The other day, I was in a workshop about non-violence, and the trainer asked a question, and when one of the trainees responded, she just said "you are wrong, you should think this, this and that". As facilitators or trainers, I guess we need to lead others to the answer and not dictate an answer to them. I think this is important to respect the thought of the people and not to dictate a code of conduct on them.


AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

listening with an active but quiet mind

 I'm appreciating the honesty of people talking about your experiences of coming to a project with your own your own ideas about what you hope or expect are the themes a community that you’re working with want to raise and talk about. I think when discussing our learnings as facilitators of theatre for social change it can be great to share our learnings that stem from our weaknesses. In the case of facilitators coming to work a community with our own ideas I guess that is a factor that is quite likely to ultimately weaken a process that has the potential to support social change, for example, of human rights.  

Particularly around the time when first began to facilitate Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) processes, but unfortunately not only then, I can think of a number of examples of times where I’ve worked with groups where I came with my own agenda about what I hoped and expect would be the themes that the community would raise and want to address. One example that leaps to mind is when I was facilitating TO processes as an 'outsider'  with young women who were refugees from Sudan and Liberia. I knew that their communities, and especially young people in their communities, were facing much racism and racially motivated attacks in their new town but the issues that they focus on was girls gossiping and school. It took a while too put aside my expectations of what would be discussed and instead facilitate and watch and experience their stories emerging…  what I should have been doing all along. 

Of course every time I work with a group I’m reminded of the absolute importance to listen, really listen. I often work with Indigenous peoples Northern Australia and I’m constantly reminded, day to day, to enter spaces with open eyes and ears, be quiet, wait, wait some more and listen.  I know those moments that I’m really listening. For me it means open ears and eyes but also a quiet mind. Settling my restless mind that wants big social change where there’s social and environmental justice, just settle my mind, listen and be genuinely present facilitating TO processes and whatever they support to emerge.  

Rather than looking for threads of stories that hints to what I view or perceive as the ‘root causes”/”key issues” actually listen and learn. When facilitating every time that I let go of my assumptions I’m reminded of how essential this is if I want to engage respectfully with the communities that I work with. Actually making a space for people to let their stories emerge and be heard and as you say Annie ‘support a community to find what they want to express, they feel is important to them. 


Pru, I really understand and get the part about listening and the way refer to it. I guess as one of our most significant tools. I really see, in working with communities, even if one goes in with a focalizing lens..(an issue) is the truth of the communities exp - even if divergent from the issue - as an issue is not one dimensional anyway, only able to be understood and represented one way.. i.e - experiences of homophobia (one of the projects I worked on) arise from so many variables and factors...and this, multiplicity of narratives..."is what needs fostering" ..It's great to hear this perspective re: about whose stories ?? shared by you and yes, so many others contributing. Thanks.

Witnessing - stories, action and transformation

Max, Waseem, Kahan, Xris and others,

I am profoundly struck by your comments regarding the various processes of "witnessing" that you each shared. In my professional  field of social work, we often speak about the role and power of the "parallel process" - or what was originally referred to as a "reflective space" between a supervisor and someone they are supervising - where feelings, behaviors and issues emerge within that space that "parallel" the process taking place between a social worker and their client. 

The reason that I bring this up - is that I have been so struck by how theater can be such a powerful tool for naming (explicitly or symbolically) issues; providing a space for the "actors" and the "audience" to face these issues; creatively interact with the issues and potentially transform reactions and behavior (individually and collectively); and how the interaction between the "actors" on stage as well as their interaction with the audience is also a kind of "parallel process" - both reflecting real life experience.

I have also been moved by your reflections on how important it is for the participants working to create these plays interact and lead the process. That is also an important aspect of other forms of therapeutic work (and theater is clearly therapeutic). The development  of trust, pace and direction of the process rests with the individual/group and the therapist (or facilitator/director in theater) provides the "container" that allows the safe space for the exploration, insight and transformation to take place.

Thank you so much for providing such in-depth thoughts, reflections and experiences. 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Facilitating not dictating

Thanks for that Max.  I think that's a really good example of what is so easy to do.  Often as a theatre practitioner  or human rights work or whoever you are going into a community and working with theatre (as well as other tools), its so easy to go in with an already established ideas of what you may want, or alternatively  ideas of quality and what a 'theatre' piece should be.  I think the best practitioners are those that are true facilitators, that support and help guide the community to find what they want to express and how about things that they feel are important to them.  So often we go in with wanting to create something that is cutting edge, life changing and often if the theatre piece is part of a specific project already have set ideas about a particular topic and what needs to be shown.  But as you say making a space and time to tell there storey, which may be something completely  different from what you had imagined with completely  different outcomes.  

I've also found from experience  that letting go of the theatrical conventions that I consider 'good' and embracing what the group want to do(though try and open them to new ideas as well).  In Timor-Leste there is a tradition of 'soap opera' realist based theatre, with what I like to call talking heads, i find it quite a boring form of theatre but it is the form that people naturally create there and audiences love.  I have had to learn to let go and support people making styles of theatre that i don't always think are the most interesting  (this is me also recognizing  the different cultural experiences I have had to develop my own personal taste in theatre!) and support them making the best quality in this style possible, as there is no use putting effort into changing something if the only thing it achieves is appeasing my own personal taste, while simultaneously potentially disempowering those that i am pushing to change.  This is not saying that I don't share and encourage different styles, but I am conscious about when it is an appropriate time and when are people genuinely open to it (ie is it because i want that change to happen, or are the group actually wanting some new input).

So yes facilitating not dictating, easy to say, hard to do, but extremely important

Why use theatre?

As a Palestinian, born under Israeli occupation, in a refugee camp where there are very limited possibilities for self-expression. The general stereotypes are that Palestinians are only capable of throwing stones or burning car tires, or that they are born with genes of hatred or violence, or terrorism. They are considered not as victims of occupation but as the oppressor and the public enemy. Deprived from their rights and lands, its them who should do the compromises, and not the occupier. The Palestinian cause was transformed as well into humanitarian cause, treating people as needy of assistance and charity and not as people who need political and legal support and dignity. In the same time, on the Palestinian side, the continuous occupation has lead to more extreme actions which lead to use of armed struggle and exploding oneself to kill others to make their voice heard.

On one side, we don't want our people and children to be numbers on lists of martyrs and handicapped for the rest of their lives, or perish in Israeli jails, and in the same time we don't want them to think that the only way to resists is through violence, because with all the justice of our cause, one people use violence, they lose part of their humanity.

I founded Alrowwad theatre in Aida refugee camp, which has no playgrounds or green spaces, which is surrounded by huge Israeli colonies, watch and snipers tours, and the illegal 8 meters high wall of separation from the East, North and part of the Western sides of the camp, and which is still subject of Israeli incursions until today. I focused on the use of arts in general and started with Theatre in particular which remains the main program of work to allow beautiful self expression to break the stereotypes and show another image of this beauty and humanity of our children and people, the folklore and culture.

The program was very successful. We invented the "Beautiful Resistance" against the ugliness of occupation and its violence, a nonviolent mean of self expression and defense of our humanity and refusal to be put in a corner where we respond to violence by violence, because we want to keep this humanity in us.

I have worked with university students, schools, kindergardens and adults. We have made international tours to create bridges and relations on international level, in Sweden, Denmark, Egypt, USA, France and Belgium. The idea is that theatre is a change maker on individual level and audience level. It is also a direct relation between the actor and audience, where possibilities of exchange and discussion could take place after the shows.

For Palestinian children, when they see people applauding them, and encourage them to continue in this way, that this kind of non-violent and beautiful resistance   delivers the message and represent another image of their country. then of course it does encourage them to continue doing theatre and be involved even in training others.



AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for

Why Theatre


Forum theatre (in Pakistan we use the term interactive theatre) it provided us an opportunity to discuss analyze and try to find out practical solution of a problem by engaging spectators. Forum theatre is not a agitprop theatre rather it present the perspective of both protagonist and antagonist and raised the question for the spectators to address them as spect-actor” in forum theatre we present anti model and asked the spectators response about the decision made on stage and motivate them to change it . This provides a safe space for the performers and spectators to engage in a dialogue without being defensive.

If I look back there are few stories those gave me a lot of strength and energy to continue my work in the field of human rights. Five years ago a play was improvised with Sandal theatre group on the issue of power loom workers (textile industry to make yarn and cloths) in Faislabad. There were around half a million workers and none of them were registered with social security department, because all of them were informal labor no trade unions. The workers those were registered to social security department can get free medical services, education services for their children and get monetary benefit in case of accidents, death etc. The play was developed on this them while discussing why those workers did not have social security cards, linking with Government promises for welfare of workers, government officials attitude and employer fears  (if they registered the workers they have to pay more taxes)  etc. Theatre was performed in front of workers and leaders of different trade unions. There was very interesting dialogue was generated and many question were asked.  Trade union leaders decided to take this issue rather for more increase in wages.

From that point they started their struggle, processions, hunger strike, press conferences doing seminars to engage civil society and media. Some of them were arrested, few of them injured but they continue their struggle. As the result of the movement initiated through this year Federal Government have been forced for policy legislation  to provide social security cards to power loom workers and till today more than six thousand  workers got the cards and hopefully all of them will get the cards in this year.

There is an important thing to remind theatre can high light the issue, raised questions but we can bring the changes through organized struggle (political process). There must be an organization who is taking the lead on the issue you must have local organizations those were struggling for their rights. Theatre can supplement their efforts, helping them to communicate to a larger audience and helping them to create a collective image for which they struggle to achieve. We are documenting the case studies with next ten days it will be available on our website



Re: [New Tactics Dialogues: Using Theatre for Human Rights Educa

<table cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" border="0" ><tr><td valign="top" style="font: inherit;"><DIV>Hi Everyone</DIV>
<DIV>My name is Kowsar Gowhari and I live in US. I am carefully following the discussions and I am really enjoying them since I am new to the field. </DIV>
<DIV>Some of you did not mention your names and places. I appreciate if you share your name and email address with the rest of community members if you want to!</DIV>
<DIV>Especially, I really found the email about one of the member's experience in London and Sudan useful and I appreciate if you send me your contact info so I can ask you more question about your works.</DIV>
<DIV>my email is : <A href=""></A></DIV>
<DIV>Thank you so much.</DIV>
<DIV>Kowsar Gowhari</DIV></td></tr></table><br>

How to contact practitioners

Hello Kowsar,

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad that you heard about this dialogue and that you are finding it interesting and helpful. 

You can contact the practitioners directly on this website without needing their email address.

  1. First, login to login
  2. Click on their username (which will be blue if you are logged in). (for example, your username is 'kgowhari' and you should see it in blue - this is a link to your 'biography')username
  3. Click on the 'Contact' tab and write your message. This message will be sent to the practitioner's email address!

 contact tab

I hope this helps!

Welcome to the New Tactics online community, Kowsar!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Sharing contact information

Thank you Kowsar for raising the desire to directly connect with people sharing their ideas and experiences in this dialogue and who are part of the New Tactics community.

I want to thank Kristin for creating such an easy to use visual guide.

You CAN easily contact a person who is participating in the dialogue directly and still maintain the privacy and confidentiality of each person even as we connect with the other members. New Tactics strives to provide both the ability to connect with each other as well as the privacy of all our New Tactics community members.

I hope this information will help you and others to connect with other New Tactics community members while still preserving your general privacy. I do hope it will also encourage members to take a little bit of time to add information they would like to share about themselves in their "My information and settings" area fo the website. This will help you to connect better with others to collaborate and connect in the future.

I'm following this great dialogue on theatre and I'm so excited about the ideas, methods, and personal reflections that are being shared.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Puppetry: A Story from Bread and Puppet

I am still in the process of discovering how I can most
effectively use puppetry to work within my community, and to support activists
and organizations. So I thought I would share stories during this dialogue of
how I’ve seen others use puppetry powerfully; the stories that have served as
models for my own work. So I’ll start with:




Bread and Puppet, based out of Glover, Vermont
since the early 1970’s, is a radical puppet company that creates puppet
parades, dances, circuses and outdoor pageants that explore social justice
themes. I spend every summer with them and one of the most striking elements
every year is participating in various Fourth of July parades. (The 4th
of July is the USA’s
Independence Day... a fiercely patriotic holiday with fireworks and parades
based around general “our country is awesome” themes.)


Every year very conservative towns invite Bread and Puppet
to parade with them despite their very radical messages. And every year Bread
and Puppet participates with puppets (both fun and somber) that criticize the U.S. government
and its policies. One year the end of our parade consisted of a line of Iraqi
women (masked puppeteers) carrying dead naked bodies (puppet corpses) and a
sign with the most recent number of dead U.S. soldiers and estimated dead
Iraqis. That is not at all in the spirit of a typical 4th of July
parade; instead of celebrating the heroics and might of the USA, Bread and
Puppet questions and challenges it. But along with the somber puppets, there
are stilters, a lively brass band, and always something to celebrate... like
chickens with signs to represent local stores (we would change the names of the
stores to fit each town) defeating a giant Walmart executive. Every year we’re
the life of each parade and every following year we’re invited back.


The power of puppetry is that it can say whatever it wants
to... an audience member can be charmed or wowed or laughed into listening to
the most radical of values. And as a performer, I have found that it feels infinitely
safer saying radical or personal things through a mask or a puppet. You’re not
putting yourself in the line of fire because it’s the puppet who is saying or
doing the stuff that feels risky.


In an earlier posting, Max talked about working with a
Sudanese community who found it too painful to perform themes that hit close to
home. I’m wondering if puppets might be an effective way to theatrically
present painful stories or themes... if puppets might feel like a safer medium
for exploring those topics. I don’t do
that work so I have no experience in this area, but it does make me wonder.

the use of metaphor

Puppets, puppets, yes, they can be great.  I think some are so full of pathos and  emotion. They are really beautiful.  There's a magic to puppets, which is why kids like them so much.

Your comment, and those above about safety and being able to face issues, makes me think of the use of metaphor in theatre work.

In some kinds of drama therapy, participants create stories with props and material, and are never asked to connect these to their personal stories or lives.  The stories that emerge are often very rich and full of symbols.  They are metaphorical - they exist like a veil that covers another, perhaps more literal story.  This also happens in improvisation a lot - things emerge that are fairy-tale like, and full of splendor, and when you reflect back on it, there are all sorts of things you can 'read' into the work.  I think a well-used metaphor is the key to unlocking closed doors of dialogue.  Some therapists will believe that using a metaphor is enough, you don't even need to say what it is about, if you work with it.  Why does the prince lose his sight? Where can he regain it? What does he do to save himself? Where does he find this knowledge? Stories like this can be immensely satisfying, and it is right to think that they are useful in a human rights context.

I've seen good examples of this in work with homeless people in London - they come up with some pretty crazy stories! In one, an alien was visiting a foreign planet, and started to die in the dense atmosphere. It was found by one of the inhabitants of that planet, who saved it by letting it lick the salt from its sweat.  All of us in the room stood there dumbfounded, watching two homeless actors showing this scene about caring and healing and helping someone in need.  It was pretty cool. 

I participate in Playback Theatre, which is a movement related to Theatre of the Oppressed, in  which audience members tell stories that are re-enacted by a group of improvisers.  Very often, metaphor is used in the opposite way to what I've just described - a literal story is told, and then it is played or enacted in a metaphorical form.  This places the veil over the story, and I believe gives the teller distance from the experience, enough so that she or he can reflect and rehearse those famous futures that we talk about in Forum theatre.

Anyway, just to say, metaphors are useful, as are archetypes - thus, masks and puppets with their strong messages, and innocuous ways, which seem innocent enough to some, but which to others are deeply meaningful.

And we all may have felt the

And we all may have felt the liberation that is provoked by controlling a puppet or becoming a mask, being able to express your self from the safety of a disguise. I find this also when a person is allowed to play a character of their choice, it is not them on stage telling their story, it is a character who's experiences are fed by those of the actor.... I love the freedom behind puppets, masks and characters, as a way for any one to be heard..

puppets and Bread and Puppets

Being in Bread and Puppets was one of the amazing experiences that we have as Alrowwad Theatre troupe with the kids in 2005, during our theatre tour in the USA. We enjoyed 3 days of workshops and then participating in performing with them, besides performing our own play in their theatre.

These huge puppets, and their freedom of movement and expression, of criticizing, telling and commenting on events or subjects is great. It is beautiful and amazing to see, and to participate in. As Max says, no wonder children love them... but also adults I guess. They have this magic and power in them, There is no taboo. Nothing is censored or forbidden. Since old time, puppets where used to criticize the oppressor and make fun of this oppressor. It has been used in the Middle East mostly as a political tool of resistance and denunciation  of the occupier and social injustice, and land owners who exploit paysans. They have been used to commemorate historic events and characters and heroes.

Peter Schumman, the founder of Bread and Puppets came twice to Palestine and did wonderful work with us and other theatre groups in Palestine. The puppets created at the end of the workshops have toured in Bethlehem and Ramallah and made an amazing impact on people. It was the first time to see such huge puppets.

I don't know if they are safer than an actor performing the character. In the face of occupation I guess it doesn't matter whether you are acting or holding a puppet that acts... but, Puppets have their magic as Annie says.

AbdelFattah Abusrour, PhD
Ashoka Fellow
Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center
Alrowwad is an Independent Center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for


Topic locked