Act out the right thing

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Kate Wolstenholme is assistant education officer at CEWC Cymru, a charity working with young people to promote active global citizenship

In the current political climate, where children are increasingly being given the message that differences between nationalities are threatening, I have been looking for projects and links that celebrate difference and overcome this sense of fear.

So I was delighted this summer to be part of the 2006 Youth Agora, an international "forum theatre" workshop organised by Theatr Fforwm Cymru, that focused on young people in democracy.

"Forum theatre" is a method developed by the Brazilian writer and performer Augusto Boal to allow oppressed peoples to find a positive solution to their problems.

A short piece of theatre, containing a dilemma, is shown to the audience, which chooses the character it feels most sympathy for. The theatre piece is then begun again, and members of the audience halt the action and take on the role of the oppressed character whenever they feel there is potential for a changed pattern of behaviour to create a better outcome.

Often many options are tested and, after each intervention, each character is questioned about how they feel about the changed course of action.

The young people gathered in Pembrokeshire were asked to share stories about when they felt democracy had done them a disservice and they had not been listened to. Examples ranged from having "rubbish" school councils to being ignored by the police to failed consultation.

In this way, they were able to share experiences and discuss how the problems had been addressed in different countries.

They were then asked to develop several of these into pieces of theatre to be used in a forum. The use of drama was incredibly powerful as the "storyteller" moulded the cast to behave as they had in the real story.

This meant that each of the young people inhabited the story and were able to explore different attitudes and values by having to live them in the theatre pieces.

This led to a real sense of shared understanding of the problems that young people across Europe face.

The young people watched all the pieces of theatre, and were given the chance to vote on the ones they wanted to be put forward into the public forums in Pembrokeshire and Cardiff.

This process led to some dissatisfaction: the "wrong" pieces of theatre were chosen, and then the list was added to by the adults. But this provided yet another opportunity to discuss the nature of democracy and the first-past-the-post electoral system.

The nature of a democratic community was also explored, with some disagreement between those who thought the vote should stand and those who wanted to rely on the adult leaders to make the decision. This brought up many arguments about democracy that are pertinent, especially for governments like the Welsh Assembly, which is seeking the views of young people.

Young people must be listened to and receive feedback on the consultation, particularly if the majority view is being overruled. For those involved in this staged injustice, this was an all-too-familiar situation and one that occurs across Europe.

In this instance, the young people were given a further chance to vote and the theatre pieces chosen to go through were satisfactory for everybody.

Unfortunately, in "real" democracies, second chances often do not happen.

Drama proved to be an international language for the attendees of the Youth Agora, and for problem-solving. One said: "When I get home I will appreciate things which remind me of this project. I will learn more languages and take more interest in politics. It would be wrong not to."

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