Theatre’s Role in Society

Can Theatre in Education play a legitimate role in shaping modern society?












I would like to thank Stephen Steinhaus, the staff and pupils from Whitley Academy for allowing me to gain first-hand experience of T.I.E within a school.

I would also like to thank my tutor for chasing me and arranging meetings.

My gratitude goes to Mathew Holt and Gemma Cartwright for painstakingly reviewing my colourful speling.

Finally my family, especially my mum for her words of encouragement and Becky Williams for giving me refuge and constant support.














I aim to discover whether T.I.E and other art forms that fall under the umbrella term ‘Applied Theatre’ can have a positive effect on society, especially society’s youth.

I will study the pioneers of the subject and founders of the first British T.I.E companies.

I will first look at the need for T.I.E and the route courses into the breakdown in British society.

I will investigate the way T.I.E is viewed by governing bodies, government and its audiences. I aim to discover where its core strengths source of power comes from? T.I.E offers something that the conventional class does not, but what is it and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

And finally I will look at T.I.E’s ability to transform attitudes, alter perspectives and develop cognitive skills in personal development.

I have achieved this by researching T.I.E’s practitioners and students; I have also spent six weeks working in a school currently using T.I.E techniques as part of a curricular transformation.



Theatre goes beyond the idea of putting on a play; it has the potential to unlock an individual’s intelligence, their emotions, social and physical skills as well as their creativity.  As with music or sport there are aspects of theatre that any individual has the potential to identify with.  Teaching of theatre is not about putting a script into a student’s hands and telling them to act, but instead enabling them to discover the area of theatre or the arts which truly inspires them. Theatre in Education (T.I.E) is a relatively new endeavour but has a strong foundation in the world of education and theatre.  T.I.E confronts issues faced by pupils ranging from sexual health to career choices, with the messages in a production being mixed with humour, facts and hard hitting stories.

During my time as a T.I.E actor, I have found the most useful aspect of a production to be the associated workshops. These workshops provide opportunity for the students to reflect on and evaluate sections of the play. As students discuss the plots they would also develop the story and the actions of the characters, giving them the opportunity to experience real life issues, without having to suffer the consequences for themselves. Students have shown how they identify and relate to the characters they develop, providing them insight into their own actions in their own lives. It is these experiences which theatre enables that will be invaluable in the futures of these young people.






Society has functioned for thousands of years without the need for such enterprises as Theatre in Education (T.I.E.), forum theatre, theatre of the oppressed or applied theatre. Yet there are a large numbers of diverse organisations such as the National Health Service, Police and Education services who are currently using T.I.E for staff training.  This has also been used for staff product training within the largest and most profitable companies in the world ‘Microsoft’. T.I.E can be used to simulate incidents, often rare and extreme events such as violence, a terrorist attack, or devastated bereaved parents. Simulation gives employees experience within a sector. It offers the opportunity for trial and error, a chance for peers to comment and critique a colleague within a secure and unaccountable environment; whilst enabling management to review and improve procedure. In industry where lost time and split second decisions could cost millions of pounds or even lives; it is vital to develop an understanding of the tasks that can suddenly arise. The importance of preparation and how failing to prepare correctly has a negative impact on the outcomes of the work. Organisation, team work, work ethic and the pursuit of high standards are all qualities that can be achieved through T.I.E.

T.I.E is expanding in education and is no longer exclusive to drama students. It is used across faculties, with its purpose being beyond that of entertainment but instead  helping children to learn about school, life, responsibilities and most importantly themselves.  According to a 2011 Government survey the top ten issues that the youth of our generation face are single parent households, drug/alcohol abuse, growing up too fast, violence in schools, materialism, obesity, education disparity, shifting economy, poverty and erosion of national pride. (

My question is ‘What can Theatre and the Creative Arts; in particular Theatre of the Oppressed or Forum Theatre and theories of Augusto Boal do to help society with these issues?

Many of the challenges that children face begin in their local communities. Community development and harmony is often a finely balanced and specifically modelled and tailored to fit the dynamics of each individual micro community. However, what it is to be part of a community is now one of confusion, particularly in an increasingly mobile global community. There was a time where communities were self-policed, there were rules and traditions, hard lines and a certain culture based on the moral fibres forged over centuries, conformities and norms that produced a stable community identity. Post war reconstruction and globalisation brought about many changes to society; one of the key elements of change was immigration. During the 1950’s there was a tectonic wave of immigration on a global scale. The workforce became internationally mobile. Britain saw an economic shift, small, independent and local business were struggling to compete with the emergence of the huge corporations, the new state of globalisation respected no boundaries.

Britain as a community; changed beyond recognition. Where we once knew our neighbours intimately and actively worked toward community welfare. We now tend to live in more aggregate communities where we barely speak to our neighbours, let alone conform to the same communal beliefs. We live side by side in apartheid with people of different race, religion and achieved status. Youths are caught in a tug of war between the media propaganda that is if we work hard enough we can achieve whatever we want from life. Whilst contradicting this is the welfare state which is perceived by some to be offering life for free. There is a lack of strong leadership and direction on a national and micro scale which adds to the state of confusion as to what it is to be a youth in today’s society.

This is not to say that change is always bad, but with change there must be development, within the community and the education system. The education sector once operated a system that predetermined the pathway of individuals based on their parents work status, address and perceived class. Pupils were labelled and placed into metaphorical boxes. Schools focused students towards learning the skills needed to fulfil the functional needs of the country, limiting the academic potential of individual students.  There was a probably chance that if you were born into a working class family, where your father was a coal miner and your mother a seamstress, unless you were incredibly fortunate; you would follow your parents along the same route. This is still the case today; children do tend to follow in the footsteps of their parents. However, there are key differences; a student can choose the subjects he/she wishes to study and with the huge financial aid now available can, if they choose, continue on to university without placing financial burden upon their family.

The two subjects I study, Theatre and Education, have both been directly affected by Britain’s many recent many social, economic and political challenges. As described in the book ‘Criminal Behaviour from School to the Workplace. Weerman, Frank and Bijleveld (2013) have studied the impact that social change has had on the education system and its function to produce a work force ready to slot into a rigid social and economic system.

((During the last 50 years, the transition to adulthood has become increasingly divers (Arnett, 2004). While, in general, with age emerging adults become progressively more encapsulated in conventional society through institutions such as employment, marriage and parenthood, current societal norms allow for more leeway in the pace and sequence at which these transitions take place (Shanahan, 2000). The individualization of the transition to adulthood has provided youths and the available resources were important markers for following a particular pathway. For instance, the ‘educated singles’ or ‘educated partners’ tended to come from families of higher social status, whereas ‘parents without careers’ tended to value marriage and family more than education and employment at an earlier age. These studies, in short, show that there are multiple pathways to adulthood, and that precursors can be found to predict pathway membership.)).

(Weerman, Frank, and Bijleveld, Catrien, eds. P.108)

As immigrants arrived to Britain they were also faced with a rigid educational system, and in the early stages of migration communities were not universally open to diversity. As Reddie describes in the Book ‘Another World is Possible’ many of the mainstream state schools were slow to react in changing their teaching methods and syllabus, which further alienated minorities.

Anthony Reddie describes some of his experiences as a black child growing up in Britain in 1969. Reddie recalls some of the taunting, teasing and abuse that he received as the only black child in his class.

One of the chief products of this continual failure has been the development of the supplementary school. George S. Richards defines the supplementary school thus: “Supplementary education may be defined as a system of schooling which is provided outside, and in addition to, mainstream state education.” Richards outlines the development of supplementary schools which have been instrumental in providing a communitarian ethic that attempts to offer assistance with curriculum subjects found in State schools. Supplementary schools often incorporate an African-centred approach to the teaching and learning process in order to promote self-esteem and emotional growth.

From supplementary schools, where Black cultures, traditions and history are the norm. “British State schooling, despite a recent history of multicultural initiatives, still operates with predominantly taken-for-granted assumptions of Whiteness as normative. Black supplementary schools provide a space to challenge such assumptions).

(Hopkins, Dwight N., and Lewis, Marjorie, P98)

Reddie’s experiences were by no means isolated, but in 2015, British children are born into a multi-cultural society; living side by side with people of all races and nationalities is simply the ‘norm’. As a consequence of an ever shifting population communities are rarely settled and changing, but there is an acceptance that this is normality. The government’s loose migration policy has meant that the British community has had no choice but to accept the presence of different ethnic minorities. Britain is now classed as a multi-cultural state and although often purported to be harmful to British society; the British model is one of envy amongst our European neighbours. In many cases we do not know the intimate details or even the names of our neighbours, at the very least we live side by side in harmony, where as much of the settlements in developed countries are completely segregated and excluded from general society.  At the time when the first immigrants arrived, mostly from the West Indies the education system was rigorous, inflexible and stubborn and in need of reform. Eventually school governing bodies planned a complete restructure and one of the strategies was to invest in T.I.E programs. The government and education faculties understood that theatre is not just a form of entertainment, but could also be used as a powerful tool in shaping young people lives. The theatre and creative arts world also started to view T.I.E as a serious art form, and soon T.I.E companies were forming across the country.

But In order for T.I.E to drive forward it would need the backing of the government, both in its fundamental beliefs and financial aid. Speaking in 2003 British arts minister Estelle Morris sums up the governmental attitude towards T.I.E.

(I know that arts and culture make a contribution to health, to education, to crime reduction, to strong communities, to the economy and to the nation’s well-being but it don’t always know how to evaluate or describe it. We have to find a language and a way of describing its worth. It’s the only way we’ll secure the greater support we need) (

Since the 1970s the government has set aside funding for such companies. Despite funding taking a serious hit during the Thatcher regime in the 1980’s T.I.E remained a strong enough entity to survive during a time where much of Britain’s industry and art forms were being strangled at the hands of the Conservative party. The current conservative government have continued to fund Theatre for Education and are eager to distance themselves from the artistic dark days of the 1980’s.

“People have had an assumption about Conservative governments [as arts-funding cutters] partly because of some of the things that happened in the 1980s and partly because of the tone of some of the debate around the arts in the 1980s, which appeared to say public spending on the arts was something you might progressively want to reduce, which isn’t where the modern Conservative party stands. We recognise the critical importance of public funding.” (

But the question still remains, can theatre actually help bridge the gap left by a fractured society? Whitely Academy in Coventry is a school located in a community where a large percentage of its pupils and parents have been affected by many; if not all of the country’s economic and social events that have taken place over the past fifty years. According to the school many families in the surrounding area are faced with unemployment, single parent households and have a large Ethnic Minority attendance. A study by the ‘Child Action Poverty Group found that In 2009/10, 53 per cent of those living below the poverty line were single parent households, families with one or more workless parent were seven times more likely to live below the poverty line than those where both parents had jobs and people from ethnic minorities were 64 per cent more likely to live in poverty than average. (

Unsurprisingly there are an above national average percentage of people receiving welfare.  A decade ago Whitley was a failing school. Some children were being sent into the world with only the most elementary reading, writing and academic skills. Pupils were socially unprepared for the most basic requirements a young adult needs to function in society, such as effective communication, time management and interview preparation.

Since Whitley converted from a school into an academy its fortunes have transformed and it is one of the highest moving schools in the country over the past ten years. One of Whitley Academy’s strategies was to invest more time and money into its drama and arts department. According to my interview with head of drama at Whitley Academy Steven Steinhaus, theatre is having a positive impact on the school. However he exercises caution when expressing its universal validity.

Why do you think theatre is important within a school? 

Theatre and drama are important within a school for a number of key reasons:

Teamwork:  working with others, understanding difference, working outside your comfort zone.

Publicity:  performances get the word out about the school in a positive light and also “show off” students to staff and other pupils who may not have other areas in which to shine

Relational:  building attachment with the teacher, meeting and working with new people, building friendships

Progress: easy for student leadership and stretch/challenge practical nature, caters to a range of learning styles naturally.

Family/home engagement:  performances bring people in and bridge a gap that can, in other contexts, be more confrontational

Do you believe that theatre can help student’s to process emotions and deal with problems?

When used correctly, drama can be very therapeutic.  This is not to say all drama helps with emotions and schools use it to do so.  Just the opposite, really. Role play, forum theatre, emotional recall and the like can all be powerful tools if used properly for the stage and, at times, can have the benefit of helping students through emotional issues and other problems.  I wouldn’t say schools do that particularly well in an organised way, but it does happen.

Have you noticed a change in some of your students since your school has dedicated more time and energy to theatre?

Many of our students find they build the best relationships and make the most progress in drama due to the practical nature, the competencies built, the necessary focus on teamwork and relationships, and the lack of artificial seating arrangement and desk work that can still dominate other lessons.  On the flipside, some of our more vulnerable learners/high-tariff students do at times take drama as an option with the assumption it will be “easier” than other options.  It’s not easier and, in fact, sometimes much harder, but can be a better “fit” as it were.

Do you think that Augusto Boal’s Techniques have a place in helping modern day society with some of its pressing issues including Single Parent Households, Drug/Alcohol abuse, Growing up too fast, Violence in schools, Materialism, Obesity, Education Disparity, Shifting Economy, Poverty and Erosion of national pride?

I think that Boal’s work fits in nicely with some of the techniques that schools use and we use to address such issues.  Activities like “circle time”, which we use with year 7-9 tutor groups for psyche and conflict resolution, is directly linked to Forum theatre and the idea of a forum theatre task/discussion or the like to replace an assembly for a year group or a “telling off” of a class is hugely appealing.

According to this interview it does appear that Drama programs, Agusto Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques and T.I.E within schools and academys such as Whitley can have a positive effect on the students but content must be designed with caution. A fluid and flexible module in accordance to the students within a particular class. A one size fits all approach would force students into performing tasks that are out of their comfort zones and would have no beneficial results, but would further segregate the more vulnerable pupils.




In 2008 deadly earthquakes struck China killing thousands of people, many of the victims were children attending school. China had previously dealt with the rebuilding of a fractured infrastructure. But with so many fragile young minds scarred by the devastating quakes; the Chinese government allowed Theatre in Education companies to work with schools and refuge centres in an attempt to help the children make sense of the tragedy. Peter O’Conner was one of the Theatre group leaders. Perhaps the Chinese government did not regard T.I.E as a powerful entity, but a form of entertainment to make children smile. For this reason O’Connor had free reign to run his workshops without censorship. Soon the children started to address the root and cause of the problem. Unlike government buildings which are built to better withstand earthquakes, schools were erected quickly and cheaply, as a result they were weak and liable to falter during a tectonic shift.   (Although the Chinese government had permitted artists to enter into the quake zones, once the communities started to use in their dramas the stories of poorly constructed schools, which had been responsible for so many children’s deaths, the companies were banned. The Chinese government demanded the (TIE) companies to tell the story of the state’s role in managing the quakes)  

(Peter O’Conner p308)

According to O’Connor’s journal children were using T.I.E as a form of therapy and a route towards understanding. It had transformed from what authorities saw as an afternoon of light entertainment to a potential potent weapon that must be harnessed and contained.  O’Connor was instructed to run his sessions designed to highlight the work that the Chinese government had undertaken in the aftermath of the quake. When O’Connor refused he was closed down and deported. A similar shift in attitude could be seen across the world, higher authorities and governments were beginning to see the power and potential threat of T.I.E. Many saw the positive prospective and decided to use this new tool, whilst others decided to crush it. Looking back through history there has rarely been a time where theatre has not had some form of conflict with higher powers. Historical figures from Oliver Cromwell to Stalin and Adolph Hitler slammed the doors shut on their nation’s theatres. They feared and understood theatres potential political influence. In Nazi Germany theatre practitioners were forced to flee the country, in many cases for their lives.

(Many Jewish and left-wing theatre workers fled into exile in the 1930s. Reinhardt, despite having been invited to become an “honorary Aryan,” remained in Austria until the threat of the Anschluß, then, like the more fortunate, made his way to the United States, which provided a home for some of the leading German theatre and cinema figures of the day, notably Bertolt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich, Peter Lorre, Ernst Toller, and Erwin Piscator. There had even been a proposal by Goebbels that Piscator should be invited, through the mediation of Edward Gordon Craig, to return to Germany from his initial exile in Moscow to form a propaganda theatre for the Nazis, which suggests either extreme obtuseness on the part of Goebbels or political ambivalence on the part of Piscator, or both. Other German theatre practitioners were less fortunate: seeking refuge in Holland, they found themselves trapped within the confines of the Reich shortly after the outbreak of war. The actor Kurt Gerron refused Marlene Dietrich’s invitation to come to the United States, relying on his First World War decoration to keep him safe from arrest. By 1944 he had perished in the gas chambers)

(Gadberry, Glen, P157 )

Gadberry and Glens text does not only paint a picture of theatre makers on the run, but a defiant and resistant force that despite the hardship and dangers felt the responsibility to continue working.

Just as the Chinese government had closed down Peter O’Conner’s TIE program the Brazilian government took a more servere approach to Augusto Boal. In response to Boal’s plays surrounding the experiences of people silenced by poverty and oppression, they imprisoned Boal for four months and then forced him to live in exile from his native Brazil for almost 15 years. Boal protested that his aim was not to radicalise or create a frenzied uprising, but to simply educate and help people process events in their lives through theatre.

T.I.E was beginning to be noticed across the planet; Boal project did not halt. He operated his Forum Theatre workshops through the United States and also spent time in Holland during the early 1960s. The origins of T.I.E in Britain are credited to the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in 1965. This was a time when education had started to review its methods. Children were being encouraged to work in a more interactive setting and the culture of Britain was moving into the unknown. So too theatre was changing and the Belgrade Theatre saw an opportunity in which both worlds could collide. In the Modern era social change is upon us every day; this is the norm for Children in 2015. Since the Belgrade created T.I.E in 1965 the world has rapidly and monumentally transformed. The issues that children now face are thrust at them through magazines, Social Media, Television and vast networks of Mobile Technology. T.I.E has developed with the world; there are hundreds of T.I.E companies touring the United Kingdom employing thousands of actors playing to tens of thousands of youths each year. Dealing with issues from pregnancy to exams, dugs to bullying.

(Across the UK today there exists a network of centre, projects and enterprises through which individuals and communities share in arts activity. Combining professional and non-professional skills in limitless variety, these activities are linked by a common philosophy and aim with many interpretations. In general they maintain that arts practice should be open to everyone because the arts improve quality of life, can extend the creativity of all in many directions and thus can empower people making a positive impact in their own lives and as members of their community. Arts in the community are concerned with the social impact and role of the arts as well as the creation of appreciation).

(Arts and Communities P1)

Governments, local councils, youth groups and schools were also viewing theatre as more than a form of entertainment, but a method in educating today’s youth. In an age where many young people see the education system as an annoyance that they are forced to attend, new and innovative techniques are needed to reengage students with learning.  It was once the case that one teaching method worked for all, in an institution where if you did not do the work you were punished. Discipline was a major feature within the education system. Disruptive behaviour was often corrected by corporal punishment, or at least its looming threat. A child could expect to be physically beaten by the authorities within the school.

Corporal punishment in British state schools, and also in private schools receiving public funding was banned in 1987. Caning was used in various UK schools before its use in state schools was outlawed by just 1 vote in parliament in 1987 The ban did not include public schools but many decided to phase it out soon after. Caning policy varied from school to school before the ban. Many mixed and all girls schools made girls exempt from caning and all corporal punishment, where-as some schools used only the slipper on girls. But there were plenty of schools around that used the cane on girls, some very rarely, some more frequently. The cane was administered to either the palms of the hands or the buttocks.


So, in this day and age children have more rights and are protected; there is not the fear of authority, a teacher could potentially be sued for raising his or her voice to a child. So it is the responsibility of the teacher, child and their family to motivate them to work for a better future. So when students simply decide that they do not want to do the work dropping a text book in front of them and demanding them to read is putting them on a path to failure.

So how do we teach people who do not want to be educated? With this in mind an American Based Company ‘Exploratorium’ looked at the idea of teaching students without them knowing they were being taught. It could be described as ‘stealth teaching’. Exploratorium purchased an old car then instructed the youths to break into the car and ‘hot wire’ the ignition. Obviously the children were all very enthusiastic about this project. They all enjoyed popping the lock and firing up the engine. Little did they know that they were learning about physics and the flow of electrical currents. In a practical sense this is the same as Boal’s Forum Theatre. Although the teacher was working in a non-theatrical style his audience were engaged and willing to talk about the scenario and how it could be done better if they were put in the situation.

After attending a conference headed by Augusto Boal in Berlin, London based ‘Greenwich Young Peoples Theatre or GYPT started to move away from traditional theatre and began to progress as a Forum Theatre company. They were finding that students were reacting positively and that the work its self was easy to develop.

(At that time the company was re-mounting a programme for the fourteen-plus age range. The programme, A Land Fit for Heroes, was designed, by an extraordinary coincidence, to explore, at the conceptual level, the relationships between experience, thought and action. At the heart of the programme was an extended role-play which took as its starting point the historical events of the 1926 British General Strike. The school pupils were carefully inducted to a variety of roles chosen to reflect a cross-section of society in a provincial industrial town of the period. The roles included coal miners, railway workers, shop-keepers, farmers and landed gentry. One group of pupils were journalists and produced a small newspaper. The different socio-economic interests of different groups (e.g. the railway workers) were cross-threaded with individual family and class loyalties.) (Jackson, Anthony,)

GYPT were not alone, T.I.E companies were appearing across the country with high distinction and financial backing from the arts council and government. Birmingham based theatre company ‘Big Brum’ uses similar techniques, by presenting a simple question such as ‘why do people’ in their Theatre in Education production ‘Home Front, Front Line’ they provoke answers from the audience, and as they are shown more and more of the production (which is based around the trenches in the First World War) it not only changes the responses to ‘Why do people’ it also forces them to look back at their original answers. This creates a path way between then and now. A youth who is able to identify with that pathway may take more time in the future to consider his or her actions or what they say. This is done through self-exploration, not on the street, or in the workplace where there are consequences but in the classroom through theatre.




















One of Theatres in Educations great innovators is Brazilian Artist Augusto Boal. Boal believed in the power of theatre for social change. Boal is credited with creating ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ or Forum theatre, (In a lecture Boal explains that the term Forum Theatre came about because he would discuss the play with the audience once it had reached its conclusion, they would have a Forum.) Boal was one of the first to recognise the link between educating and theatre. Boal believed that the audience were in fact his students, who should be participants in their own learning, and that theatre would be the agent for change.

In order to appreciate the potential relevance of Boal’s work within a British TIE context, it is important to remind ourselves of some key features of Theatre in Education itself: that its prime motivation lies in its explicit educational purpose and that its distinctive formal feature is its use of active audience participation. Central to the work, in all its variety of theatre forms and educational strategies, are the twin convictions that human behaviour and institutions are formed through social activity and can therefore be changed, and that audiences, as potential agents of change, should be active participants in their own learning.

(Jackson, Anthony,31)

His basic formula would be to show a short play with the protagonist as the oppressed, and then perform the play the second time, but this time around the audience has the power to stop the play when they believe the protagonist is not morally doing ‘the right thing’. At this point the audience members must create an intervention and replace the protagonist. But what one person see’s as the correct or a moral action might not be the view of the whole audience, which creates debate and gives the audience the chance to study the opinions of others whilst analysing their own actions if they were put in this situation.

In 1982 GYPT, now a dedicated Forum Theatre company recognised that children were less likely to show a positive response by simply being told what to. After all this was an age where children were empowered and authority figures could not use the threat of fearful consequences. Boal’s techniques created a platform from where students could recognise themselves in the situations being presented to them.

At this time GYPT was working to develop a dialectical and materialist practice through which its audiences could be actively engaged as the subjects in the learning process (as opposed to passive objects who are filled with knowledge by and from others) but simultaneously be challenged to take a critically objective view of their experience, recognizing themselves as part of the same social reality from which the contents of the TIE programmes were drawn. The central educational concern of the company was to find ways of reuniting feelings, thoughts and actions in its audiences, and thus create praxis in direct opposition to those practices in both theatre and education which tend to keep them separated.

(Jackson, Anthony, p22)

According to the passage GYPT had found a way to show people the consequences of their actions and a glimpse into their own future. GYPT may took the lead in Forum Theatre and soon Augusto Boal’s philosophy spread throughout the T.I.E movement. Boal’s methods were also being embraced by teachers, workshop leaders and educational facilitators. There was a great need for a more interactive platform like T.I.E. The issues that children face  are not only completely different to that of past generations but they are being played out on an entirely new interface, alien to previous schooling methods; T.I.E could be a flexible tool that links pupils and teachers in an ever changing world.

Although the education system was slow to react to this need for reform, Forum, Theatre, Theatre of the Oppressed and Applied Theatre are currently operated in a vast range of institutions and organisations for many purposes, from education to conflict resolution and rehabilitation. The arena, institution and audience may vary, but the fundamental aims are the same; Theatre for change.

(Applied theatre’ is an umbrella term, often used to describe many practices including (but not limited to) Theatre of the Oppressed, classroom drama, theatre-in-education, community based performance, prison theatre, Theatre for Development, political theatre, social theatre, educational theatre, engaged performance, and Theatre and Social Change, just to name a few. choose to use the term ‘applied theatre’ for its focus on collaborative, artistic intervention. Theatre is live, performative, collaborative storytelling. It requires that participants work together to find aesthetic solutions to creative problems emerging in the production process. Applied theatre orients this process towards a particular goal or set of goals. It operates as dialogue – an artist or team of artists with expertise in theatre-making collaborate with participants and/or audiences with expertise in their own experiences)

(Snyder-Young, Dani, P51)

As explained Snyder Young the first rule of ‘applied theatre’ is to ‘engage’ your audience. Without engagement between the student and the stimulus there is no intervention which is crucial to the process of learning. It is therefore vital that the practitioner first understands who he is playing to. It is the job of the artist, theatre company or teacher to set the student on a course of recreation. People learn by repetition in every aspect of life, from communication to movement. The same applies for behavioural and social situations. In this respect there is a responsibility for the facilitator to know their audience, and create the correct context in order that the audience can connect and engage. Boal would always start his sessions by taking his audience, in a mind sense, out of a learning institution. He would often do this by presenting a challenge which initially seems incredibly easy to execute but in practice is frustratingly difficult. One such technique is to make a circle with your right hand, stop, then a cross with your left, most people can do this without thinking, but when attempting the two movements simultaneously it becomes a perplexing task. So whilst the audience are enjoying themselves, the task encourages communication amongst their peers and promotes an internal cognitive process. Another desired outcome is to break down the existing classroom status quo, by creating a task that puts everyone on an even keel. Birmingham based Geese Theatre are a team of theatre practitioners who present interactive theatre and facilitate drama-based group work, staff training and consultation for the probation service, prisons, young offender institutions, youth offending teams, secure hospitals and related agencies. Like Boal they start their sessions with ‘a game’. A common starting point for Geese is a game called ‘Bomb and Shield’. The participants must silently select somebody in the room to be their bomb, and another person to be their shield. The person leading the workshop begins the game and as the participants move around the room they must try to keep their shield between themselves and the bomb. The leader counts down from 5 and once the countdown stops everybody must freeze, those who do not have the shield between themselves and the bomb are out. Just like Boal’s opening game the students see this as pure enjoyment, but when the facilitator looks at it in more detail the links between a simple game and everyday life become apparent. After each game the facilitator asks the question ‘what in life triggers negative emotions such as anger, frustration and anxiety?’ Then the game is repeated and once concluded the group are invited to act out some of their moments that cause them conflict in the real world. The negative impact that situations have on your life are discussed and they try to find a way of avoiding such events from occurring. For example if you fight when you get too drunk, control your drinking. If you are being arrested for verbally abusing policed officers remove yourself from situation where you would come into contact with the police. It soon becomes apparent that the negative situation is your bomb, and the avoidance is your shield.

Through first engaging your audience GYPT found that during the performance most of the students would become emotionally connected with the characters. They were able to enjoy the drama whilst reflecting on their own actions and stepping in to change the outcome. The challenge was to create educational objectives, to examine and contradict the situation they have witnessed. Theatre in Education is only effective if there is an emotionally driven cognitive outcome.

In a section of Dorothy Heathcote’s book ‘Collected Writing on Education and Drama taken from the Jenning’s Lectures, Jennings outlines the key aspects for a forum theatre company to achieve.

(The most important manifestation about this thing called drama is that it must show change. It does not freeze a moment in time, it freezes a problem in time, and you examine the problem as people go through the process of change. If you want to use drama as education, you have to train people how to negotiate so that people go through the process of change.)

(Dorothy Heathcote, p76)


If  T.I.E almost sounds too simple a solution; that you can create a play, set up a stage and a few props in a school, community centre or prison and magically fix all of society’s problems, it is not.  It is far from a miracle repair. There are limitations to Theatre in Education. First and foremost the fundamental necessity is for the audience to be actively involved, both physically and emotionally. This is critical, because without the participation of the audience there is no intervention, no emotional attachment, no alternative outcome, and no capacity to see change and learn. If you are watching a play as a form of entertainment, you are invited to feel sad, or happy, excited or scared but in order to create change you must be exposed to the sufferance that the oppressed protagonist endures, and the only way for this to happen is to actively engage.  The success or failure of Forum Theatre also depends on the person, people or company that are trying to implement changes. For example does an public schooled university graduate really know the constraints of existing as a working class student flirting with the prospect of exclusion? Or, in a more extreme situation; can a privileged, healthy westerner teaching a poverty stricken village about H.I.V. really know the reality of what their subjects are living through? Therefore will they be able to make a substantial impact with a story that has no relevance or even truth to the lives of the audience?  It is easy for somebody from a privileged back ground to look into a subordinate community and assume all that they need to do to achieve happiness is to be more like them.

(The teacher often takes a more active hand in selecting the content in process drama than in Theatre of the Oppressed, as she chooses and sets up the fictional context and selects specific tasks through which students engage with that context. As a result, the problem that popular ideas are not necessarily progressive does not interfere with the teacher’s agenda or goal. Students bring themselves to the tasks framed within the drama and are often asked to supply details from their own imaginations and experiences, but they do not generally start with stories from their own lives and, as a result, may be able to get more critical distance).

(Snyder-Young, Dani. P48)

In order for T.I.E to be successful these are all questions that require serious consideration. In the end, to combat these restraints it falls down to the skill of the facilitator and the strength of the content. It is important to be a facilitator as well as an artist, to create a frame and environment where the students themselves are able to produce the scenarios in accordance and relevance to their actuality. Whilst the content must be real and relevant to its audience.





Britain has transformed dramatically and rapidly in the past 50 years, traveling light years on cultural, social, economic and technological scales. Globalisation and immigration have changed the socialisation of communities; whilst the media, the internet and large corporations are responsible for huge economic shifts.

The sense of community has diminished with it being fundamentally more difficult to bond with our neighbours. This is in part due to the lack of necessity to leave the house, a choice, rightly or wrongly made frequently by this generation. We live in an era where chances encounter in the street, in a local bakery or park are no longer inevitable but instead highly unlikely. What has previously been regarded as the norm and everyday life occurrences are now missed opportunities for a child to develop their socially interaction skills and to learn key communal and moral lessons. Without contact with his/her community learning social norms can become very difficult for a young person. It is this lack of opportunity for developing skills essential for society and the community which supports why I believe it is vital to explore alternative avenues such as T.I.E.

The origins of society and communities and more recently their apparent breakdown have been studied in depth in regards to the impact on individuals. Whilst there is validity in the application of classical methods of therapy; the act of learning through doing is intrinsic to individuals, therefore potentially more relevant and effective. People learn many of their behavioural traits as a reaction to a trigger in their environment, such as a repetitive aggressive reaction through a stimulus-response pattern. T.I.E offers the opportunity to artificially create real feelings within a person that could cause negative outcomes in real life situations. It provides an opportunity for them to rewind and undo, analyse the situation and create a more positive conclusion. When a person can actively engage in evaluating what they have done wrong and how it could have potentially been dealt with more appropriately, their potential for learning improves.

It is known that throughout the world there are millions of people incarcerated in prison, many of which for crimes they sincerely regret. However, despite this government figures show that between 20-30 percent of released prisoners reoffend. (–2). Companies such as Geese Theatre utilise T.I.E to support the rehabilitation of offenders. There service provides prisoners with the opportunity to glimpse into their future and present them with an alternative path that they can take if they make the correct choices in accordance to society’s rules. T.I.E can even create the opportunity to reach vulnerable people such as these before crimes are committed or at least prevent them re-offending. This not only improves the prospects of the individual but paves the way for a more cohesive and functional community. The economic benefits are also substantial, with an average cost of £37,648 to incarcerate a prisoner for one year. Alternatively, T.I.E companies can reach hundreds and help to prevent criminal behaviour for a fraction of this cost.

In a world where change is inevitable and rapid T.I.E has the ability to evolve and progress, using a basic fundamental model to provoke thought, reaction, emotion and analysis. I believe that my research shows that T.I.E has the power to connect with our deepest emotions and feelings. If used correctly it can be a powerful tool, acting as a facilitator for personal evolution and development across a vast network of organisations and institutions.



  • Snyder-Young, Dani. Theatre of Good Intentions : Challenges and Hopes for Theatre and Social Change. P48, Basingstoke, GBR: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Hopkins, Dwight N., and Lewis, Marjorie, eds. Cross Cultural Theologies: Another World Is Possible: p98-99. London, GBR: Acumen, 2009.)



  • Arts and Communities, London : Community Development Foundation, 1992


  • Jackson, Anthony, ed. Learning Through Theatre. London, GBR: Routledge, 1993.





  • Gadberry, Glen W.. Theatre in the Third Reich, the Pre-War Years : Essays on Theatre in Nazi Germany. P.157 Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Press, 1995.


  • Weerman, Frank, and Bijleveld, Catrien, eds. Routledge Studies in Criminal Behaviour : 108-109, Criminal Behaviour from School to the Workplace : Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 2013

o    Peter O’Conner, Learning Through Theatre, P308, London : Routledge 2013









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