Drawing on our large body of research around forum theatre over the past decade, In Place of War devised a forum theatre training in Gulu, June 2018. Dominic McHale, a forum theatre practitioner from Roehampton University and Daniel Coonan (actor, National Theatre) led the training over 5 days with a group of disabled and non-disabled young actors, which was the first time this had happened in Uganda.

96% of people rated the Forum Theatre training good, very good or outstanding. Many cited it helped develop a ‘deeper understanding of disability and community perceptions’, one participant said: ‘Made it easier for a person with no voice to have a voice and send a message in a peaceful way to the community.’ 100% of participants rated the trainer good, very good or outstanding.

Participant comments included: ‘His techniques were perfect, he made it simple for people to come together as a team’ and ‘The facilitators were so knowledgeable and experts in the forum theatre programme’. 92% of participants said the training was useful or very useful in preparing them to deliver forum theatre projects in your community, again many citing, ‘It was very useful to understand the perspective of disabled people’ and ‘because it will make me stand up, with a strong voice and encourage the community not to segregate each other.’

Eleven actors and disabled people have been selected to form a forum theatre company. The eleven-people selected to go on to refine their skills and work with a professional Ugandan actor have been selected because of their natural acting ability, their feedback forms outlining what they would like to do with the training going forward, their commitment to the project and their development over the week.

A professional actor from Kampala will be engaged to further build capacity in the group and oversee the community outreaches, where the devised play will be performed with interaction from the communities. Dominic and Daniel will return in December to deliver a further forum theatre training, so the group can then deliver outreaches in 2019 un-supervised, culminating in a major performance at Kampala International Theatre Festival in September 2019.

‘Overall this was a great project to be a part of. I learnt loads about Forum Theatre, about trying to teach in a community that might be a bit alien to its concepts and also what it’s like to live with a disability in northern Uganda. It feels like the beginning of something that has so much potential not only in the content and therefore it’s importance but also the participants and the collective of the company itself. I can’t wait to return and facilitate the next stage.‘ Dominic McHale, Forum Theatre Trainer.

‘It was an incredible week to witness, from nervous young actors, to a confident company – understanding both forum theatre techniques, but more importantly the issues faced by the disabled community. It was the first time a mixed project with able bodied and disabled bodied people had happened in Uganda and the learning, energy and lasting impact was tangible. It was very powerful.’ Ruth Daniel, CEO, In Place of War

What happened? 

Day One:

Dominic McHale, forum theatre practitioner from Roehampton University and Daniel Coonan (actor, National Theatre) led the first days work of forum theatre training for In Place of War involving Gulu Theatre Artists and members of Gulu’s disabled community on attitudes towards disability. A positive first day’s work included ‘getting to know you’ exercises as well as theatre games to enhance focus and collaboration. These led into the beginning stages of forum theatre training, including introductions to tableaux work and telling stories through images. A lot of fun and constructive conversations ensued, with the actors learning more about the challenging situations that disabled people encounter within their communities.

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Day Two:

Day two of IPOW’s forum theatre training in Gulu. After a session using ‘image theatre’ to present tableauxs of every day struggles for disabled people in the region, the participants are now bringing these images to life and creating scenes. Here, Irene, who is herself disabled, is helping creating a scene whereby, after a celebration at work a group photo is taken. When the photographer arrives, he suggests that she is removed from the photo because her prosthetic leg is visible. She is eventually taken out of the picture. Later, the scene will be ‘forumed’ so that the actors can suggest behavioural changes to try and produce a better outcome for Irene’s character.

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Days 3 and 4:

After bringing to life various scenarios that disabled people in northern Uganda have to face regularly, including discrimination in the workplace and inherited land being forcibly taken away by other family members the actors then got to use what they have learnt and ‘forum’ the work. This includes ‘hot seating’ exercises where characters are grilled by the participants about their actions and exercises where the actor can stop someone in mid performance and step into their shoes to try and change outcomes. These exercises raised a lot of passions and a lot of debate. Finally, everyone was presented with their forum theatre training certificates. This ended an extremely interesting, enlightening and fun week.

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Funded by In Place Of War, University of Manchester, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Medical Research Council