June 6, 2018

Theatre is fascinating, isn’t it? Every time you go into a theater, you’re placed in a wonderland – a whirlwind of emotion and adventure. Whether it be Romeo and Juliet or Hamilton, theatre makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and allows you to see the world through the eyes of someone intimately linked to the situation at hand – the protagonist. Theatre is exhilarating, but what if it was designed for interaction? What if you could enter the world of the warring Montagues and Capulets and settle their disputes? What if you could stand side-by-side with Hamilton and talk some sense into him before he takes up arms against Burr? What would these stories look like then?

Forum Theatre, an alternate style of theatre developed by Augusto Boal in Theatre of the Oppressed, explores this question. Actors are charged with taking audience members from their role of the spectator to that of the “spectactor.” With the fourth wall removed, audience members get to watch a play from start to finish and witness a real-world scenario of oppression. Even better, they have to do something about it. The story is real, embodied, and happening all around you. This summer’s Mellon Initiative group, “End Stigma, End HIV/AIDS: A Forum Theatre Project,” incorporates this form of art with the world of HIV/AIDS research and activism. Our project asks the loaded question: can this art form be used to empower and prepare a group of people to tackle circumstances of oppression in their own lives? As researchers, and now actors, we’re faced with the unique challenge of using data to paint a plausible and representative scenario of oppression faced by people who are HIV positive. Our rehearsals, which take place on most weekdays from 7-10 pm consist of meditation, listening to interviews, immersing ourselves in creating distressing and oppressive situations, and using our creativity to play with their intensity. 

Our first performance is on June 9th, in the Attic Theatre, and I am extremely curious to see how it plays out. Come check it out! See what it’s like to immerse yourself in theatre, and more importantly, if you can do anything to change it. 

-Rohan Walawalkar