Forum Theatre – like acting, only better!

Forum Theatre - Exploring exploring effective management feedback with Voice Ltd
Forum Theatre – delivering effective feedback
Forum Theatre and role play with Voice Ltd
Forum theatre, role-play and improvisation

Forum Theatre – like acting, only better!

Forum Theatre - Role-play hell - actor masks

Do you dread role-play? Forum Theatre could be your solution.

Forum Theatre - Role-play hell - actor masksToday we have guest blogger and actor Tim Sanders who is presenting his pitch about the use of Forum Theatre in training.

‘What two words are usually guaranteed to have your training delegates swallowing hard and staring wide-eyed as the colour drains from their faces?

Apart from ‘no biscuits’, that is.


Is it technically one word with a hyphen? You get the drift.

Role-play. No sooner has it left your lips than the whole room suddenly finds something really fascinating about their shoes.

ROLE! You’ve got to do acting! Just like at school when you tripped over the beanstalk or sat on the lamp.

PLAY! It’s silly and frivolous and everyone will be laughing (but not with you). Beanstalk and lamp loom large again.

So here are two much nicer words.

Skill practice. And two more – Forum Theatre.

FORUM: we’ll do it together.

THEATRE: we do the acting.

Enjoy the show. And if you fancy, join in. Strictly as yourself.

It’s a sad reflection on some past endeavours, that the reputation of skills practice, role-play (whatever you want to call it) has become sullied as something for people to come through unscathed, dodging the humiliation bullet rather than savouring the experience.

Especially sad given the ground shaking potential of doing something in order to learn something. It’s what we all do in life, after all! Who really knows how to drive a car the moment they pass their test?

So what is Forum Theatre?

Well,  you’re definitely the driver here! it’s a group session in which an omnipotent audience tries to improve a real life scenario unfolding in front of them. From playing in school panto to playing God in one fell swoop!

The Forum Theatre session begins when delegates are invited to watch a short scene being acted out in one or more ways. After that, they reflect on it, coach it and hopefully, better the outcome.

But crucially, they learn from it. Much more than if we’d power-pointed them to death.

To begin, the protagonist of the scene will typically introduce the ‘set up’, which will involve some kind of challenge for them: a team member with personal odour problem; under-performing female after returning from maternity leave; employees must persuade male bully boss to pay overtime…

There may be several challenges and the topics and situations are limitless. Our customers brief us in detail about what they require and we follow our five copper bottomed rules:

  1. The scenario is tailored exactly to match the learning needs and culture of the organisation
  2. The scene is well-rehearsed, familiar and true-to-life (maybe based on actual events)
  3. The characters and dialogue are arresting and might even make you laugh
  4. The acting is natural and excellent (we are all, or were all, professional performers)
  5. Learning is in a safe, exciting and focused environment (plenty of fun but no funny voices)

OK, so protagonist has a problem and desperately needs some help. In the second phase, they get this in spades, as the scene is replayed and delegates coach to a better outcome.

During this interactive phase, the following might occur:

  • Delegates interrupt the actors, coach, rewind or start the scene again
  • The protagonist goes out and asks for help with something (or everything!)
  • Delegates step in and out of the action to have a go at influencing themselves (oh, what lovely loafers I’m wearing)
  • We reach closure, or maybe make a bit of progress. Whichever.

This is where Forum Theatre can get really interesting because, unlike real life, everyone gets to replay and reshape the conversation by trying out different approaches and strategies for success; better body language? More effective framing of the conversation? Change the words? More active listening? Different style? Whatever happens, we see it happen in front of our eyes.

But here’s the clever bit (if we may be so bold); based on many years of experience, our actors are highly skilled improvisers and will quickly and fluently pick up the corporate dialect of any organisation. That means they are equipped to flex effortlessly and authentically, according to the advice given. So the action is advanced with good coaching, or perhaps stalls with misdirection. No matter, try again.

Suddenly we’re exploring a rich experiential landscape for insight and discovery, not to mention, having quite a lot of fun.

Of course, we love it when delegates choose to participate directly in Forum Theatre, and some of our most thrilling and dynamic sessions have starred our customers.

But should they opt for grabbing a Rich Tea and just making copious notes, then we’re still happy.

What do you mean, there’s no Rich Tea?’

What’s your experience of role-play? Would you prefer the approach that Forum Theatre takes?


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