Being Human · Intercultural Understanding

Forum Theater | Intercultural Understanding | “I have to tell my story”

[Note: This post initially appears in https://blogs.ubc.ca/eimony under the title “Reflection on “I have to tell my story”: Forum theatre@UBC First Nations Longhouse” on September 23, 2013]

A forum theater is an audience-interactive theater in which a short (5-8 minutes) theatrical piece is run from the beginning to the end and is re-run again to allow for audience participation or intervention. It aims to address the social issues in the play and to generate the dialogue in the community. The joker – a mediator of the play – asks a number of thought-provoking questions to the character(s) and the audience during the audience intervention to help with a better understanding of the struggles that certain characters are facing.

On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival or the Moon Cake day, Sep 19th (Thursday) when the full moon shone brightly, the Circle of Learning presented a forum theater “I have to tell my story.” The focus of the play is on the legacy of the residential school. Two pieces were presented: 1) healthy family & 2) healthy community.

Through these pieces, I came to realize how the Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals share similar and common lives in many ways. For example, the highlight of the healthy family was when the grandson came to the grandmother’s house to suggest that the family should put her in the (senior) “home.” And the family started discussing about what they “should” do “with” her — talking ABOUT her in her presence without talking TO her. Hence the phrase “Talk about me but not talking to me” really caught my attention and struck me.

Later, the grandmother declared that she would stay at home and her daughter (the mother) volunteered to take care of her. I believe many people from certain cultures, for instance Asian, can relate this idea of taking care of the elderly parents instead of sending them to the senior retirement homes.

As for the second piece [the healthy community], it centers around an Aboriginal teen (a foster child) with an angst and a self-withdrawal personality who is lost, confused and frustrated about his identity and hence staying on the sidelines with his family and the community. Again, what was remarkable is that the foster mother, the social worker and also the (real) sister talked about him in his presence without talking to him. Due to their behaviors, he felt more helpless and frustrated. Again, this is something that many, if not everyone, of us may have encountered at a certain point in life: experiencing “that time” when some people talk ABOUT us but not TO us. (On the side note, I wonder whether such situation falls under bullying — only if the intention of those who engage in the talk is negative.)

During the audience interventions in trying to change a challenging situation into a positive one, indeed there were many interesting ones that would possibly work in a real life. However, as David Diamond, the joker, highlighted, there were some “magic” moments when the interventions led to “sudden changes” of the character(s) which may not necessarily be realistic.

Also, there was a moment during the second play – an obvious struggle for the character – when no one in the audience intervened. It was when the teen’s sister mentioned the sensitive word “internal racism” directing at him and he refuted. Mr Diamond noted that the “silence” inside the Long House at that very time only highlights the “silence” out in the real world. To be frank, it was my first time hearing that word and was somewhat puzzled at what it would mean and how to even deal with it either at that moment in the play or in a real life. I assume it probably was the first time also for some of the audience. However, I am confident that it was a good learning experience for the audience as we left the plays with thoughts, concerns and solutions which we otherwise would not understand and realize.

© Eimon Yin, 2014

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