Institute of International Education
Department of Education
Can theatre help?
A literature review of applied theatre for the embodiment of
empowerment, resilience, and other need-based characteristics
with refugee youth
Assignment for the course
Word count: 8,580
Tab l e o f C on t en t s
2.1 Young Refugees in Sweden………………………………………………….4
2.2 What is Applied Theatre?................................................................................7
2.3 Applied theater’s Significance to International
and Comparative Education……………………………………………...9
2.4 Theoretical Foundation of Applied Theater…………………………………10
3 Aims and Themes……………………………………………………………………...11
5 Themed Discussion of Literature……………………………………………………...14
5.1 Empowerment and Identity………………………………………………….14
5.2 Resilience and Community Building………………………………………..20
5.3 Health, Wellness, Confidence, and Self-Esteem…………………………….24
6 Challenges and Ethical Considerations………………………………………………..27
6.1 Power and Awareness……………………………………………………….27
Appendix A: Descriptions of TO techniques......................................…………..40
Appendix B: Summary of Results: Outcomes (Themes) Discussed in Case
OECD—Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development!
I come from a sunny, sandy place
Where tourists go to darken skin
And dealers like to sell guns there
I just can’t tell you what’s the price.
I am told I have no country now
I am told I am a lie
I am told that modern history books
May forget my name.
We can all be refugees
Sometimes it only takes a day,
Sometimes it only takes a handshake
Or a paper that is signed.
We all came from refugees
Nobody simply just appeared,
Nobody’s here without a struggle,
And why should we live in fear
Of the weather or the troubles?
We all came here from somewhere.
Excerpt from We Refugees by Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem captures the sadness of having to leave one’s home, and
implies a desire to feel accepted where he now lives. Reading it, I imagine this poem
spoken out loud--its pained and reverberating call, echoing for everyone in the audience
to acknowledge how we are more alike than different. Benjamin’s words emphasize that
we are all immigrants of a sort, and no one is more deserving of safety or belonging than
When I first arrived in Stockholm in August of 2016, I was surprised by the
different colored and shaped faces I saw around me. Before coming to Sweden, I had the
impression that nearly all inhabitants would be tall, blonde and handsome, as is the
stereotype of Swedes. I then learned that Sweden had been accepting refugees for more
than two decades. This sense of generosity and global responsibility inspired me to
volunteer with unaccompanied minors and choose a thesis topic that used my experience
of teaching drama internationally to work with them.
This, therefore, is a literature review to help prepare me to conduct a case study
using applied theater in a non-formal educational setting to understand and embody
notions of empowerment, resilience, and other needed, self-identified characteristics in
young refugees. While it is a young field, applied theater or applied drama has been used
as a method for various teaching, therapeutic, and social impact purposes since World
War II. An increasing amount of scholarly research has been published in the field in the
last 20 years, and a substantial selection is reviewed in this paper.
I wanted to read what was out there and learn from others’ mistakes. I wanted to
glean knowledge of the different methodological approaches, and learn how to interpret
my findings and compare those findings with published studies. I sought out
international examples that framed the refugee experience and the approaches to
integrating refugees into their societies in different ways. I used this opportunity to learn
how to use reference management software, Zotero, to organize a long list of works cited.
While we were given the option between conducting a literature review or a pilot study, I
decided that my knowledge of the field was too slim to do a pilot study. In lieu of it, I
will use my own teaching experience along with what I learned here to holistically design
a case study in applied theater with refugee youth.
2.1. Young Refugees in Sweden
Prior to the 2015 refugee crisis, Sweden granted permanent status to most asylum seekers
that arrived at its border or that applied through the United Nation’s High Commissioner
for Refugees’ (UNHCR) relocation program. Sweden has historically accepted a large
number of asylum seekers (AS), including the largest number per capita of all
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries in
2013 (‘’Sweden—the!OECD’s!highest!per!capita!recipient!of!asylum!seekers,” 2014).
During the Iraq war, Sweden accepted more Iraqi refugees than the United Kingdom and
the United States combined. In 2015, Sweden received approximately 160,000
applications for asylum with more than 35,000 from unaccompanied minors (UM)
(Roden, 2017). Before November 24, 2015, most applicants were granted residence
permits. Since that date, AS arriving at Sweden’s borders have only been given
temporary residence permits, and family reunification is restricted. Furthermore, as of
August of this year, Sweden has begun the deportation process of Afghani UM either
because they have committed crimes in Sweden, their applications were rejected for
various reasons (oftentimes because they couldn’t prove their age), or they turned 18 in
the process of waiting for an answer and are no longer considered minors (Edwards,
2017). The Swedish Church, the Red Cross, Save the Children, and protesters in
Stockholm have voiced their strong criticisms of the Swedish Migration Agency’s
decision to deport these minors to “one of the world’s most dangerous countries”
(Edwards, 2017). Amnesty International published a new report in October 2017 stating
that the deportation of minors to Afghanistan violates international law and should be
stopped immediately (‘’Afghanistan: Forced back to danger,’’ 2017).
Most recently, Save the Children in Stockholm (Rädda Barnen) published a report
titled, Listen to me! (Lyssna på mig!), that surveyed 2,500 UM in Sweden, primarily
through their help line call centers. The report listed the most critical issues troubling
these UM as (1) lack of understanding of the asylum process, (2) fear of asylum
application rejection, (3) unsatisfactory housing and host families, (4) missing home and
family. These dilemmas cause the youngsters to develop feelings of confusion,
hopelessness, fear, and loneliness. “I came to Sweden with dreams,” one UM was
quoted, “but Sweden gave me nightmares,” translated from: “Jag kom till Sverige med
drömmar, men Sverige gav mig mardrömmar” (Lyssna på mig!, p. 5). According to
Mahboba Madadi, the chairperson of Ensammkomandes Förbund Stockholm (The
Association for Unaccompanied Minors in Stockholm), a non-profit established by UM
to create community and ensure that UM receive a dignified response to their asylum
applications, stated, “They’re afraid of being expelled and have no hope” (AFP, 2017).
She added, “Loneliness and lack of affection in asylum homes could also trigger the teens
to end their lives” (AFP, 2017).
These feelings of fear, hopelessness, and loneliness have resulted in some young
AS exhibiting suicidal behavior. Between January and August of 2014, a period where
250,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, 500 asylum-seekers of all ages threatened
or attempted suicide. Three of these attempts were successful. Mikeal Ribbenvik,
director of operations at the Swedish Migration Agency (MA), conceded that 500 is
likely an undercount since suicidal behavior is only recorded when it affects MA staffers’
working conditions (Nordenstam & Lesser, 2016). More recently, in February of 2017,
UK and Norwegian newspapers reported suicide attempts of 7 UM in Sweden, 3 resulting
in death (AFP, 2017; Oesterud, 2017). One of these deaths was committed by Mustafa
Ansari, a 17 year-old (age determined by autopsy) Afghani boy who didn’t get one
interview with the MA in his 9 months of waiting in Sweden. “The longer they wait, the
angrier they become,” said Edgar Jones, professor of history of medicine and psychiatry
at King’s College in London (Nordenstam & Lesser, 2016).
In addition to anger, asylum-seekers suffer from high rates of depression,
psychosis and other mental conditions, largely because of the trauma they have fled,
according to the Swedish government and other groups (Nordenstam & Lesser, 2016).
Ansari’s autopsy reported that he suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. Friends
said Ansari missed his family after traveling alone to Sweden. Fellow asylum-seeker,
Mohsen Naghawi, said that Ansari “saw himself as unlucky” (Nordenstam & Lesser,
2.2. What is Applied Theatre?
Applied theatre defies any one definition and includes a multitude of
intentions, aesthetic processes and transactions with its participants
(Prentki & Preston (Eds.) 2009, p. 1).
Applied theatre is an umbrella term for the use of theatre activities that explore or inform
issues relevant to individuals, communities or societies that primarily takes place outside
of mainstream theatres. In applied theatre, the emphasis is on the participants and how
they might benefit from the process. It is considered a democratic form of theatre
practice, and provides a safe space where vulnerable participants can feel safe to share
fictional narratives that illuminate their lived experiences (Nicholson, 2005). Applied
theatre is used in educational settings, formal and non-formal, as well as prisons,
counseling (therapy) sessions, theatre for development settings, community theatres,
political demonstrations, and for disseminating health information, among others. The
terms ‘applied theatre’ and ´applied drama’ gained currency among academics, policy
makers, and theatre practitioners in the 1990s (Nicholson, 2005, p. 2). The difference
between the two terms is disputable, but Prendergast & Saxton (2016) distinguish applied
drama from applied theatre as focusing solely on the process without culminating in a
performance. Applied theatre, on the other hand, begins as a process and, with the word
´theatre´ stemming from theatron or ‘seeing place,’ a public or semi-public performance
is necessary to meet the expectations drawn from the term (Prendergast & Saxton, 2016,
p. xx). This paper will primarily use the term ‘applied theatre’ (AT), but will use
‘applied theatre’ and ‘applied drama’ (AD) interchangeably.
AT is called a participatory theater technique, and is best known for its
involvement in community reflection and social change. Therefore, it might be more
informative to examine and discuss what AT is for rather than defining what it is. AT
works to reassert or undermine socio-political norms, oftentimes by zooming in on power
structures and challenging the status quo. Historically, theatre provided groups of people
with a space to share stories of their lives. It served as a safe space for playwrights and
actors to express their concerns or frustrations with each other and their communities, the
audience. The stage also has a long history of talking back to power or sharing stories of
power reversal (Prendergast & Saxton, 2016).
The servant figure in drama, for example, has traditionally had more power (often
in the form of knowledge) in the world of the play than his or her master. AT can draw
from this history in either a serious or playful way. AT is a platform to explore social
and personal matters, particularly ones that the participants wish to impact or in which to
make a positive change. In summary, AT projects most often take place in indoor and
outdoor spaces not usually defined as theatres, with participants who may or may not be
skilled or experienced but want to explore a personal or social issue, and to audiences
who have a vested interested in the subject matter or are members of the community at
which the performance is directed (Prendergast & Saxton, 2016).
2.3. Applied Theater’s Significance to International and Comparative Education
Applied Theater is a pedagogical and aesthetic technique used to explore issues relevant
to marginalized groups within a socio-political context. As discussed in the previous
section, it challenges the status quo, examines shifting power dynamics with the goal of
creating positive changes for the participants involved. AT happens all over the world, as
part of a grass roots arts-based movement, and stems from the most social of art forms
(Prendergast & Saxton, 2016). Because of its objective to create change, often with an
overt political agenda, AT is a teaching-tool for both its participants and the audience.
AT practitioners oftentimes act with a particular intention to disrupt dominant social
narratives where drama becomes the place to explore ethical gaps (Nicholson, 2005, pp.
63-64). It is a pedagogy that focuses on multiple perspectives, explores feelings,
examines issues of local importance, experiments with outcomes, and involves the
audience as active participants in the creation of understanding and action. While
cultural contexts are different, it is a technique that when documented and published, can
be replicated in various international settings. The outcomes are then comparable, in my
opinion, by relying on the human condition as the fixed variable. It can be hypothesized,
for example, that asylum seekers in Sweden also feel fear and loneliness as felt by those
in Australia. I expect that the solutions identified through AT projects in one context
could apply to the next.
2.4. The Theoretical Foundation of Applied Theatre
Interweaving reflections on Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Epic Theatre,’ a Marxist-fueled theatrical
movement created to address the political climate of the time (mid-20th c.), and his friend
Paolo Freire’s renowned education pedagogy designed to empower the student
(Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in 1968), Brazilian theatre teacher, theorist
and political activist, Augusto Boal, published Theatre of the Oppressed in 1974. Theatre
of the Oppressed (TO) is a methodology bolstered by an ethos of liberation,
empowerment, and social change for the oppressed by the oppressed. TO is in agreement
with the Greek comic poet Aristophanes (c. 450 BCE-c. 388 BCE) who wrote, “the
dramatist should not only offer pleasure but should, besides that, be a teacher of morality
and a political adviser” (Boal, 1979, p. xiii).
Theatre of the Oppressed incites people to act on their teachings and political
convictions and rebel against the bourgeois takeover of the theater, referred to by Boal as
“closed spectacles” or “spectacle-theater”—one in which the spectator is voiceless and
forced to digest what the players perform for them. Through the invention of TO or
“Rehearsal Theater” or “The People’s Theater,” the attendees enter into a dialog with the
actors, ask questions, interrupt action, and violate the “bourgeois code of manners” by
asking for explanations without politely waiting for the play to finish (Boal, 1985, p.
142). Simply put, TO functions with an aspiration towards social equality by inviting the
audience to participate and perhaps even become the protagonist(s) in the theatrical
Forum Theater (FT) is a practitioner’s technique born out of TO, designed to break
the fourth wall (the invisible wall between the actors and the audience) and involve the
audience in experimenting with solutions to community conflicts or problems presented
in the performance. FT intends to immerse the audience in the imagined reality of the
play and make them active participants in addressing societal problems. This then
includes the audience in the player’s attempts to create theatre for social change. This
experimentation within imagined reality is then purposed to extend into reality, evoking a
desire in the spectator to act (the ‘’spectactor’’) on what he has rehearsed in the theater
(Boal, 1985). The role-play is supposed to plant a “sort of uneasy sense of
incompleteness that seeks fulfillment through real action” (Boal, 1985, p. 142).
Because of the limited word count for this assignment, I did not include more TO
techniques or other commonly used AT techniques created by followers of Boal here.
Instead, I describe a few more with examples in Appendix A if readers are interested.
3 Aims and Review Themes
The aim of this review is to survey existing literature about the use of AT with young
refugees--the impact on the participants, the social impact, and to see what could be
added to the field. This review is also being conducted to help me identify successful
research designs, methods and tools in preparation for conducting my master’s thesis on
the effectiveness of AT pedagogy to the growth (or renewal) of empowerment, resilience,
and other needed, self-identified characteristics for the development of healthy refugee
In light of choosing to do a narrative literature review (further described in the
next section, 4) as opposed to a systematic review, I chose to organize my discussion
around common themes rather than the more standard review questions. This allowed for
a wider scope of literature to be included. It also permitted me to approach each book
and article with an open mind about what the outcomes (positive or negative), challenges,
and ethical considerations might entail.
The themes that I surveyed (Appendix B) were empowerment, resilience, identity,
confidence and improved self-esteem, health and wellness, community, agency,
inclusion, social change, and academic and social-emotional improvement.
This review did not attempt to be exhaustive of all available literature on the use of
applied theater with refugee youth. Rather, I handpicked publications of two kinds: ones
that offered a range of study foci and methodology of studies conducted with
marginalized youth, and works that discussed best practices, moral and ethical dilemmas,
and/or theory related to using applied theatre with young people. I wanted to include
research studies whose research questions and data collection methods were more fluid
and open to change. I sought how different practitioners processed their data and
synthesized their findings while maintaining an awareness of (or lack of) their own
involvement and potential biases as facilitators. This approach reflects the interpretivist
epistemology (Bryman, 2012, p. 28), useful to me for studying a pedagogy that is as
subjective and creative as AT, and one that is in the early stages of understanding its
impact on human feelings and behavior. Some systematic review practices were used,
however, to choose a credible pool of relevant research for careful review.
I began my search for relevant literature by reading books explaining applied
theatre and some cases for using it with young people. These books included, Applied
Theatre: Resettlement—Drama, Refugees, and Resilience; Applied Theatre: International
Case Studies and Challenges for Practice; Theatre of the Oppressed and Applied Drama:
The Gift of Theatre. I also read excerpts from a book recommended by my advisor,
Acting to Manage Conflict and Bullying. I selected articles from the bibliographies of
these books that were particularly relevant to my research focus.
Finally, I conducted a partial systematic review by entering the terms ‘applied
theatre and refugee youth’ and ‘applied drama and refugee youth’ in the Stockholm
University library search for articles. From that, I got three usable articles from the first
search and one from the second. I then tried ‘applied theatre and marginalized’ in the
same database and found two more useful articles. I did the same search in DiVA, but
found nothing new. I conducted the same ‘applied theatre and refugee youth’ search on
JSTOR where I received 39 possible articles between the dates of 2002 and 2017 in the
subject areas of education, performing arts, art and art history, and peace and conflict
studies. Of those 39, two were chosen and included in this literature review. To broaden
my search, I entered ‘applied theatre and refugee youth’ in Google Scholar, for which I
received 31, 900 hits. I sifted through the first 10 pages (100 articles) and collected 11
peer-reviewed articles (one being a literature review), and one master’s thesis. I also read
books and articles on action research in education since it is the research method I will
use with my thesis project and many studies included in this review used this method. In
total, I read 6 books and 24 articles. These along with news articles, the Rädda Barnen
report, and Bryman’s Social Research Methods, 4th edition, helped me meet the 2,000-
page reading requirement for this assignment.
After reading my collected literature, I went through the books and articles on AT
or AD again and surveyed them for the themes I chose to highlight in this review. I
chose the themes based on two criteria: repetition (the most common themes) and those
that resonated most with me as a theater practitioner and volunteer with refugee youth.
Unfortunately, the word limitation of this review prevented me from discussing deeply all
10 themes. Yet all 10 are mentioned in this paper, and six are discussed (excluding
agency, inclusion, social change, and academic and social-emotional improvement).
Additionally, I searched the literature for information related to challenges and ethics
when conducting AT projects with refugee youth. I felt obliged to devote a significant
portion of this paper to discussing those topics since they are of great importance when
designing a social science case study.
5 Themed Discussion of Literature
5.1. Empowerment and Identity
Here I will discuss the themes of empowerment and identity in tandem as much of the
literature on AT and AD linked them. To my surprise, empowerment was not clearly
defined in most of the literature I read. However, I found the meaning of empowerment
in the field of social work. This seemed justified since AT is sometimes used in social
work settings such as drama therapy, in schools, and in prisons. Taking action is implicit
in the meaning of empowerment as it is defined as ‘gaining control over one’s life’
(Breton, 1994). In social work, empowerment concerns oppressed people—‘’people
whose life and choices are significantly curtailed by inequalities in the distribution of
social, economic, and political power and resources‘’ (Breton, 1994, p. 24). UM and
asylum-seeking 18-year-olds in Sweden are, therefore, disempowered people since
Swedish authorities have recently started deporting young Afghani asylum-seekers
(Russo, A. M. 2017; Edwards, C., 2017). To become empowered when empowerment
does not exist or is compromised, a sense of personal and/or collective identity must be
formed (Breton, 1994).
The literature did, however, highlight the ways in which AT assists young people
in feeling empowered (Alrutz, 2013; Balfour et al., 2015; Burton et al., 2015; Cahill,
2014; Goulet et al., 2011; Horghagen & Josephsson, 2010; Kandil, 2016; Kaptani &
Yuval-Davis, 2008; Nicholson, 2005; Mee, 2012; Morillo & Prilleltensky, 2007;
Rousseau et al., 2007; Skeiker, 2011; Vettraino et al., 2017). Collaboration, storytelling,
meaning making, and taking action were frequently discussed ways of empowering
participants. Rouseau et al. (2007) primarily used Playback Theater in their 9-week
drama therapy program with immigrant and refugee adolescents, designed to prevent
emotional and behavioral problems and to enhance school performance (p. 451). They
found that witnessing the reenactment of their traumatic or hopeful stories empowered
the adolescents to transform adversity (directly, indirectly, or metaphorically), and
provided them with the opportunity to construct meaning and grieve some of the losses
associated with their migration and premigration experiences (Rouseau et al., 2007, p.
456). This becomes a collective effort or collaboration, co-creating a story where the
adolescents look for alternatives to their initial reactions or feelings. This act of
collaboration gives young people a sense of empowerment to relive or live vicariously
through the character’s role, taking action in a safe and constructed imagined reality.
Another surprising gap was the lack of theory to support the various claims that
AT can help empower young people. While it is a psychological not a social or
educational theory, Empowerment Theory, originally conceived by Julian Rappaport in
1977 and further developed by Marc A. Zimmerman, explains empowerment as ‘’both a
psychological sense of personal control or influence and a concern with actual social
influence, political power, and legal rights’’ (Rappaport, 1987, p. 121). Zimmerman
claims that empowerment takes on different forms for different people in different
contexts (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 45). Therefore, the indicators used to measure the
outcome of empowerment need to be decided upon at the onset of each project, and need
to involve the participants’ input. This works well with strengths-based and action
research projects (explained in sections 5.2 and 6.1 respectively) due to all three having
constructionist ontological underpinnings. The process of agreeing upon a definition of
empowerment, and deciding collaboratively (between the facilitator and members of the
group) on the indicators used to measure it, could be an empowering act in itself and set
the right tone for the continuation of the AT project. Alternatively, one could use Paolo
Freire’s own theory of empowerment to better explain what it means for one to become
‘’empowered.’’ According to Horghagen & Josephsson (2011), Freire’s theory works to
‘’restore individuals’ sense of their own value and strength’’ (p. 169).
* * *
In my search for literature on empowerment, a subtheme that repeatedly arose was that of
identity. Identity can be defined in a multitude of ways, and can include many types such
as individual (how one views oneself), communal (location based), group (i.e. the ‘gay’
community or the ‘black’ community), societal (how one views oneself based on societal
norms), and global (global/international citizenship) (Nicholson, 2005). I will primarily
discuss individual identity and its crucial role in the development of personal
empowerment. I will also comment on the literature that discusses the inextricable link
between individual identity and the communities to which they belong. As Nicholson
(2005) pithily stated it, ‘’Identity is not constructed autonomously but in relation to
others.’’ (p. 65).
Identity is important to examine when preparing to work with refugees and
asylum seekers due to the refugee experience being a difficult, and in some cases,
demoralizing one. Individuals with a refugee background can easily feel that their
identities are stripped from them, and the bureaucratic processes of waiting for asylum
eliminates their individuality (Balfour et al., 2015, p. 2). Identity is a philosophical and
psychological concept that has been examined for centuries, and a basic understanding of
it can offer insight.
Central to Freud’s writing on identity, and a very common theme among all
dramatic literature is empathy, or ‘identification’ more commonly used by Freud. The
type of question he often posed was, does empathy threaten identity or act as a more
positive force for self-creation? His writings present sometimes conflicting arguments
about the relationship between identification and identity (Nicholson, 2005, p. 71). One
of his later theories, ‘secondary identification,’ is more congruent with the goals of AT as
it recognizes that relating to others allows for personal development that can lead to new
perceptions (Nicholson, 2005, p. 72). Rephrased, empathizing with others—comparing
our experiences and feelings to others’—even in a fictionalized context can help us to
better understand ourselves. This practice of empathizing takes place not only in the
relational form, but also by contrasting with the characters we play. Nicholson uses the
example of the play, Anansi, where a white boy aboard a slave ship befriends an African
girl destined for a life in slavery. She poses that the young people playing the roles of the
ship’s captain and slave traders would need to become aware of their position in relation
to the text (Nicholson, 2004, p. 79). This helps them understand what they believe is
right or wrong.
Similarly, Vettraino et al. (2017) points out that drama is an ideal place to practice
Boal’s concept of metaxis, derived from Plato’s idea of being between the human and the
divine. But instead, they are playing with being the actor as well as the character,
examining the self while simultaneously engaging with others (p. 89). Once a deeper
understanding of the self, or ‘identity’ is formed, feelings of confidence often follow. In
my 10+ years of teaching drama, I observed that when a young individual articulates or
expresses him or herself in a way that is received well by others, he or she feels
empowered to continue that method of articulating or expressing. The self-validation
provided by a teacher or fellow players, or an applauding audience, compliments the
work of a performer and is both inspiring and sustaining.
The formation of identity is particularly relevant to young refugees as they seek
belonging in a new country. The main purpose of doing applied theatre with refugees,
according to Nicholson, is to build communities of inclusion in a pluralist society (2005,
p. 84). The refugee experience is inarguably a difficult one, and many agree that host
countries have a responsibility to find ways of restructuring communities so that newly
arrived immigrants feel included (Alrutz, 2014; Balfour et al., 2015; Nicholson, 2005;
Forming a community identity is, in other words, a process of reimagining the
shared values and goals of the newly constructed group. It is the process of eliminating
the concept of ‘the other’ by forming the identity of a new group with new members.
This was successful, for example, when a group of 200 young Dinkas (Sudanese
refugees) and Turkanas (native peoples) set aside their cultural differences to create a
wordless dance drama at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2000-01 (Amollo, 2008).
Furthermore, identification of a community identity leads to community building
(Schininà, 2004), which is necessary for both refugees and native peoples in any given
host country to live harmoniously. When reflecting on his experiences working with
Serbian refugees in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, Schininà asserts that the ultimate
outcome of doing theatre with refugees is social communication. This builds
communities, community identity, and allows political subjects to inform those with
decision-making power on the necessary steps toward achieving social change. He
further explains, ‘‘this process, starting with individuals and arriving at institutions,
facilitates the construction of plural communities that contain extreme differences among
members’’ (Schininà, 2004, p. 48).
5.2. Resilience and Community
Resilience is a construct inconsistently defined in the field of social science, but Barber
and Doty (2013) in Balfour et al. (2015) explain that ‘’an essential feature of the way
[resilience] functions is that resilient youth demonstrate an uncommon imperviousness to
lasting damage and/or that they somehow have an unusual ability to recover quickly from
traumatic experiences’’ (p. 41). The challenge I see for AT practitioners is: how do we
cultivate this sense of resilience in youth to help in their recovery?
AT practitioners often use a strengths-based approach when aiming to foster
resilience, among other things, in their students (Balfour et al., 2015; Kandil, 2016,
Nicholson, 2005; Rousseau et al., 2005; Rousseau et al., 2007; Vettraino et al., 2017). A
strengths-based approach (SBA) demonstrates how individuals, families, and
communities have strengths and capabilities to grow and transform (Hutchinson &
Dorsett, 2012). A SBA is the opposite of a deficits approach, which focuses on a
person’s so called shortcomings, deficits, or dysfunctions; it also does not label or
disempower the person (Hutchinson & Dorsett, 2012, p. 66). In practice, this means that
the focus of the work is on listening to the participants’ needs and working together to
create a program with activities centered on their strengths and capabilities. This
approach can mobilize pathways to build resilience (Hutchinson & Dorsett, 2012).
A focus on strengths and capabilities to cultivate resilience was a recurrent theme
in the literature. However, Balfour et al. (2015) reflected most deeply on their shift in
understanding of the concept after the completion of their 5-year project with Australian
refugees in schools. While they began with the goal of developing resilience in
individuals, they came to understand that its development was context specific. And
rather than being a fixed personal characteristic, they discovered it is a ‘’fragile and
complex characteristic that is more likely to be revealed through action than developed
by it’’ (Balfour et al., 2015, p. 198). Balfour et al. concluded by relating their realization
to that of the changing discourse within the literature where a similar shift away from
viewing resilience as a personal trait is moving toward embracing it as a more
‘’…dynamic process that is contingent and interconnected with the social ecology…’’
(Balfour et al., 2015, p. 198).
The formation of a community from which newly arrived persons can garner a sense of
belonging is imperative to an eventual outcome of resilience. While all of the literature at
least mentioned community, friendship, and groups bonds as indispensable pieces to the
success of any AT project with marginalized youth, only some discussed it thoroughly.
Yet defining ‘community’ is even harder than defining other themes such as
empowerment or resilience, as it is always changing. Globalization has had an enormous
impact on the way we understand community, and the refugee crisis with its movement
of people and international intervention, is a good example of that.
Nicholson (2005) explains that ‘’there are many different types of community, of
which communities of location are but one form’’ (p. 84). No longer is location and the
idealization of homogenous local communities the only way to create a sense of
belonging in a group. In the modern age, with technology, social media, and
mobilization, communities are no longer restricted to face-to-face interactions. Gone are
the days in which people must share a history or ideology to feel part of the same
community. In fact, Nicholson argues that these ways of understanding community
create the more conservative images of ‘otherness’ sometimes associated with localism
(p. 84). Furthermore, we can stretch community to be defined as an imagined construct,
and those who decide to form one, whether they are near to each other or not, can
interpret its rules, boundaries and attributes.
However, sociologist-anthropologist, Vered Amit, specializes in transnational
mobility and stands in opposition to this looser interpretation of community. She claims
that a sense of belonging is more likely to arise from informal social groups and
networks, ones that require everyday interactions, as opposed to deterministic social
categories such as social class, religion, race, sexuality, and so on (Nicholson, 2005, p.
85). She explains that the associations that lead to group bonds are limited in time and
space to particular places and activities.
Regardless of how one defines community, AT projects as they function now
require participants to be in the same place and to meet on a semi-regular basis,
preferably over a period of time. In the case of Refugee Theater for youth, the
participants are limited to those of a certain age with a particular shared experience. I
would like to know how to build a strong sense of community, building on the
participants’ shared commonalities.
Schininà (2004) posits that community building in difficult circumstances must
involve three components: relationships, communication, and creativity (p. 35). He
illuminates the process of reconstructing roles on the individual, group, and community
level (Schininà, 2004, p. 35). Schininà warns that group dynamics are often established
immediately, and thus the group must be given the opportunity from the beginning to
experience its own limits (Schininà, 2004, p. 36). This may even involve a negative
sense of community. Nevertheless, participants and facilitators must feel that they can
voice their opinions, even if they are not positive. Schininà states that the process must
be understood ‘’as a circle of encounters and barters and not as a search for communion’’
(Schininà, 2004, p. 36). He concludes his discussion on community building by
suggesting that the first act of a workshop should therefore ‘’bring people back to an
awareness of their individual value and own means of expression’’(Schininà, 2004, p.
* * *
Other authors commented on the importance and best practices for building community
among workshop participants, but because my goal in this literature review is to deepen
my understanding as opposed to accumulate knowledge, I chose to expand on a selected
few theories rather than briefly summarize everything I read on the topic. In conclusion,
a sense of trusting one’s community is necessary to carry out AT projects with youths
from ‘’difficult’’ circumstances. This then provides the foundation on which to build
individual and group resilience.
5.3. Health, Wellness, Confidence and Self-Esteem
The discussion of health and wellness or well-being showed up in the literature often as
something that was lacking as opposed to showing how AT experiences improved the
health and wellness of the participants (Balfour et al., 2015; Burton et al. 2015; Cahill,
2014; Goulet et al., 2011; Horghagen & Josephsson, 2011; Linds et al., 2010; Morsillo &
Prilleltensky, 2007; Nicholson, 2005; Vettraino et al., 2017). This largely has to do with
the high rate of symptom distress reported among refugees during the asylum period
(Horghagen & Josephsson, 2011). Helen Cahill (2014) summarizes the problem:
The social determinants of health are those factors such as poverty,
dislocation, stigma, discrimination and lack of access to education and
health services, which make certain population groups more vulnerable
to risky health practices and to negative health outcomes. However, too
often the tendency is to ignore the root causes of health inequities (Viner
et al., 2012 & Williams, 2003 in Cahill, 2014, p.27).
The article by Helen Cahill is one of the few I chose to include in this review that
did not focus on young refugees or asylum seekers specifically. Cahill used
poststructuralist theory coupled with human rights discourse to examine the line between
ethical and exploitative use of AT with young people. Cahill’s focus was on finding
solutions for social and governmental change among young, poor drug users infected with
HIV in Asia. However, she includes refugees in her overall scope since she points to
dislocation as being a determinant of poor health.
Cahill’s approach was laden with reflection (self and group), validation
(participants to participant), and individual empowerment. She positioned herself as a co-
investigator with the participants within an atmosphere of participatory enquiry. She
labeled them as ‘’investigators’’ and ‘’researchers,’’ and developed this environment of
enquiry through community-building activities (Cahill, 2014, p. 26). For example, she
initiated self-run focus groups that identified and categorized reasons why young people
use drugs and how society blames them without acknowledging the conditions within
which they struggle (Cahill, 2014, p. 26). In the end, Cahill acknowledged that her
project was a blip in the lives of the participants and the audience that viewed their final
performance. She also identified the need for additional strategies to be used to address
the desire for change and create a concrete vision for a preferred future (Cahill, 2014, p.
35). However, she asserts that a ‘theatre of enquiry’ creates ‘’change makers.’’ This
empowers the students to be co-investigators and co-creators, finding new ways to share
meaning, form new questions, and create new knowledge (Cahill, 2014, p. 36).
Other articles provided evidence that AT and other forms of arts education can
promote healing and improved wellness in the participants (Morsillo & Prilleltensky,
2007; Rosseau et al., 2005; Rosseau et al., 2007; Vettraino, 2017). Vettraino et al. (2017)
conducted a systematic literature review to help define wellness and found that the term
was interchangeable with happiness, quality of life and flourishing; it also covered
dimensions ranging from psychological to spiritual to physical and social well-being (p.
79). They found that arts and creative approaches can lead to increased levels of
motivation and engagement, confidence and imagination associated with creative
environments, an enhanced ability to face challenges, increases in resilience, enhancement
of emotional development and social skills, and enhancement of the young person’s self-
esteem, emotional intelligence and agency (various authors in Vettraino et al., 2017, p.
80). Their ‘’exhaustive’’ literature review combined with the results from their own
workshops, Vettraino et al. concluded that AT affected self-esteem, reduced stress,
fostered openness and creativity, and enhanced marginalized youths’ ability for self-
expression (Vettraino et al., 2017, p. 88). However, they insist that professionals
associated with any AT programs or projects aimed to improve well-being need to see the
arts as a philosophical underpinning, rather than an additional activity that can be inserted
into any program (Vettraino, et al., 2017).
Rousseau et al. (2007) conducted a qualitative study aimed at helping newly
arrived children and adolescents adjust to their lives in Canada as well as work through
experiences of loss and trauma (p. 453). They evaluated emotional and behavioral
symptoms with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a 25-item Likert scale; self-
esteem was assessed with a 10-item self-esteem Likert scale questionnaire; school
performance was assessed on the basis of first and last report cards of the year.
Surprisingly, the intervention had no measureable effect on youths’ self-esteem
despite the youth claiming that it helped them to know more about themselves and to feel
better (Rousseau et al., 2007, p. 462). They did find, nevertheless, that the workshops
significantly decreased the adolescents’ overall perception of impairment by symptoms
that previously had a negative impact on their friendships, home life, and leisure
activities. It also improved their school performance in mathematics (Rousseau et al.,
2007, p. 461-462).
In an earlier evaluative study conducted by Rousseau et al. (2005), they used
Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale to assess 81 boys and 57 girls with the mean
age of 9.8 years. The results showed an increase in self-esteem for the boys, but not for
the girls. This could be, they hypothesized, a reflection of the gap existing between boys’
role models in their home countries and the models provided by the host society, which
may be experienced as a ‘’loss of status’’ (Rousseau et al., 2005, p. 184).
Overall, the literature exploring increased self-esteem and confidence because of
participation in an AT program for marginalized youth was positive and hopeful.
However, in Etherton & Prentki’s article (2007) on impact assessment in AT, they
recommended that the researchers whose aims and stated outcomes were to boost the
confidence of the participants might have sought out groups vulnerable to low self-esteem
and a lack of confidence (p. 145). This then greatly increased their chances of succeeding.
* * *
Additional themes that AT studies aimed at achieving or understanding better that I did
not focus on in this review, but could be areas of future inquiry were: language
acquisition, conflict resolution, bullying, leadership skills, aesthetics, personal and
community narrative (related most often to ‘giving the people voice’ or empowerment),
self-expression, meaning making, and embodiment (the physical manifestation of ideas).
6 Challenges and Ethical Considerations
These themes, while central to the literature discussed above, also constitute challenges
and raise ethical considerations when conducting arts-based action research in AT.
Synthesizing this information is particularly important to me as I prepare to conduct my
own 10-week AT project with young refugees in Stockholm. Conducting an ethical,
contributory (to the participants and to the field), and student-centered project are my
priorities. I will discuss challenges and ethical considerations in three sections: power
and awareness, trauma, and sustainability.
6.1. Power and Awareness
One of the easiest mistakes to make as an AT practitioner is to assume a power role and
be unaware of it. Historically, Western teachers and leaders have approached a group of
marginalized people and told them how to get healthier, more educated, or more
empowered. It could even be considered an act of power to label a group of people as
‘marginalized’ without their agreement, but I will not go deep into that.
If a facilitator were to enter a playing space and instruct the participants about
what they will be doing and what the intended outcomes were, it would be an example of
‘banking education,’ the very concept identified by Paolo Freire as oppressive to the
intended beneficiaries (Freire, 1972). Therefore, taking a student-centered approach by
adapting the direction of the project to the stated interests of the particular group is
crucial to the integrity of the project and its overall intention: positive change for the
participants (Vettraino et al., 2017; Schininà, 2004; Skeiker, 2011). To do this, one must
create a safe space that is based on established and continued trust between the facilitator
and the participants, and between participants. Explicit and implicit statements of
equality are also necessary (Vettraino et al., 2017).
One of the ways discussed in Vettraino et al. (2017) and Burton et al. (2015) to
create this space of trust and equality is through metaxis, previously discussed in
Empowerment and Identity (section 5.2). This construct of ‘aesthetic distancing’ allows
the participants to reflect on their experience while simultaneously being in it and
stepping outside of it. Equipping the young participants with this tool gives them ‘voice,’
which, in this example, gives them a say in how things are going and how they should
move forward. This can allow for power sharing between the participants and the
Remaining conscious to not take control of the research project as the facilitator,
nor draw desired (biased) conclusions from the data as the researcher, is of utmost
importance when conducting this kind of work. The interpretive, participatory action
research approach used in AT research projects, and the approach I intend to use for my
thesis, emphasizes the equal teacher-student relationship. Too often, powerful figures
and disciplinary teachers that do not tolerate ‘’bad behavior’’ forget that they should be
an approach that enacts systematic inquiry based on democracy, participation,
empowerment, and life-enhancing means (Stringer, 2008, p. 27). While the teacher is
usually regarded as the ‘expert,’ action research was established to empower students to
contribute their knowledge and understanding to the process. Ideally, teachers and
students work together to clarify the issue, acquire information, analyze the data,
construct reports, and formulate actions (Stringer, 2008, p. 25). After all, action research,
unique to other research approaches, always results in taking action.
The goal in doing this kind of project-based research is to see a positive shift in the
participants. Any facilitator working with refugees hopes that they will emerge from the
experience with new meaning in their lives, in their new home. Therefore, some
researchers recommend avoiding rehashing previous traumas. Papadopoulos (2007),
discussed in Balfour et al. (2015), stresses that, ‘’if we view people from refugee
backgrounds as universally and permanently depleted by their traumatic histories, then
we may be missing something important, underestimated their potential for
transformative renewal’’ (p. 20). In that same vein, Salverson (1999), discussed in
Balfour et al. (2015), claims that ‘’theatre that aims to represent refugee experiences in a
naturalistic way runs the risk of ‘being caught in an aesthetic of injury that reproduces
configurations of power’’’ (p. 47). These two scholars caution against the potential for
reinforcing established power structures by rehashing previous traumas, effectively
disempowering the refugee. Hutchinson & Dorsett (2012) warn that the negative
stereotyping of refugee people, the trauma story and labeling, profoundly impacts a
person’s sense of self and their resilience (p. 67). Suffice it to say, this undermines the
work entirely. In a later publication, Salverson (2001) in Gallagher (2011) recommends
that ‘’theatrical performance must move beyond ‘naturalistic repetitions of trauma’ and
aesthetically transform that testimony’’(p. 66-67). Here, and in Papadopoulos above, the
word transform is used to describe the ultimate goal of AT work, and the most productive
and positive result to potentially come of it.
But what if the AT project did not aim to represent the refugee experience nor
viewed refugees as universally and permanently depleted? What if the project aimed
simply to invite the participants to share whatever they wanted in the playing space as a
means to address their immediate concerns? There have been many participatory arts
programs that offer people of refugee backgrounds an opportunity to assign meaning to
their traumatic experiences and develop a sense of agency or control (Balfour et al. 2015,
p. 46). Playback theatre (PT), for example, is one of the common techniques used to help
new arrivals explore their personal stories. PT, pioneered by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas
in the 1970s in the US, involves a facilitator who invites members of the audience to
share their stories, which are then symbolically reenacted by the actors for the teller. PT
has a therapeutic aim and can give ‘’voice and visibility to especially those most often
overlooked and ignored’’ (Fox 2007, p. 92 in Balfour et al. 2015, p. 47). Kaptani &
Yuval-Davis (2008), proponents of PT as a participatory technique, describe it as a
‘’theatre which reinforces processes of collective witnessing, identification and reflection
which can lead to personal and collective change’’ (paragraph 3.8).
Whether an AT practitioner delves into participants’ previous traumas or not, it is
essential to keep in mind that most AT practitioners are not trained to counsel people
with trauma. Therefore, many researchers recommend focusing primarily or solely on
the participants’ futures (Balfour et al., 2015; Cahill, 2014; Nicholson, 2005), sometimes
referred to as an act of ‘’laying new tracks’’ and the participants are called ‘’agents of
change’’ (Morsillo & Prilleltensky, 2007). They do this by creating activities and
performances that enlist the youths’ hopes, strengths, and visions for a fairer (non-
discriminatory) and democratic society. This ‘’transformational approach,’’ according to
Morsillo & Prilleltensky, can later involve means of challenging the status quo such as
organizing social action campaigns or getting involved in youth consultation processes
with the government (Morsillo & Prilleltensky, 2007, p. 727).
One of the most devastating occurrences for an AT practitioner to have happen is to lead
a successful project, one that empowers the participants and gives them renewed hope,
and find that it never occurs or is spoken of again. How to sustain both the positive
effects on the participants as well as continuing the project or program are factors to
consider before and during the work.
A key factor to sustainability discussed in Vettraino et al. (2017) is the continuity
of connection between the facilitator(s) and the participants (p. 89). They warn against
the facilitator ‘parachuting’ into a group of already marginalized people where the
creation of a safe space requires time to build relationships and trust (Vettraino et al.,
2017, p. 89). I interpret this to mean that sufficient time needs to be devoted to the AT
project, and the students need some assurance that their instructor will not disappear upon
the completion of the project. Ideally, a relationship should already exist between the
facilitator and the participants before the project begins. One teacher, when interviewed
after a group of AT facilitator-performers came to their school in the United Kingdom
and conducted a 90-min performance/workshop, had strong opinions about the lack of
It’s fantastic when it comes in, but unless it’s picked up on, or unless, you
know, it fits a programme, a piece of theatre doesn’t make a difference
and that’s the bottom line…the failure to carry it through is my fault not,
you know, their fault (Day, 2010, p. 30).
The facilitator, therefore, needs to take on an ethic of care when initiating and
designing such a project. They must feel capable of devoting the appropriate time and
energy to the participants during and after the project. Additionally, AT practitioners can
equip the participants and/or school teachers/organizational leaders with a handbook
containing drama and other classroom exercises to reflect upon and extend the issues
raised in the workshop (Day, 2010). Reflecting on my own experience teaching drama
for a service learning purpose (a pedagogy for civic responsibility), carefully
documenting lesson plans and learning outcomes to hand over to the next
teacher/facilitator is yet another way to promote sustainability of a program. Finally,
Schininá (2004) discusses the importance of not going in as a Western foreigner and
telling them what they will do and what the result will be. Rather, survey available
resources, listen to their needs, and form action plans in collaboration with them, plans
they can maintain by self-organizing or teaching after the project ends.
* * *
In summary, ethical practice in AT requires enduring awareness and reflection by
everyone involved. (A regular reflection practice such as a reflection circle at the
beginning and end of every session, for example, could be essential.) Rather than a fixed
principle, becoming ethical is a continuous negotiation where values and ideas may
change, be revised or reaffirmed through the process of making art (Nicholson, 2005, p.
167). To develop a practice of reflecting and remaining aware, trust between the
facilitator and the group needs to be a stronghold so that everyone feels comfortable in
expressing their ideas, feelings and actions without censure (Prendergast & Saxton,
2016). To do this, we must keep the space ‘’dialogic,’’ that is, we remain continuously
aware that we are not ‘’speaking about,’’ but rather, ‘’to and with others, keeping [the
work] open-ended, critiquing, interrupting, and empowering (Denzin, 1997, p. 121 in
Prendergast & Saxton, 2016, p. 239).
In the epilogue to her deeply thoughtful and robust book on AD, Helena Nicholson
(2005) summarizes the reason we do this work.
…applied drama can make a contribution to building a more generous and
multifaceted world by making a creative space in which fixed and
inequitable oppositions between the local and the global, self and other,
fiction and reality, identity and difference, might be disrupted and
challenged (p. 167).
Regardless of which facet of AD or AT we examine, the purpose is for the
participants to use physical, emotional, and mental explorations to move beyond what
they already know. It is a space, in which equality is the shared value, and preconceived
ideas of right or wrong, fair or unfair, functional or dysfunctional in a society can be
challenged and new possibilities can be uncovered. It is a teaching tool, a therapeutic
tool, a communication tool, a presentation tool, and most uniquely, a community building
artistic tool to explore and share new knowledge. This vehicle, this gift as Nicholson
often refers to it, is empowering to young refugees due to its transformational powers of
self and community identity, and the possibility of laying new tracks to heal previous
* * *
I have been performing and teaching drama for 20 years. I have always recognized it as a
powerful and fun teaching tool for building social-emotional skills, but only now am I
awoken to the profound meaning making AT can provide young people and give
marginalized youths renewed hope. This literature review has equipped me with
knowledge of the various and complex results (themes) that can come from doing AT
work, both its strengths and pitfalls. It has given me insight into the kind of impact an
ethically designed project can have, and the careful steps that need to be taken to ensure
that the democratic, participatory, action research project gives voice to each participant.
I am reminded to remain aware of my position as an informed teacher, but also to
acknowledge that I have little knowledge of the participants’ culture, language, and
hardships. I intend to conduct a project where I allow the students to teach me as much
as I teach them, and to treat them as co-investigators in identifying problems, indicators,
and solutions while keeping sustainability in mind. I move forward with enthusiasm, as I
believe this project will contribute to the field of applied theatre and applied drama within
the context of refugee integration efforts, non-formal education, and international and
comparative education, and justify further research and funding. I agree whole-heartedly
with Kaptani & Yuval-Davis (2008) when they wrote:
Participatory theatre techniques, with their deconstructive, situated and
reflexive approach to the social world, producing embodied, dialogical and
illustrative knowledge, are eminently suitable to occupy an honorary place
alongside all the others [social science research techniques] (my insertion).
The narrative and discursive analysis of the data they produce should be
part of the accumulative body of knowledge of contemporary Sociology
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Appendix A: Descriptions of TO techniques
1. Image Theatre: Avoiding the language idiom for the sake of eliminating the
‘denotation-connotation dichotomy’ (Boal, 1985, p. 138). Image Theater (IT)
emphasizes the need for the physicalization of concepts because “each word has a
denotation that is the same for all, but also a connotation that is unique for each
individual” (Boal, 1985, p. 138). In this technique, participants act as sculptors,
manipulating the bodies and facial expressions of other participants in order to
make thought visible.
• Example: A girl speaks repeatedly about problems she has with her
boyfriend. She begins every story with, “He came in, embraced me, and
then….” One day the girl is asked to use IT to portray her relationship.
She arranges the actors so that the woman crosses her arms over her chest,
and the man takes hold of her tightly while she remains with her arms
crossed in a picture of self-protection. When the other participants in the
group understood her meaning of ‘embrace,’ they were better able to
understand her problems with her boyfriend (Boal, 1985, p. 138).
2. Newspaper Theatre: The theatrical interpretation of news reports involving music
and movement meant to take the report out of context and expose ‘real truth’
behind the words.
• Example: An actor reenacts a recently reported speech on austerity
delivered by the Minister of Economics as he devours an enormous dinner.
The ‘real truth’ is that the minister wants austerity for the people but not
for himself (Boal, 1985, p. 143).
3. Invisible Theatre: The spontaneous eruption of a rehearsed scene in a public
place, e.g. a restaurant, where the actors do not reveal themselves as actors. This
is sometimes done to bring awareness to the bourgeois about the conditions of the
laborers around them, or simply to teach the general public about a societal issue.
• Example: Two actresses encounter a vegetable stand at Carmen Market in
Comas, Peru. One, pretending to be illiterate, insists that the vendor,
taking advantage of her illiteracy, has cheated her. The other actress
checks and confirms that the price is right and suggests to her friend to
enroll in reading classes. The “illiterate” actress insists that she is too old
to learn when an old woman, an unknowing spectator, shouts, “My dears,
that’s not true? For learning and making love one is never too old!” (Boal,
1985, p. 147).
4. Photo-romance: The way Boal describes this technique is outdated due to its
1960s context. However, this technique can be used to analyze stereotypes in
movies, TV shows, TV series, etc. by taking the lines out of the script and playing
with the environment. Lines from a script are read to the actors without telling
them the source of the plot. The actors then improvise a story that is then
compared to the story in the original script.
• Example: Lines are read to describe a woman waiting for her husband in
the company of another woman who is helping her with housework. They
prepare a meal, perhaps, and talk about marriage, childcare, financial
troubles while living in a small, cramped apartment, etc. The husband
comes home tired from a long day and the three have a dialog. In
actuality, in the original photo-romance the main woman is dressed in a
long evening gown, wearing pearl necklaces. The other woman is a maid.
When the husband, a factory owner comes home, he complains of his
workers going on strike because they want more pay (Boal, 1985, p. 148).
5. Breaking the repression: A participant is asked to recount a particular moment
when s/he felt repressed, accepted that repression, and acted in a manner contrary
to his/her desires. The participant (protagonist) picks other participants to help
him/her recreate the story, just as it happened in reality. After the story is told, the
protagonist is asked to repeat the scene, this time without accepting the
repression. The other participants playing the repressors are urged to maintain the
repressive actions, testing the ‘’true strength of the enemy’’ (Boal, 1985, p. 147).
It also gives the protagonist a chance to carry out, in fiction, what s/he was not
able to do in reality.
6. Myth theatre: Myths are shared and analyzed by the participants, and the ‘hidden
truths’ revealed. This can be done by acting out well-known myths and discussing
them afterwards (Boal, 1985, p. 151).
7. Rituals and Masks: Boal summarizes that the purpose of this exercise to reveal the
superstructures in society, the rituals which concretize all human relationships,
and the ‘masks’ of behavior that those rituals impose on people of certain social
hierarchy (Boal, 1985, p. 154).
• Example: A man goes to a priest to confess his sins. But how will he do
it? Will he kneel before him? Sit in a confessional? Who is the man, and
how is the priest? Two versatile actors need to stage the confession 4
times: (1) the priest and the parishioner are landlords (2) the priest is a
landlord and the parishioner is a peasant (3) the priest is a peasant and the
parishioner is a landlord (4) the priest and the parishioner are peasants.
The ritual is the same in each instance, but the different social ‘masks’ will
change and cause the scenes to be different.