This week we ran a Forum theatre half-term course for ESOL learners in Battersea at the Katherine Lowe Settlement. In Forum Theatre you get to roleplay difficult situations and experiment with different ways to handle them. Roleplays are very useful when you’re learning a language because they’re about as near as you can get (in the safety of the classroom) to using language in a real-life setting. But we were excited to see how our participants would get on with the more political dimension that Forum Theatre brings, where you’re deliberately practicing intervening on injustice.
We began the course with some drama games and then divided into groups to discuss our visions of ‘the World as it should be’. One group of female students were particularly focused on the importance of gender equality – equality at work, an end to rape, domestic violence and forced marriage and education for both boys and girls. Other common themes across the group were ‘no climate change’, ‘economic equality’ and ‘free education’.
After envisioning their perfect world, students were asked to share situations that they’d experienced personally which had been unfair. One student’s friend had not been paid by a shop after working a 2-week trial shift. Another had been told by her GP to “learn English before she came back to the Doctor’s” and had subsequently been too afraid to return for 2 years. We collected a list of around 5 oppressive situations. Although each situation had been identified by an individual participant, they seemed to tap into common experiences shared by a lot of the students in the group.
In the next session we explored the unfair situations that students had shared. We challenged students to come up with lines that the antagonist or oppressive character would say and then, in pairs, to roleplay possible ways in which they could reply.
Finally, the pairs performed the unfair scenarios in front of the rest of the group. After each scenario was enacted we reflected on what the ‘victim’ could have done differently. Members of the audience suggested possible alternative responses and then we replayed the scene again to try these out. One student, Veronica, told the unsympathetic GP: “I know my English isn’t perfect but please be patient. I need your help”
“I’m afraid we’re out of time” replied Faiza, who was playing the GP.
“We have 2 minutes left” said Veronica.
The group were impressed with Veronica’s assertive language and we drew attention to the phrases she’d use to “make herself on the same level as the GP”, as one participant put it.
All in all, the course was a great success and very exciting to be part of since students shared so many interesting stories and visibly improved in just a few days. It also confirmed for us the great potential of drama and Forum Theatre tools for language learning, critical thinking and planning for action. Thanks to our funders Lloyds TSB, to the Katherine Lowe Settlement for hosting us and to all our brilliant participants!