I’ve had no experience in Forum theatre before watching ‘the Help’. Yet, I find it a very useful method to get in the root of the play and prove the message of the piece a several times.
The following quote is the definition of forum theatre, which I had searched for the night before the performance. I thought it might be a good idea to share it:
Forum Theatre is an interactive theatre form invented (or discovered) in the early 1970s by Augusto Boal. An audience is shown a short-ish play in which a central character (protagonist) encounters an oppression or obstacle which s/he is unable to overcome; the subject-matter will usually be something of immediate importance to the audience, often based on a shared life experience.
After this first showing, there may be a brief discussion amongst the audience, mediated by a figure known as 'the Joker' (as in a pack of cards, belonging to no particular suit, on no-one's side). Then the play is restarted, usually from the beginning, and runs as before - but this time, whenever a 'spect-actor' (active audience member) feels the protagonist might usefully have tried a different strategy, s/he can stop the action, take the protagonist's place, and try his or her idea. The other characters in the piece will react as they feel their characters would react, on a bad day i.e. they will not make it easy for any new tactic to succeed; but if an idea works, the intervening spect-actor can win, the game is not rigged.
Through a session of Forum Theatre, many people will take the stage and show many different possibilities. In this way, the event becomes a kind of theatrical debate, in which experiences and ideas are rehearsed and shared, generating both solidarity and a sense of empowerment.”
As you walk into the theatre, the stage which has been split in half by stretched certaines is noticeable. This brings the actors closer to the spectator and for me; it created a closer relationship to the cast as well as the play. The unique style of theatre is noticeable at the very first moment you enter the auditorium. Here, unlike must theatres, the actors are already on stage waiting for their audience; somehow impatiently staring at every single member, which felt as if they want us to hurry and get settled so they can start the play.
The Help is based around the story of three different people, with homelessness being the central theme of each story. Much of cultural dilemmas are brought to the play, such racial factors, homelessness, prostitution and so on. The Joker, very intense, connects the stories together and plays the narrator of the piece. He starts by making little jokes and getting the audience to clap for the late comers. This, as a slight warm up, drew audience’s attention to the piece and alerted us to be more focused right at the start.
The simplicity of the set (which only contained boxes) and the lighting clarified that the full attention should be paid to the play itself and nothing else. In addition to this, ‘The Help’ is designed to be performed outside of a formal venue, primarily hostels, where no access to professional lighting is available. Therefore, the cast is only lit for visibility all the way through the play, with no change of lights.
What makes Cardboard Citizen so powerful and successful is the experience of being homeless which they all share. This gives them a wide knowledge of the community they are trying to represent as well as helping the actors, more confidently become and relate to the characters.
The only noticeable problem with the piece was the slight poor acting, which for me was not a big deal as the main focus of the piece was in the story’s hidden message.