Forum Theatre Workshops Day 2

Today was always going to be a tough day, as we had lots to get through to start to pull together the content for the performance tomorrow. Obviously there is always time for a warm up game or two to get us moving and thinking; today involved use of mime to act out “What’s in the box?” and Jo’s favourite, a ‘sneaky swap’ exercise.

Knowing that today would be a challenging day, we spent some time working on a trust building exercise; we got into pairs, and one person closed their eyes and held out a hand. We then led our partner around the room, guiding and steering them gently and avoiding collisions with other couples. In a small room with 40+ people, this was a challenge! As the person being guided grew in confidence they would be released to walk alone, with the guiders stepping back in if they were on track to bump into someone. Guiders were also encouraged to swap their partner; this helped us to recognise the importance of feeling safe and supported, and the anxiety that being left alone can provoke.

This led nicely into our core aims for today; establishing the characters and story of the Forum Theatre performance. Building on the themes discussed yesterday and by reflecting on our personal experiences as a group, we developed rich characters with a personal back story. We thought about who else might be involved in their lives (e.g. family, friends and professionals) and asked what they thought about our character’s problems. Asking why they have behaved as they had towards our character opened up a variety of perspectives.

It was interesting to think about the differences between UK and Ugandan culture in this; issues such as poor understanding of mental health, poverty, grief and loss were key, but there were also things we found it more difficult to understand from a UK perspective, for example thinking about why people might be taken to a witch doctor against their will and the power of being rejected by a local community. 

From here, we began to brainstorm drama scenes which depicted the stigma our characters might face. This was quick; four groups had to create two scenes each in five minutes. Despite our tight deadline, the groups produced a variety of scenes relating to our characters, drawing on issues with rejection and fear around romantic relationships, losing a job as a result of mental health diagnosis, and family/professional disagreements over whether the person should receive medication or be taken to a traditional healer.

This helped us to firm up a storyline for the performance, using dramatic scenes, freezeframes, poetry and character monologues. The performance will end with a set of ‘problems’ for our characters, highlighting their vulnerability and isolation. Then it’s up to our audience to help us solve these problems.

We always knew today would be the most difficult and confusing time; however it was incredible to see how everyone was able to sit with those feelings and trust the process. Lots of work still ahead of us tomorrow as we finalise and fine tune our performance, but we can be proud of what we’ve achieved today. Tomorrow is the big one; we have the morning to rehearse then we’re off to the National Theatre in Kampala to perform to a bumper group.

If you’re in Kampala and would like to attend, it’s starting at 5pm and it is free!

At the end of the day, Eddie Nkurunungi kindly showed us round the Recovery College at Butabika Hospital – it was amazing to see the themes from our ‘listening events’ in 2015 displayed proudly, to share knowledge and learning around what helps and hinders recovery from mental health problems.